I recently had a chance to watch Otto Preminger's film from 1965, 'Bunny Lake Is Missing'. I'd been curious to watch it for several reasons. For one thing, I wondered why it had developed a sort of cult following at some point, despite not having been received as well upon its release. And I was intrigued by the title. Who is Bunny Lake? Why has she gone missing? Of course, that mystery is the entire premise of the story from start to finish.
Having seen it now, I can recommend 'Bunny Lake Is Missing' with only minor hesitation. First, the movement and style is compelling and captivating. You'll willingly go along for this ride despite any reason to want to resist. And resist you might, depending on your tastes, since this film is in black and white. And I only offer that as an issue because Preminger's choice to film 'Bunny Lake' in black and white in 1965 –– with color so readily available -- was a decision that may have actually hindered the popularity of his film.
While watching 'Bunny Lake Is Missing', I could not help but notice a great alignment between Carol Lynley's performance as Ann Lake -- the desperate mother of the missing little girl Bunny Lake -- and the great Hitchcock blondes. And again, I wondered how she might have been better received and remembered had she been featured in technicolor. Ann Lake, the young, single American mother in London, wearing her trench jacket over her prim sweater and skirt, hair tied back in a pretty ponytail, seemed to me like she could have easily become a great style reference or even Halloween costume, in the vein of a Rosemary Woodhouse (or, as I mentioned, any of Hitchcock's heroines.) But alas, it appears she wasn't as remarkable to recall in black and white.
Aside from Carol Lynley's potentially iconic turn as Ann Lake and Otto Preminger's deft direction, the film also includes performances by Laurence Olivier and Noel Coward, portraying a weary detective and a surly neighbor, respectively. My favorite scene in the film also has to be when Olivier as the detective and Lynley as the troubled mother sit at a pub to discuss the distressing situation over drinks while The Zombies (one of my favorite 60's bands) are playing on the TV above the bar. The Zombies are showcased well throughout these scenes here. It's so charming to think that when the film was released, they were a very new, up-and-coming hip band... and this feels significant, in an enchanting way, when viewed today. Watch a clip from this scene (albeit dubbed, in Italian) below.
The story itself is as compelling and eery as you'd expect when a missing child and a mother's sanity are in question. As I'd posted before, stories about a parent fearing a child to be in any trouble are automatically the most frantic, frightening and chilling sort. My least favorite scene in 'Bunny Lake Is Missing' comes towards the end, since it is drawn out to be too long and manic. Yet the film, as a whole, is one that had great potential to be a classic thriller, and it only missed that eventuality by a few doll hairs.