Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1

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Doll-maker: “This doll had almost been loved to death. You know, love inflicts the most terrible injuries on my small patients.”

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965)

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Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) (British) is director/producer Otto Preminger’s psychological thriller, considered to be part of the noir cannon or Post-Noir yet embraces the suspense thriller sub-genre. A thriller about a little girl who may or may not exist! The film deals with the dread of losing yourself, not being believed, childhood nightmares which are rooted in the sense of lack of safety in the environment where they should be protected.

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Starring Carol Lynley (The Cardinal 1963, Shock Treatment 1964,The Shuttered Room 1967) as Ann Lake and Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, Black Christmas 1974) as brother Stephen Lake, the Americans who relocate to London and exude a mysteriously emotionless manner even when they act frenzied, enraged or frantically distressed.

The film also stars Laurence Olivier as Superintendent Newhouse, Martita Hunt as retired head schoolmistress Ada Ford, Anna Massey as the uptight Elvira Smollett, Clive Revill as Sergeant Andrews, playwright Noel Coward as Horatio Wilson, the lewd, drunken, seedy and lecherous Landlord who is creepy and inappropriate as he carries his little dog Samantha around with him everywhere. He’s also got a wicked whip collection… one which was once owned by the ‘master himself’ the Marquis de Sade.

Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Preminger and Noel Coward on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Noel Coward who plays the lascivious Horatio Wilson on the set of Bunny Lake Is Missing.

Finlay Currie plays the kindly old Doll Maker, Adrienne Corri  is the disagreeable Dorothy,and Lucie Mannheim plays the irascible German cook.

Preminger filmed Bunny Lake Is Missing in stunning black & white using a widescreen format on location in London, hiring Director of Photography and cameraman Denys Coop (The Third Man 1949, Saint Joan 1957, Lolita 1962 and Billy Lair 1963) and Production Designer Don Ashton.

The story is based on the mystery novel by Marryam Modell  using the pseudonym Evelyn Piper (who also wrote the novel, The Nanny 1965  brilliantly adapted to the screen starring Bette Davis as a very sympathetic yet disturbed nanny) With a screenplay by John and Penelope Mortimer, Preminger adapted Piper’s original novel and re oriented the story taking it out of New York and placing it in heart of London.

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Seth Holt directs my favorite- Bette Davis in The Nanny- 1965’s adaptation of Marryam Modell’s novel

The incredibly striking, simplistic and evocative score was composed by Paul Glass (Lady in a Cage 1964) and used not only in the opening titles designed effectively by the great Saul Bass but the theme is used frequently as a childlike refrain, poignant and moving. The British group The Zombies also appear in a television broadcast, featuring three of their songs, “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.”

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No one designs a title sequence like Saul Bass… each one evocative, primal… yet simplistic at it’s very core

Hope Bryce (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, Exodus 1960, Advise and Consent 1962) was responsible for the Costume design.

A standout performance is Martita Hunt, the wonderful British character actress who was in Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode as the batty aunt Celia Sommerville in The Last of The Summervilles. Here, she plays the school’s eccentric retired old headmistress Ada Ford who listens incessantly to recordings of little children who tell their nightmares and dreams recorded on her reel to reel tape machine.

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The fabulous Martita Hunt as the batty Celia Sommerville co-starring Phyllis Thaxter as the cunning cousin Ursula Sommerville in one of the great episodes of Boris Karloff’s anthology television series THRILLER.

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Columbia Pictures actually wanted Otto Preminger to cast Jane Fonda as Ann Lake, and Fonda was very anxious to play the role, but Preminger insisted on using Carol Lynley.

Carol Lynley as ann lake
Carol Lynley as Ann Lake

Much like the hype of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, audiences were not allowed to tell the film’s ending. The film’s poster promoted a tagline “No One Admitted While the Clock is Ticking” I will also choose not to reveal the film’s coda in this post, so as not to give away the culmination of the film’s secrets or it’s finale.

This was one of Preminger’s last films with a Noir milieu, since The Man With The Golden Arm 1955 starring Frank Sinatra.

Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm
Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

Within the film’s openness, and it’s various environments, it appears that several of the frames are cluttered with visual odds and ends and bits and pieces, the sequence with the unbroken view of dolls, Wilson’s African masks and whips all evidence of the film’s sense of Fetishism.

Bunny Lake is Missing has a visual openness and fluidity which gives the film a striking dimension. The sweeping camerawork is familiar from the noir days of Preminger’s epic Laura (1944), although here it breaks away more completely from the enclosed environs of the 40s noir film.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Premingers iconic noir Laura
Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Preminger’s iconic noir classic Laura (1944)

Denys Coop’s diligent camera seems to peek into corners, moving through doors and up and down those iconographic STAIRS becoming part of the film’s fretful and apprehensive rhythm. Coop uses peculiar camera angles and lights his subjects from below in order to distort the mood, and throw odd uncomfortable shadows on their faces.

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An odd angle as the camera catches Ann Lake coming up the iconographic noir stairs. The visual Images are often a little skewed in Bunny Lake
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While Ann talks with the quirky Ada Ford, her face is lit from underneath giving her an ethereal, fairy tale like glimmer

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING: THE SYNOPSIS

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A single American mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley relocates to London England to live with her journalist brother Stephen (Keir Dullea), Ann drops off her four year old daughter Felicia nicknamed ‘Bunny’ on the first day at her new nursery school “The Little People’s Garden.” When Ann returns to see how Bunny is getting on in school, she can not find a teacher or administrator present, except for a cranky German cook who is complaining about serving Junket (which is essentially gruel) played by Lucie Mannheim. Ann is forced to leave Bunny unsupervised in the building’s ‘first day’ room under the promise by the cranky cook that she will look after the child. Ann must rush to meet the movers who are awaiting her at the new apartment. When Ann returns in the afternoon to pick up her little girl, the cook has quit, and she becomes distressed when Bunny is no where to be found and the school’s employees Elvira Smollett (Anna Massey) and Dorothy (Adrienne Corri) who are left in charge fervently obstruct Ann’s attempts at locating Bunny even denying that the little girl was ever at the school in the first place. No one remembers having seen her. This creates a mood of distrust and paranoia.

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Ann desperately calls her brother Stephen for help. Ann and Stephen were raised without a father, and Ann never married the man who got her pregnant. She and Bunny have depended on Stephen to take care of them. Brother Stephen becomes enraged by the carelessness of the school’s staff, but Scotland Yard begins to investigate the matter. In walks police superintendent Newhouse acted thoughtfully by Laurence Olivier assisted by Sergeant Andrews played by Clive Revill. Newhouse begins searching through the Lake’s belongings and the details of their lives trying to uncover what seems to be a mystery as to whether the child ever existed at all. He discovers that Ann once had an imaginary childhood daughter named Bunny, but even more odd is that there seems to be no presence of Bunny’s belongings at the Lake’s residence.

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Little Bunny’s hair brush and comb set out on the bathroom shelf…

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Where are Bunny’s things???? A taste of female hysteria and maternal paranoia.
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Does the curious headmistress Ada Ford know more about Bunny’s disappearance than she’s telling or is she just one of the plot’s red herrings?
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Retired head mistress Ada Ford who has a fantastical grasp of the inner workings of a child’s nightmares. Inhabited perfectly by wonderful character actress Martita Hunt

There are several red herrings which are inserted into the plot to divert us away from the truth. One such red herring involves retired headmistress, the eccentric Ada Ford played by the marvelous Martita Hunt who seems to have an odd sensibility about children and an acute understanding of childhood motivations which is quickly picked up on by the plasticine yet cold-blooded Stephen Lake.Yet another odd character in the mix is the lecherous landlord Horatio Wilson an aging writer and radio actor played by Noel Coward who revels in his African Fertility Masks and let’s himself into the Lakes apartment at will, in a perpetual state of inebriation lurking about making lewd gestures and propositions to Ann. He also has a collection of whips, exhibiting signs of his sadomasochistic proclivities.

