A co-worker recommended this film to me, and I’m very glad that she did. It’s very much worth viewing, and as she suggested – it’s good to look for the aspects of the film that are dated and those that ring true as modern to this day.
Bunny Lake – real name Felicia Lake is the titular four year old character who goes missing from her British nursery after being left behind by single American mother Carol Lynley. She and Keir Dullea play siblings. An early scene where Steven (Dullea) calls Ann (Lynley) to check on her and she tells him to be home promptly since she’s planning to cook chick just for him makes audience think they’re watching a young couple, which toward the end of the film is shown to be exactly the right overtone. The two actors look quite a bit alike and each does a credible job in the role.
The most dated element of the film for me was the way the British nursery seemed very inattentive and indifferent about a new child entering their care center. Nowadays, I would think most nursery school staff would tell a parent exactly where to register a child and collect all the pertinent information from both parent and child. But since it’s the relatively easygoing 60s the young mother leaves “Bunny” in the care of the nursery school’s cook. Later on there is no one on staff who can recall having seen the child.
This tactic lets the superintendent/chief detective on the case (Laurence Olivier) weigh two possibilities – a) the young mother & her brother are both crazy and the little girl is imaginary b) the overprotective brother is somehow involved in the girl’s disappearance.
The temporal change between the 1960s and today is only one difference for viewers to note- there’s also the difference in culture; the approach of the British police force versus that of the American – the very American attitude of a young mother whose child is missing versus that of a British mother. I think an American law enforcement agency would simply try to offer light consolation with bromides such as “We’re putting some of our best people on the case” “Everything possible will be done to help you find your little girl.” et cetera. The British detective takes a more psychological approach from the very beginning.
Another treat is Martita Hunt as Ms. Ford one of the founders of the school who seems eccentric and unaware, but is in fact, very much has her wits about her and can spot a rotten apple or a liar better than most.
Although I suspected the identity of the abductor midway, and it seems that the superindendent did too, I was annoyed with the dismissive manner in which the lead detective spoke to the mother at the end “Get a good night’s sleep, both of you. Now that you exist.” It made me want to hit him.
A good film is one that holds up over time, and a very good one is one that you’d be willing to see remade. I am curious to see what a European director – perhaps a French one – or a female director would make of the material. Originally an American novel by Evelyn Piper (aka Merriam Modell) and set in New York City, a competent U.S. filmmaker would also have a wide range of options.
I kept thinking about the door near the kitchen of the nursery school as an entry point for an intruder to snatch the child. (Personally, I think it would have been better to have the presence of the child acknowledged, and the disappearance inexplicable). I also thought about the biological father of the child as being a potential suspect, or the lecherous landlord (played by Noel Coward). A remake could explore all of those red herrings and have the true abductor plant breadcrumbs to lead audiences toward them until the final reveal. I also think the abductor might have been shown pleading with a jury that he was just pretending to do harm and it was all just a game – with a clean record he might get a light sentence – having the abductor escape in the final reel seems like a cliche Hollywood touch that an American filmmaker would have tried.
Well, this is my speculation and reaction to the film. You’ll have to watch it yourself to have your own:)