Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

*. I read the novel Bunny Lake Is Missing (by Merriam Modell, under the pen name Evelyn Piper) before I saw this movie. That might not have been a good move. I liked the book and the movie only borrows the initial premise from it before going its own way entirely. And when I say it goes its own way I mean it goes crazy.
*. Apparently director Otto Preminger liked the book but wanted a different ending because he thought Pyper’s lacked credibility. Really. This is one of those weird things I hear reported but can’t get my head around. Preminger thought the novel’s ending lacked credibility so he ordered up one that would have made Jimmy Sangster blush to take credit for? I mean the ending of the book is convoluted, but it’s nothing like the madness that screenwriters John and Penelope Mortimer came up with. And that’s John Mortimer of Rumpole fame, by the way. Apparently Dalton Trumbo and Ira Levin both wrote earlier drafts but Preminger didn’t like them either. I’d be curious to see what they looked like.
*. I guess before I go any further I should insert a spoiler alert. Basically this is a gaslighting story, where Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) drops her little girl (nicknamed Bunny) off at daycare and when Bunny goes missing there’s no evidence she (Bunny) ever existed in the first place. People begin to question the mother’s sanity. As a footnote, the same plot was tricked out again for the 2005 Jodie Foster vehicle Flightplan, about which more on another day.

*. New to the movie is the character of Ann’s brother Steven (Keir Dullea). Instead of a fairly simple kidnapping plot Steven has abducted Bunny because . . . well, because he’s a lunatic and he’s jealous of Bunny getting all of Ann’s affections so he wants to kill her (Bunny, that is). Somehow Ann has remained oblivious to the fact that her brother is such a nut job, despite the fact that the two are very close. Meanwhile, a police inspector (Laurence Olivier) is looking into things and a creepy landlord (Noël Coward!) is putting the moves on Ann, all of this going on as The Zombies play Top of the Pops in the background.

*. Full credit to Olivier and Coward for recognizing the kind of nonsense this was and riding with it. Olivier is low key, which perfectly suits all the silliness going on around him. It’s the kind of part he could play in his sleep, and he looks as though he decided that would be for the best. Coward takes the opposite approach, hamming his part up to the hilt. Both fit in and are wonderful in their roles.

*. Lynley is just adequate as Ann, though given the circumstances that was itself an accomplishment. Dullea is pretty awful. Kubrick would cast him in 2001 based on this movie and I’m wondering what he saw in him here. Someone who could be robotic? The story has it that Coward walked up to him one day and whispered in his ear “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow.” Bitchy, and probably a safe bet at the time, but Kubrick saved him from oblivion (if not Black Christmas). In any event, Steven’s meltdown isn’t very convincing. But then, who could have pulled that off?
*. Oh, England. Were you still using oil lamps in the 1960s? My mother collected oil lamps and they were already antiques when she was a kid. Didn’t they have flashlights, or “torches” as they like to say? And what’s this junket stuff? I find from online sources that “junket is a milk-based dessert, made with sweetened milk and rennet, the digestive enzyme that curdles milk. Some older cookery books call the dish curds and whey.” Is this supposed to be a treat? Do people still eat it? Olivier’s Inspector Newhouse thinks it’s yummy. Is it like custard? I want to give it a try but I don’t know where you get it or if it sells here under some other name.
*. According to Dullea, Preminger was no fun to work with. But at least the movie looks nice. The scene of Ann investigating the doll museum is beautiful, as is her escape from the asylum. But these are scenes without any dialogue. They’re meant to be looked at.

*. But it’s not a good movie. Watching Bunny Lake Is Missing is like staring into a room filled with interesting works of art but the lights are all turned off. You keep trying to see something you know must be in there but you can’t make it out. Today it’s a movie with a bit of a cult following, largely due to its credits (I mean the talent, but the credits themselves are arrestingly presented, as always, by Saul Bass) and the general sense of weirdness it has about it. But it really is a tricked-out production running on a Hammer chassis, without any dramatic coherence and an ending so stupid it fails on every level. Maybe the kind of thing everyone should sit through once, just to be aware that it exists. I can’t see any reason for going back to it though.

84 thoughts on “Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

  1. fragglerocking

    I did see this on the tellybox but so long ago I don’t remember much about it. Never liked Kier Dullea in anything. Only woke millenials use oil lamps these days the rest of us hoi polloi have to make do with electricity. I thought you would have known, indeed have tried, Junket as it evolved from the French dessert Jonquet a dish of renneted cream in which the whey is drained from curdled cream, and the remaining curds sweetened with sugar. When it got to Merry Ye Olde England we started adding rum to it (no surprise, we’re a nation of alcoholics even now) and clotted cream.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Did you eat junket when you were in school? It seems like it’s something kids eat, at least as it’s presented here. I didn’t know of it. Do people still eat it? Can you buy it ready-made or do you have to make it? So many questions.