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Horatio Wilson (Noel Coward) is a peculiar sort… as he intrudes on Ann’s world

All these strange characters give Inspector Newhouse a lot to digest, as he tries to eliminate all the possible suspects while trying to find a trace of Bunny that proves she actually does exist, not discounting the idea that Ann Lake is a delusional hysterical woman.

Lewis Wayne Gallery Lobby Cards Bunny Lake

Ann and Stephen tell Inspector Newhouse that Bunny’s passport and all her belongings have also gone missing, assumed stolen during the mysterious burglary in the apartment. Another odd detail which doesn’t support Ann’s truly having raised this missing child, is that the school’s authorities claim that they never received a tuition check for a Bunny Lake.

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Ann shows Stephen the voucher for the Doll Hospital where Bunny’s doll is being repaired. Proof that she exists? Traces of an incestuous bond from the bathtub…

Ann finally remembers that she has a ticket for the Doll Hospital where she took Bunny’s doll. She remembers this during a scene where Stephen is taking a bath, and brother and sister are both just smoking and talking like a married couple. The film constantly hints at traces of a very incestuous relationship, creepily manifested in several scenes, Stephens physical contact with Ann when he tries to comfort her and one other such overt scene while Stephen is taking his bath…

Lobby Card Bunny Lake

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Ann runs out into the dark and ominous London nightlife to try and get the doll from the repair hospital so she can show the police that Bunny owned a doll, reasoning that this will prove she exists.

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And so she goes to the doll hospital run by Finlay Currie. The Doll Hospital was shot in Barry Elder’s antique Doll Museum in Hammersmith like much of the film that was shot on location in London where Preminger preferred to work and which gives the film so much of it’s stark realism. The scene in the doll hospital is one of the creepiest moments in the film, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobic disorientation, with the dolls evoking the presence of the unreality of childhood and the dark fears children harbor. Although Ann is a grown sensual woman, she almost reverts to being a little girl surrounded by all these little fake doll people. Preminger’s vision of London casts it in a darkly sinister realm. The ‘Frogmore End’ house actually belonged to one of my favorite novelists Daphne du Maurier’s father.

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I’ll end the synopsis here so as not to give away the film’s climatic conclusion, but I will continue the post with a bit of dialogue and visuals to paint the film’s stark moodiness and the growing sense of maternal paranoia.

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From the opening of the film, we are led in by the poignant childlike music and Saul Bass’s incredibly gestalt title sequence as Keir Dullea’s character Stephen Lake walks stiffly through a playground. At first we see him in his perfectly pressed suit and neatly coiffed hair walking by a set of children’s swings, he then bends down to pick up a child’s stuffed toy. The black and white photography is crisp and bright and well defined. Practically gliding into the lovely manor house, he closes the door behind him and locks it. The house has the appearance of being emptied out as it is in the process of a move. It is sparsely encumbered with the sense of vitality and spirit that fills a home, all the furniture is covered in sheets.  One of the movers comes out of the back room, while Stephen puts the little stuffed animal in his brief case. Paul Glass’s beautiful music is the only presence of sound in this quiet scene relating to movement, where there is a lot going on without a word being spoken. Visually we are being told that change is taking place. Yet the only signifier is Dullea’s character and his precise gesticulations within the brisk scene with his tying up the loose ends of the move. Brother Stephen seems to be  the provocateur of closure. Even the symbol of his locking the doors, or picking up and putting away the child’s little toy. He is a serious faced young man on a mission although we are closed out of his machinations as we are merely the spectator to his very deliberate actions.

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Denys Coop’s angles set up like photographic frames, shots that could each be stills. We see small movements, of a life we know nothing about yet we feel a creeping unease as Glass‘s score plays like a sad little child’s lullaby.

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The first words that are spoken are from Stephen directing the movers, “She may be a few minutes late will you please wait for her” as the two moving men carry a heavy wooden crate marked Hobbs & Webb Removal Dept. Hampstead and load it into the back of their lorry.

Stephen gets into his little convertible sports car, we specifically see the street sign on the wall, Frogmore End, he pulls away and leaves the small quaint street as the camera films him in long view. This is the end of the opening sequence.

