Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964: A Conspiracy of Madness Part II- “They’re really quite adaptable, children. They’re like… little animals.”

As part of my double feature for Furious Cinema’s: Scenes of the Crime Blog-a-thon.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Seance On A Wet Afternoon

Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964 is an astonishing film by British actor/director/screenwriter Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind (1961) The L-Shaped Room (1962) King Rat (1965) The Wrong Box (1966) The Whisperers (1967) Deadfall (1968) The Raging Moon (1971) The Stepford Wives 1975) Forbes who also penned the screenplay was only nominated for a BAFTA but actually won the Writers Guild of Great Britain and the 1965 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Richard Attenborough was co-producer on the film as well. Forbes actually adds a slight spin on McShane’s novel by the way he introduces the presence of the Savage’s dead son Arthur. In an interview Forbe’s recalls, ” It was a paperback written by an Australian, a very good paperback but it had something we couldn’t use because in the book, I believe the child was killed and we weren’t going to go down that way.”

In the same interview Bryan Forbes talks about his original conception for the screenplay. “I was counting up the other day, I think I’ve written about 68 screenplays in my career not all of which have reached the screen but which I’ve actually written. And you start with a blank sheet of paper and I had trouble writing it and at one point… I don’t think I told this to many people, we couldn’t as I say, ‘get it cast’ So I turned it into a burnt out homosexual case, that the medium became a sort of Maurice Woodruff who was living with a young man and it was sort of burnt out. Now had we got away with that it would have been an absolute trail blazer of a movie in 1962, I offered it to Alec Guinness and Tom Courtney and Tom said yes and after a month Guinness said no. But that would have been something. And then I sat down and rewrote another version. And changed certain things and eventually as I say, I managed to get Kim Stanley.”


Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964 is based on the novel by Mark McShane. Gerry Turpin received a BAFTA nomination for his stunningly riveting Cinematography. The incredible composer/conductor John Barry (Day of the Locust 1975, Somewhere in Time 1980) wrote the music for the film. Derek York did outstanding editing with art direction by Ray Simm.

The marvelously significant Set design that placed the narrative down in the center of the proper mood was done by Alan Roderick Jones and Peter James.

The film stars the incomparable Kim Stanley as the extraordinary Myra Savage, Richard Attenborough plays her feeble husband Billy Savage who twists at Myra’s powerful instability.

The astonishing Kim Stanley, haunted by personal demons, brilliant actress on stage and screen…
Richard Attenborough actor
Richard Attenborough in the dark British Noir Crime Thriller Brighton Rock ( 1947).

Nanette Newman & Mark Eden are The Claytons. Gerald Sim is Detective Sergeant Beedle who first starts poking around the Savage’s London house, and Patrick Magee plays Superintendent Walsh Margaret Lacey, Marie Burke, and Maria Kazan are the women at the first Séance, Lionel Gamlin appears at the Séances, Marian Spencer is Mrs. Wintry, Godfrey James is Mrs. Clayton’s Chauffeur and Judith Donner is Amanda Clayton the freckled little girl who falls into Myra’s warped plot to achieve fame.

Much like Bunny Lake Is Missing, this film could be called a Post-Noir offering, yet it situates itself flawlessly into the psychological suspense-crime genre as well. And much like Bunny Lake, the plot does revolve around an unseen child.

What lies at the core of the film is not the crime itself, and again while the film is seemingly a Post-Noir crime thriller on the surface it truly is much more of a psychological morality play about the depths of loss and alienation driving a soul, whose fragile psyche bends toward madness and it goes to the questions of maternal instinct and inherited destiny. It’s about human frailties and fractured human relationships that fuel both the alienation and the prevailing insanity.




Are these three women symbols as in the ‘three sisters’ from Macbeth signifying the ‘fates’?




Kim Stanley herself mystically occupies the role of Myra Savage a professed spiritual medium who truly believes she’s the ‘real thing’ and who holds weekly Wednesday afternoon séances in her London home. The film opens with the camera framed on the lit candle burning in the dark blackness and holds itself there silently for quite a few seconds before it moves to a close-up of hands clasped together in silent obeisance to the moment. We hear a quiet, measured voice speaking. As the camera moves from the hand grasped within the hand. “What… what is it? No, no no no… later, later not now..” Myra whispers to her unseen companion, “A message, what? It’s a young face, he’s waving” The youngest woman sitting around the table begins to cry. Myra continues. “Peaceful, very peaceful” The candle crackles, threatening to burn out. “Oh no, no ssshhh, hush, ssshhh. No, my darling, it’s alright my precious no more, no more, no more”


The candle flame cuts right up the middle of Myra’s face giving her an ethereal look of serenity. Yet the flame acts as as a declaration of the duality or paradox of Myra’s conflicted motherhood, denoting a split or fracture in her personality. A bit of symbolic camera play. And quietly as she begins to open her eyes, she snuffs the candle out with her fingers and we are in total blackness for a split second. It is also in this first séance that we see the presence of three women, which I infer as a signpost toward the symbolism of the three weird sisters or ‘fate’ from Shakespeare’s ”Macbeth’. Triggering a sort of marked destiny from this moment on.





As the séance guests leave the house, exiting into the pouring rain with their scarves and umbrellas, John Barry’s music is composed of trickling sparse notes like that of raindrops themselves, subtle, dripping, and as moody and dreamy as the opening sequence. The sparse melody is as slow and drawn out, and starkly subdued and somber as Myra’s voice when speaking to her child spirit guide that no one else can hear.

The film’s titles begin to roll, as the camera catches little drops of rain on the lens, and frames the Victorian house in a small puddle in the street. A very effective way to bring us into the dreary moodiness of the story. The house drew Forbes to it because of its characteristic turret.

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Continue reading “Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964: A Conspiracy of Madness Part II- “They’re really quite adaptable, children. They’re like… little animals.””

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


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) (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, and childhood nightmares that are rooted in the sense of lack of safety in the environment where they should be protected.

Lewis Wayne Gallery Lobby Cards

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 reoriented the story taking it out of New York and placing it in heart of London.

Seth Holt directs my favorite- Bette Davis in The Nanny- a 1965 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.”

No one designs a title sequence like Saul Bass… each one evocative, primal… yet simplistic at its 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.

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


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 the 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 its 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 its 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.


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.
While Ann talks with the quirky Ada Ford, her face is lit from underneath giving her an ethereal, fairytale-like glimmer.





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 nowhere 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.



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 odder is that there seems to be no presence of Bunny’s belongings at the Lake’s residence.


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


Where are Bunny’s things? A taste of female hysteria and maternal paranoia.
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?
Retired headmistress Ada Ford has a fantastical grasp of the inner workings of a child’s nightmares. Inhabited perfectly by the wonderful character actress Martita Hunt.

There are several red herrings that 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 lets 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.

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 that 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.

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, Stephen’s 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

Bunny Lake Lobby Card 54
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.

Ann at the doll hospital

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