Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)
Directed by Otto Preminger
Produced by Otto Preminger and Martin C. Schute
Based on a novel by Marryam Modell (as Evelyn Piper)
Screenplay by John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer, Ira Levin (uncredited)
Cinematography by Denys N. Coop
Edited by Peter Thornton
Title designs by Saul Bass
Twilight Time Blu-ray (1:47)
If you read almost any reviews of Bunny Lake is Missing, you’ll find that most critics praise the first two-thirds of the film, lamenting that the structure crumbles to ruins during the final half hour or so. I’m not so sure I agree with that assessment. I simply do not believe that Otto Preminger – a director so meticulous with camera angles, direction of actors, and absolute (i.e. tyrannical) control of his films – simply didn’t know what he was doing with the ending. I think he knew exactly what he was doing. Perhaps some of the problems stem from scenes that linger too long after the reveal of what really happened or, more likely, an ending whose familiarity is embedded into our cinematic consciousness after these many years.
If you haven’t seen it, Bunny Lake is Missing is a mystery/suspense/thriller about an American woman named Ann Lake (Carol Lynley, above right) and her daughter Bunny who have just moved to London, where Ann’s brother Stephen Lake (Keir Dullea, above left) already lives. When Ann arrives to pick Bunny up from her first day at preschool, Ann finds that Bunny has disappeared. If you haven’t seen the film, I dare not give you any further details. (In fact, I have purposefully withheld several.)
I’ll also leave it to you to determine whether or not Lynley and Dullea overplay their parts. Perhaps they do, and if they indeed do, consider that their manner and attitude exist in sharp contrast to the unhurried and non-frantic actions of several supporting characters: the police superintendent (Laurence Olivier, left), the retired co-founder of the school (Martita Hunt), and Ann’s drunken landlord (Noel Coward), all of which whom are not strangers in a strange land (although they certainly may be strange themselves) as are the Lakes.
These supporting performances are stellar but just as impressive (perhaps more) is Preminger’s camera work. We see many long uninterrupted shots, mainly those which follow Lynley and/or Dullea in searching for the child. I don’t know how many of these shots were accomplished, twisting around staircases, going up several flights, around corners, etc. This was filmed in the days before Steadicam, but perhaps some of the readers of this post could elaborate on how these scenes were filmed. (The answer may also be found in the Lem Dobbs commentary on the Twilight Time Blu-ray, which I haven’t listened to yet.) However it happened, the camerawork brings us inside the turmoil and nightmarish emotions these characters are experiencing.
Bunny Lake is Missing is also remembered for a creepy doll hospital scene that’ll stick in your head longer than you might want. On a more pleasant note, the film is also one of the first to have a musical on-screen tie-in. The British rock band The Zombies provide three songs for the film’s soundtrack (and no, “She’s Not There” isn’t one of them) and also appear in a TV broadcast in the film.