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There’s a very quick flash to the next scene as the camera focuses on a door that says ‘First Day’ on it. It looks like a child’s school and we hear little children singing through the halls, perhaps behind the closed door. At once, Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) comes out of the room, and looks into the Dining Room which is empty. We still hear the children singing some type of hymn.

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She looks puzzled. Again the film is utilizing more of the sound of the natural atmosphere and landscape of the story rather than throwing you into a set of defining dialogues. She walks around as if looking for someone. We continue to hear the children’s hymnal accompanying her on her search. Starting up the stairs she decides to follow the voices and walks through the hallway now. Ann is a very simply pretty blonde, hair pulled back, modest but classy raincoat buttoned and belted.

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“You know I said, Miss Elvira, It’s just as stupid junket, as it is to talk about good junket… junket is junket no matter what you do with it, it still tastes like swill, and swallows like slime.”

Ann bursts into the kitchen says good morning and while the German cook (Lucie Mannheim) is ladling mush she doesn’t turn around to greet her but asks “well now what complaint do you have… to add to the world’s misery?”  “Well no complaints at all” Cook interrupts, well then you can’t be a teacher, and if you’re not a teacher then you have no right in my kitchen.”

“Do you know what this is?” pointing to several neatly lined up bowls on the large table. “It looks like junket.” “Heh, it not only looks like junket it is junket… Do you know what Miss Elvira said about it? “ “No but I really..” Cook interrupts her once again,  “She said really dear can’t we just admit that junket is just the weeist bit poor… you know what I said?” “No…” This disgruntled woman keeps interrupting Ann…

“You know I said, Miss Elvira It’s just as stupid junket, as it is to talk about good junket… junket is junket no matter what you do with it, it still tastes like swill, and swallows like slime.” She now faces Ann who looks unmoved by this outburst about the quality of the school’s gruel.

” I haven’t seen you around here before have I?” says Cook.

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“No, my little girl is just entering today and I can’t’ find anyone to turn her over to.”

No, of course you can’t (She laughs) what little discipline there was among these junket eaters, went to hell the day Miss Benton was taken to hospital.”

“We’ve only just arrived in England a few days ago and I have an appointment to let some moving men into our new apartment and I’ve already left…The cook again interrupts her, flailing her arms, “oh everybody has his troubles… where is your little girl?”

“In the first -day room. When I telephoned to say I’d be late they said I should take her to the first day room… isn’t that a cute name for it?”

“The teachers will be down at the ten o’clock bell . That’s only ten minutes. I’ll look after her til then”

” Maybe I  better wait until…”

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“No… nonsense, you just go you’ll be late.”
“Her name is Bunny, Bunny Lake and she’s in the… “
” yes yes I know she’s in the first day room…”
‘Thank you very much…bye bye.”

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As Ann leaves an odd expression comes over the cooks face. Ann runs out, looks up at the clock and the coat rack filled with the empty hooks where little children’s coats and hats should be hanging, children are still singing from a distant room in the nursery school.

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END OF SCENE:

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Horatio Wilson“This is Samantha if we hadn’t been away we we’d  have organized a small but vociferous reception committee.”

Ann- “Who are You?”

Horatio Wilson“Among other things, your new landlord… and friend ( he kisses Samantha)
I hope my African faces didn’t disturb you.”

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Ann “Of course not. I”m sorry but I do have a lot of unpacking to do.”

Horatio Wilson“Carry on carry on… carry on.”

Ann“Thank you.”

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Horatio Wilson admiring his collection of tribal masks…

The odd Horatio follows Ann into the bedroom while she starts unpacking a few things and laying out Bunny’s clothes on the bed, next to one of those frightening African masks.

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the camera stops on the bed with a child’s clothes laid out ...

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Horatio“This one was a gift from my fan club in Ghana,, you can wear it if you like. I believe it’s marvelous for fertility haha.”

Ann- “That’s not exactly my problem Mr…erh?”

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Horatio“Wilson, Wilson, Horatio Wilson, poet, playwright. Dropper of alcoholic bricks. Am I totally unknown to you?”

