Movie Critique - Bunny Lake is Missing

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: All in all it makes for an unevenly made psychological thriller that towards the end makes you wonder how much a brain can manipulate and be manipulated. A haunting classic that definitely leaves a mark in you mind.

Bunny Lake is Missing is a 1965 British psychological thriller film directed and produced by Otto Preminger. It has Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea and Martita Hunt in the lead cast among others. It was released by Columbia Pictures. 

Ann Lake (portrayed by Carol Lynley) arrives at her daughter's, Bunny Lake, pre-school to collect her, only to be told that there was no child by name Bunny Lake ever dropped at the school. No one at the school seem to remember the child, although everyone remembers Ann. Now Ann, with help of her brother Steven Lake (portrayed by Keir Dullea), starts to look for Bunny; and even call the police who send Superintendent Newhouse (portrayed by Lawrence Olivier) to investigate. 

The film is based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Merriam Model who wrote this book under her pen name Evelyn Piper. Screenplay was given by John and Penelope Mortimer, a husband-and-wife writing team. It was also filmed in black-and-white but in widescreen format in London, and takes place in a space of 24 hours. 

Preminger moved the location to London as opposed to New York in the original book; and also used several of London locations in filming such as Barry Elder Doll Museum that he used in place of the dolls' hospital. He also changed the antagonist's identity in the film compared to the one in book. And has a slightly different ending compared to the book.

Preminger also used the concept that Hitchcock used for his 1960 American psychological horror thriller film Psycho. He did not allow audiences into the theater once the film started; going so far as to include on the film poster a warning - "No One Admitted While the Clock Is Ticking!".

Laurence Olivier is at his best as always in the role of Superintendent Newhouse. His age doesn’t make him any less better than how he acted in the films as a young actor. Surprisingly the story doesn’t center around him although he is top billed.

This is the first time I am watching a film that had either Keir Dullea or Carol Linley. In case of Linley, she is supposed to be American in the film, but her character is given certain subtle British flair to it in her dressing and makeup. She gave an impressive personification of a character haunted and brainwashed. And she holds herself well against the acting giant Olivier.

Keir Dullea as Steven Lake played an effective psychotic sibling. His acting skills shown as Steven Lake landed him the role of Dr. David Bowman in the epic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, released three years later. Ironically, Keir's character Steven talks about Neil Armstrong, a famous astronaut at that time but not yet landed on the moon; and he himself plays an astronaut three years later. 

This movie perhaps was the first or at least among the first movies released in the 60s that used the word "abortion" on screen, going against Production Code. The opening credits are revealed by a hand tearing away the black background as if tearing a paper to reveal names printed below on a white background. They end with a cutout of a baby girl beside the Producer and Director's name. The end credits begin with a cutout of Bunny's doll before a hand places black paper over the cutout when the credits begin to role.

The summary of the movie shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel's guide reminded me of two films - the 2005 psychological thriller mystery film Flightplan starring Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean in the lead cast; and the 2016 Indian Telugu language mystery thriller Kshanam (= moment) starring Adivi Shesh and Adah Sharma. Both films have the same premise - a mother looking for her daughter and nobody believes she exists. 

All in all it makes for an unevenly made psychological thriller that towards the end makes you wonder how much a brain can manipulate and be manipulated; and what happens when people don’t leave their imaginary world that they spin as children even after they grow up. A haunting classic that definitely leaves a mark in you mind.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Check out the English rock band, The Zombies, giving a cameo appearance in a television broadcast in the film. The clips were taken from their earlier performance on Ready Steady Go!, a British rock/pop musical television programme, and used in this film. They are also credited in the film for contributing three songs - Remember You; Just Out of Reach and Nothing's Changed. They even filmed a two-minute radio ad promoting the film. Here is their jingle.

b. The film was spoofed in Mad magazine as "Bubby Lake Missed by a Mile" in the April 1966 issue.

c. Though Keir and Carol played siblings in the film, they are in fact distantly related with strong Irish heritage. They discovered it during the filming. 

d. The pre-school where Bunny Lake is dropped serves something called Junket for kids. It's a milk-based dessert made of flavored curdling milk and fruit. Doesn’t sound appetizing, but I think it comes closer to all these store sold fruit yogurts such as Yoplait!

e. Note that the school has a Rest Room which truly is a resting room for kids where they can sleep; a Wash Room which is the bathroom. Somewhere along the way both words seemed to have changed to mean Bathroom instead. 

f. Check out Clive Revill as Sergeant Andrews. He would appear some 11 years later in the Season 7 Episode 5 of the TV show Columbo, released in May of 1978. The episode was titled The Conspirators and he played the part of Joe Devlin in that TV movie.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Bunny Lake and Ann Lake are supposed to have just arrived from America by an ocean liner. But they have subtle characters of British, and Bunny talks in English accent.

b. The cook is seen making Junket at 9:55AM in the plot. Yet when the Superintendent comes to kitchen in the afternoon in search of Bunny, all the bowls of Junket are lying on the counter as is. No one has eaten it even after their lunch time had passed and finished lunch. 

c. Steven uses his bare hands to remove the hot glass from the chimney of the lamp and his hands don’t burn at all.


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