      Reply
      1. fragglerocking

        You can buy it in America, and Denmark, never seen it here, but you can order junket tablets from Amazon and make it yourself, plenty of recipes on youtube. I’ve never had it, and never intend to either. Danish people seem to have taken it to their hearts https://junketdesserts.com/ but here in Old Blighty we’ve moved on.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Sad. Here I was thinking it was part of every English schoolkid’s childhood. Now I couldn’t even get it at a restaurant except in Denmark. I guess tastes change.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        Told them they shouldn’t be running so many puff pieces on Hilary leading up to the 2016 election. If only they’d listened . . .

      2. tensecondsfromnow

        I prefer junket sex worker.

        Had discussed with other critics whether a critic could live for 30 days on junkets alone; ie from one buffet to another. I reckon it could have been done in ye olden days, but not now.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        Yup, we came up with the idea post Super Size Me.

        By the way, I think it’s great the way you’re mentoring DJ Otzi. A man with no discernable talents, but if anyone can elevate him to the level of mediocrity, it’s you.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        I’m just here to help others. As I’ve said before, I should be charging you tuition. But for now this is a free online university of cinema.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        hahah, I guess the only lectures you give are for your toys tea parties, but in the real world, I’ll be delivering a keynote address for the graduating students at my alma mater. And one of the topics will be ‘Alex Good; The Bottom Rung of Film Criticism’ hahahahhah

      6. tensecondsfromnow

        Might just do that, since it’s a zoom lecture due to Covid. You could review it, maybe learn something useful. Although universally derided, perhaps some of your own writing could be salvaged?

      7. Alex Good Post author

        Hm. So we’ve gone from a keynote address to a podcast from your basement studio. Let’s have a link. I can be one of your two views.

      8. tensecondsfromnow

        You’ll be first in the queue. How shall I collect your matriculation fees? About £32,000 would be the going rate. Must be a few quid in your sponsorship deal with the Charlie Chan foundation for beleaguered bloggers?

      9. Alex Good Post author

        If I was laying out that kind of cash I’d be expecting to at least get Robbie Collin delivering the commencement address.

      10. tensecondsfromnow

        No true Scot works for the Torygraph! … Spoken as a true derelict! Will you be delivering an address to the soiled rubber dinosaur collection in your local bibliotheca?

      11. tensecondsfromnow

        My bins are my own business, if there’s one thing that seems to tickle your fancy more than fascist literature, it’s big black sacks of refuse.I’m not at liberaty to divulge the contents of my bins to feed your bedtime fantasies….

      12. Alex Good Post author

        *sigh* A bin is not a garbage bag. It is hard plastic and has wheels. They are green, blue, and grey. Now, do you want to talk about your fantasies involving big black sacks?

      13. tensecondsfromnow

        Not everyone has these fantasies, or sacks, just you Bunty. Off to the Torygraph for you, see if you can get banned from their comments section too….your views on Hilary Duff movies will ensure you are not welcome anywhere…

      14. fragglerocking

        Excellent I’ll just look cool and try not to fall off my stilettos. We can heckle Eddie a bit, and shoot any of his students who don’t agree with him.

      15. Alex Good Post author

        Looks good. Not sure I have anything in pinstripes but I’ll check.
        So nice of Eddie to invite us to his graduation.

  2. Tom Moody

    Yes. My response to the IMDb comment at the time was: “Pensom is right about all this but the genius of the movie is that it keeps rollicking along in spite of the absurdity of all these complications.” And then I added (because I dislike the whole experience of present-day flying): “The producers are banking on audiences hating air travel so much they will believe almost any bad thing associated with it.”

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Just the way Hitchcock used to roll his eyes at people who complained about plausibility. What upsets me more is when, given a particular situation (however impossible or implausible), a character acts in a way that makes no sense at all. I’ll usually go along with any given situation, but if a character behaves like an idiot in response to it then I get angry.

      Reply
  3. Over-The-Shoulder

    Well well well. I won’t be watching this, but I may be tuning into Dix’s podcast. I reckon I could get a guess spot, raise my profile. Apart from that snide, completely unmotivated insult he dropped in somewhere along the thread. May have to call him out for that – ON LIVE PODCAST. Which aren’t live, are they? Anyhow, do you think you and Robbie Collins will be happy to join me on the panel? And, of course, Fraggle Dunaway has to come too! Yeah, let’s all just invited ourselves onto the pod. If it exists.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      I just think it’s super nice of him to invite us to his graduation ceremony. How long has he been at uni now? Twenty years? Thirty? It’s time to celebrate, even if it’s only a virtual event.

      Reply
      1. Alex Good Post author

        Absolutely. I’m not sure if he learned very much in all that time, or that he’s really prepared to enter the real world, but he is finally moving on.

      2. Over-The-Shoulder

        I expect he’s learnt nothing. How to finally make a paper airplane? Maybe. No one’s ready for the real world. He’ll probably go into some sort of sedative state, unable to talk or move. Probably for the best.

      3. Alex Good Post author

        You’re probably right. I suspect he’s going to wind up being a shut-in. Lockdown will never end. But at least he has his blog.

      4. Over-The-Shoulder

        He’s like a modern day Boo Radley, without the kindness. A creepy man trying to lure children with peculiar gifts and watching old films on a spluttering projector, eating only junkets and in complete damp darkness apart from the occasional gaslight. But he’s got his blog.

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