Ann– “We’ve just arrived in England.”

Hortatio “From Siberia I presume…that might possibly explain your bizarre ignorance.”

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Ann- “Mr Wilson, I hope you’ll forgive me but I really must get my marketing done.”

Once again, Horatio follows Ann outside, as she tries to leave.

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Hortatio– “I have other African heads, small pickled ones in my apartment. Do drop in anytime you care to meet some unsuccessful politicians.”

Ann“Thank you, that would be lovely, now I really must go…”

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Horatio– “a bientot” Dutchess, (french for see you soon) wave Samantha go on wave… wave to the nice young lady.”

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A herd of disenchanted mothers picking up the youngest little ones in hats and coats who are going home early, are sitting and waiting at first, gossiping, putting on their make up and complaining about missing socks and disorganized teachers.

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At the nursery school, awaiting Bunny, Ann watches and listens to some of the other mother’s chidings…

Mother 1-“Well they’re late I mean It’s absolute chaos with Miss Benton away.”

Mother 2“I don’t know Elvira seems to be coping manfully.”

Mother 1“Well I’m not all together sure… Jamie lost his socks again and yesterday. (patting her face with a compact of face powder)… Well socks don’t just disappear into thin air. Well it’s perfectly obvious she put them on some other child who came in without socks. Not tremendously encouraging.”

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The school bell rings. Children start pouring down the staircase. Once the flood of children are released from their rooms, Ann decides to go and look for Bunny again. Climbing up the stairs through the sea of emerging children, Ann herself seems like a lost child in search of something… as she slowing ascends the staircase looking for her little girl.

Ann wades through the sea of small faces, and works her way upstairs to investigate the rooms, hoping to find her daughter. Going through several rooms, eventually stopping and bending down looking inside a cupboard.

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Dorothy– “Are you looking for something?”
Ann- “Well of course I’m looking for something what did you think I was doing?”
Dorothy– “One can’t always tell”
Ann-“I’m looking for my daughter Bunny. Bunny Lake”
Dorothy– “How old is she?” Ann-“Four”
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Dorothy– “Well fours have already left.”
Ann- “I know. only Bunny wasn’t with them. Are you Miss Daphne?”
Dorothy– “No..Miss Daphne has a bad tooth and went screaming off to the dentist. Anyhow, you’re in the wrong room. This is the three room, the fours are next door. “
Ann-“I’ve been there it’s empty… you see it’s Bunny’s first day and” (Dorothy interrupts)
Dorothy– “Perhaps she’s gone down for her dinner”
Ann– “But she’s not supposed to stay for lunch”
Dorothy– “Did you tell us that this morning?”
Ann– “Well no, you see we were late and” (interrupted again)
Dorothy– “Well now we can’t be expected to read you mind can we.. come along we’ll have a look see.”
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An aide calls out amongst the little ones sitting at the lunch table. “Is Bunny here? Is a Bunny Lake here?… What’s she look like?”
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Dorothy- “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the girl”
Ann- “She has red tights and a white blouse with short sleeves, and a blue pinafore dress, and she’s blond and ah, well don’t you watch the children here? Isn’t anybody in charge?”
Aide– “We’ll find her don’t worry”
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Ann – (talking to a few of the little ones ) “Haven’t you seen a little girl called Bunny?”
one shakes their head no. “About your age?”now more children say no, and shake their heads. “With a dress just like yours”

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Aide– “Look there’s no point in questioning the children”
Ann– “What’d you mean no point…it’s my child, my little girl, not some, not some lost pair of socks….”
Dorothy– “Please Mrs Lake, we mustn’t get emotional”
Ann– “I don’t need your advice. I want my child. Who’s in charge of this madhouse?”

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“Well brace yourself Elvira we can’t seem to put our hands on one of the children.”

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Once Stephen arrives at the school they go in search, upstairs hearing a child’s voice:
“A tunnel… it was an underground train but there was nobody on it- (a voice of a child relating a story reverberates through the hallway)…it was a dog. A giant dog. But he didn’t know he was on the train… and this dog had great big huge eyes…. and hundreds of teeth just to mash you up with. To mash you right up.”
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Stephen and Ann knock on the door as Ada shuts the tape recording off and asks “Who is it?.

