MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

THE COLD CHILLS OF BUNNY LAKE

What could follow “Psycho"? Well, Preminger has made an even more horrifying film

WENDY MICHENER December 1 1965
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

THE COLD CHILLS OF BUNNY LAKE

What could follow “Psycho"? Well, Preminger has made an even more horrifying film

WENDY MICHENER December 1 1965

THE COLD CHILLS OF BUNNY LAKE

Michener on movies

What could follow “Psycho"? Well, Preminger has made an even more horrifying film

A DELICIOUS SHIVER goes through the audience as a rough hand reaches out, as huge on the Panavision screen as a hand reaching for your neck, and with the agonizing sound of a thousand trousers tearing, claws away jagged strips of black paper. Through the crack in the black we see . . . the credits for Otto Preminger’s suspense thriller, Bunny Lake Is Missing.

I don’t suppose Saul Bass, who has justly earned his reputation as movie credit king, has ever created a more inspired introduction to a movie. Malicious, brilliantly stylish, and senselessly terrifying, his Bunny Lake credits are a perfect summary of the picture to come.

Like Hitchcock in Psycho, Preminger is playing upon our fears of

the irrational, seemingly motiveless crime. But Preminger’s film is at once more effective and more sadistic. He manipulates audience reaction as shrewdly as a psychologist turned torturer, aiming at one of the most basic of human emotions: the protective feeling of parents towards their children.

Bunny Lake is the four-year-old girl child (real or imagined) of an unmarried American girl (Carol Lynley) who comes to join her journalist brother (Keir Dullea) in London. During the rush of moving, Carol leaves the child alone at school on her first day, trusting her to the strange cook.

As we fully expect, at the end of the day Bunny Lake is missing. The mother has committed a minor act of negligence and now she and every parent in the house must suffer for it, a suffering which is not really relieved by the suggestion that Miss Lynley has a screw loose. I doubt if there’s a parent alive who hasn’t left a child long enough (seconds will do the trick) for something awful to have happened, even if it did not.

“When you want to interest people, and films are a mass medium, then you need a simple story based on simple emotions,” says Preminger. But his “simple” stories—The Moon Is Blue, Advise and Consent, Man With a Golden Arm, The Cardinal— almost always prove highly controversial. “We try to get themes to interest the whole world,” he explains. Well, he’s done it again. Bunny Lake is a subject to beat the world with.

“You must think I’m an awful mother,” Carol Lynley says guiltily to the police inspector brought into the case. (Laurence Olivier, as it turns out—another sensational bit of Preminger casting.) “I barely know you,” Olivier replies knowingly.

In the original novel by Evelyn Piper (which Preminger was smart enough to buy eight years ago) the inspector was a psychiatrist. Here, the two functions are combined, a logical development from Psycho where in the end the detectives had to stand flatfootedly by while the psychiatrist summed up the case.

Gone are the days when detectives looked for ordinary motives like greed or the other woman. Dicks today know their Psycho if not their Freud and are quick to suspect that at least one of the people involved is bonkers.

When Carol Lynley turns hysterical with grief, the schoolmistress, another Psycho fan, says, “This woman’s crazy.”

But Olivier urbanely replies, “Well, aren’t we all to one degree or another?” After a look at Martita Hunt playing sound tapes to herself in the school’s sinister attic and Noel Coward fondly caressing a whip supposed to have been used by “the great one,” (de Sade, who else?) one can only agree.

Olivier, looking as wise as god-thefather, alone escapes the charge. “I

must now, I suppose, try to project myself into the personality of a fouryear-old female child,” he says drolly, and we are sure that all will come right, despite the destructive forces of irrationality.

But it’s clear that Olivier can only help Carol Lynley if she helps herself. She has to prove Bunny Lake exists all by herself if the audience is to go home purged of all the latent guilt the film stirs up. I would be more explicit, if I could without defusing the suspense that Preminger and his scriptwriters John Mortimer and his wife Penelope (author of The Pumpkin Eater) have so skilfully arranged. I can only say that despite an exceptionally literate script, the invaluable presence of Laurence Olivier in an exceptional cast and truly brilliant photography, I found the whole picture a nasty business. I went out feeling not purged, but rather as though I’d been arrested on false charges, brutalized by the police, held without access to a lawyer for three days, and then released after a few embarrassed apologies.

WENDY MICHENER