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Ada“Such imagination…we might think of teeth nashing but Mashing, which is exactly what they do of course. Are you parents? (looking back and forth between Stephen and Ann) We don’t usually see parents up here.”

Stephen“We’re looking for a four year old girl named Bunny.”

Ada“Have they lost one… how careless”

Ann“Are you Miss Benton?”

Ada“Oh no not all all. I am Miss Ford, Miss Benton and I started this school together. But now I’m retired. Except for my book. I’m writing a book you know on children’s fantasies. would you like a cigarette? I have all their little nightmares on my tape machine. “

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Stephen “You don’t have bars on these windows. All the other windows have bars.”

Ada“The children aren’t meant to come up here. Now, Elvira seems to thinks I may frighten them by asking them about their dreams. But I tell you something in confidence. Every now and again some brave child slips through the defenses. So let’s hunt shall we. Now what’s her name?”

Ann“Her real name is Felicia, but we’ve always called her Bunny.”

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Ada“Bunny? Bunny? (changing the inflection and pitch to her voice with each calling out of the word)  We have to call you know. Although very often when they hear the calling… they hide and laugh at us. Bunny? Bunny? Bunny? Bunny?”

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“This woman’s crazy” Ann says to her brother Stephen.

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Ada– “Don’t you think we all are to one degree or another… crazy I mean..especially children. Bunny? Bunny? That’s why with a child you have to think of everything. Your little girl has probably gone to sleep somewhere.”

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Ann- “Yes, you’re probably right. She does take a nap every afternoon.”

Ada“Perhaps she’s been frightened, they do go to sleep sometimes after a bad fright. And quite sensible of them too.”

Ann “Well what could have happened to frighten her?”

Ada“Who can say.”

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Ann– “What happened to her, what are you hinting at. Are you trying to tell us something happened to Bunny?”
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Stephen– “Easy, Annie, look Miss Ford if you do know something please level with us I wouldn’t want to embarrass you.”
Ada– “Embarrass me how would you do that?”
Stephen– “by calling the police”
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Ada– “What an enchanting idea. The telephone is in here. Dreadful painting of Madres (Miss Benton?)… makes her look like Mother Earth or something”

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Stephen“Then you wouldn’t mind calling the police?”

Ada- “That’s exactly what I would do myself were I the child’s father.”

Stephen“I’m not her father, I’m her Uncle. Ann is my sister.”

Ada“Curiouser and curiouser.”

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Elvira Smollett– “You have no right to be in this room.”Ada– “You seem to have been a little careless Elvira.”

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Superintendent Newhouse arrives on the scene.

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After looking around and questioning Ann a bit, he asks her for a photograph of the child. Newhouse “Oh have you got a snap?” Ann -“what?”
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Newhouse- “This sort of thing( takes a photo out of his jacket pocket) Taken at Chroma Sands on a dull August afternoon, almost useless for identification but it pleases Grandmother.”
Ann- “A snapshot”- Newhouse-“that’s right.”Ann– “No I don’t have one… the photo albums in fact most of our things haven’t arrived yet.”
Newhouse-“Would your brother have one?”Ann- “it’s possible, I’m not sure.”
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Newhouse- “All of your family Mrs Lake are most elusive.”

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Stephen “Looking for me?”

Newhouse- “You’re Mrs. Lake’s brother”

Stephen. “That’s right Stephen Lake”

Newhouse “Superintendent Newhouse” (shakes his hand but looks wary)

Stephen“I was upstairs having another a…. session with Ada Ford”

Newhouse“Who’s she?”

Stephen -(laughs) “Sort of the witch in residence. You know what she told me. This has happened before in this school. Only with two kids instead of one. A teacher just took them off to the zoo without telling anybody.”

Ann “Did they find them?”

Stephen“yes, safe and sound. But not before the whole place went crazy looking for them.”

Newhouse“Where’s your husband?”

Stephen “You see Superintendent, my sister’s husband…” Ann interrupts

Ann “I’m not married… I never was.”

Newhouse“I see”

AnnI hope the fact that Bunny’s illegitimate won’t…”

Newhouse “Oh of course it won’t, Miss… Miss Lake. Though I assume you do sometimes call yourself Mrs.”

Ann “Only when it avoids confusion… Miss is fine…”

Newhouse“Have you a photograph of your niece?”

Ann-Oh no that’s me… (pauses) Oh of course I have a picture of Bunny I’m so stupid, it’s with her passport at the apartment.”

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Ann realizing that Bunny’s little brush and comb are missing from the bathroom

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No trace of Bunny’s clothes or things…

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Stephen and Ann now at the apartment alone, Ann has become very disturbed by Newhouse’s line of questioning.

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Ann “But that Superintendent Newhouse, he asked me for a list, of all the people who’ve seen Bunny since we’ve got to England. What does he need that for?”

Stephen“Suspects I suppose”

Ann No… Stephen he sounded like , like he wanted to make sure there really was a bunny. Stephen-“Oh come on now…” Ann-“Stephen just hold it, if  he doesn’t believe that Bunny was real. Maybe they’ll just stop looking for her.”

Stephen“They wouldn’t they couldn’t take that risk.”

Ann remembers that she had bought Bunny a box of chocolates at the grocery. She goes to the cupboard and takes out the decorative box, showing it to Stephen. She asks him to take it to Superintendent Newhouse.

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The police locate the crotchety cook

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Superintendent Newhouse shares a brandy with Ada Ford who sheds some light on a few things…
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Ada– “Perhaps I’m wrong…I’m alone a great deal Superintendent, but that young man is worried about his sister. Desperately worried.”
Newhouse– “Isn’t that natural?”
Ada “Is it… natural I mean? I should have thought the natural thing was to worry about the child.”

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Ada Ford “Of course I’ve seen children disappear from this school (pouring a glass of brandy for Superintendent Newhouse) I’ve known children who’ve come for one day and never return again. It’s perfectly feasible Superintendent. Children are at the mercy of their parents. And for the most part Parents are a very bad lot.”

Newhouse “And in some instances, even undeserving of their children wouldn’t you say?”

Ada“Oh but I wouldn’t say, that would make me a suspect don’t’ you see. Queer old party saves children from undeserving parent. “

Newhouse laughs, Ada laughs

Newhouse“Now coming back to Bunny Lake…”

Ada“That’s not her real name you know… not Bunny at all but Felicia… isn’t it delicious. A little effected from an American child. But I think it shows a strong imagination at work. The brother told me quite a lot. There’s something unusual about that young man. Something very unusual.”

Newhouse- “What exactly did Mr Lake say to you?”

Ada“Apparently she had this completely imaginary companion.”

Newhouse “Who Bunny?”

Ada“No no no, the mother when she was a child. And she called her Bunny. It’s terribly common among children. Lonely children that is…”

Newhouse“Why do you think Stephen Lake told you all this?”

Ada“Let’s say we took a fancy to each other. The whole place was full of those great men of yours in boots. I think we both knew that was no way to find Bunny.”

Newhouse “Why do you say that?”

Ada“Perhaps I’m wrong… I’m alone a great deal Superintendent, but that young man is worried about his sister. Desperately worried.”

Newhouse“Isn’t that natural?”

Ada “Is it… natural I mean? I should have thought the natural thing was to worry about the child.”

Bunny Lake Is Missing deals with the archetypal hysterical woman, in this case an American woman, no one believes her, she is an ‘Outsider.” Theoretically this film taps into the psychology of paranoia, in particular maternal paranoia, a dose of incestuous desires, an obsessive psychosis, fetishism, alienation and persecution.

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There is even an air of Alice in Wonderland about the lost child. Ada’s reference to ‘curiouser and curiouser’ when she learns that Stephen is Bunny’s uncle and not her father. Newhouse’s referring to Bunny going on a sort of excursion and not calling it ‘missing’. The entire fairy tale quality to the play, as we don’t know whether Bunny is a character out of Ann’s imagination.

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The quote by the doll maker almost says it all about the sickly symbiotic relationship between Ann and Stephen, while we are not given any background as to Ann’s relationship with her parents, Stephen has taken on the role of protector and a much deep pathology that borders on incestuous desires for his beautiful sister. “This doll had almost been loved to death. You know, love inflicts the most terrible injuries on my small patients.”

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It is also a curious study of MOTHERHOOD, using the cinematic weaving of a good mystery and enigma with the suggestion of madness. The film feels aggravated, vexed, reserved and imposing in style.

At it’s core, there is the essence of paranoia and conspiracy. As the narrative dismisses Ann’s motherhood. No one believes that Bunny exists. Ann moves about with a controlled manic sense of urgency yet exudes a sort of lack of affect, while Stephen exudes an undercurrent of something dark and more unsettling (Ada Ford picks up on this at once saying he’s ‘very unusual’ ) as he perpetuates the idea that Ann might have made Bunny up all together, just as she did when she was a young girl.

In the beginning when the movers bring Ann to the new apartment, one of them looks at the wall collection of tribal African masks with an expression of disturbance. Is this a preliminary hint at the fact that things are bizarre, not what they appear, to let us know some people wear a mask to hide their true selves. Is it a plot mechanism to warn us that something isn’t quite right… with these American’s living in London.

Also in the beginning when Stephen calls from a phone booth he tells his sister ‘Darling… Love you darling…’ not quite the average conversation between brother and sister. Hinting at the theme of an incestuous fixation.

In the scene where Stephen is confronting Miss Smollett about the child being taken, the camera juxtaposes him to the left of the screen and a cuckoo clock that chimes to the right of the screen…

Is this a parallel visual to signify to us that there are many characters in this story that are actually cuckoo nuts….?

Stephen and Ann climb up the stairs, hearing a child’s voice. Thinking headmistress Miss Benton is upstairs and not in hospital, they find Miss Ada Ford who founded the school with Miss Benton ( perhaps lovers?) She is now retired. Ada’s been listening to a taped recording of a child narrating a story. When she say’s “have they lost a child how careless of them” It implies how there is a lack of safety in the world for small children. She’s writing a book of children’s fantasies. “I have all my little nightmares on my tape machine.” Ada is an unusual character who underscores that children have reasons to be inhabited by nightmares.

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Stay tuned for Part II with Seance On A Wet Afternoon by director Bryan Forbes; A continuation of ‘A Conspiracy of Madness… I won’t be missing for long you can count on that- MonsterGirl

6 thoughts on “Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1

  1. Jo, I won’t spoil the ending of BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING for you, but it’s rich in suspense, oddball characters, paranoia, overprotective loved ones, and parental fear — something a parent can can relate to, all too well! Carol Lynley is definitely a better choice as Ann than Jane Fonda, as Lynley is more vulnerable. And without giving anything away, Keir Dullea really amazed me! BRAVA on a stellar post, Pal Joey, as always!

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    1. Oh Dor- I know exactly what happens at the end, I’ve seen this film a few times. But I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s just too good… some people are actually not big fans of Preminger, I however adore his work. And I agree with you, while I can sort of see Fonda doing an adequate job, Lynley is a lithe spirit, and carried the role perfectly. I’ve grown to really love her work. You’re right, the film is inhabited with so many oddballs, and while I don’t have children other than the furry kind, I think that losing a child is the worst thing that could befall a parent. So glad you liked the post. Next off is the follow up to this ‘conspiracy of madness’ with Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Kim Stanley is brilliant. The film is also a subtle masterpiece in oddball relationships and damaged souls. I love this Scenes of The Crime Blogathon. I’m feeling very ambitious these days, now that Bunny Lake is out and The Black Cat is on the prowl and ready for the Terrorthon. I’d like to release another double featuring your love bug George Segal in No Way To Treat A Lady paired with Cliff Robertson and Joel Gray in Man on A Swing. Both are outstanding suspense thrillers. Thanks for stopping by pal… I’ve got to get over and read your Nightmare Alley post. So should everyone else if they don’t want me lurking under their beds…teehee

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