Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965, Otto Preminger)



It's hard to review this movie without spoiling the ending and even harder to watch when Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osbourne ruins the ending before you've watched it. Usually an innocuous source of grandfatherly trivia in between excellent commercial free programming - the only game in town - it saddens me that Osbourne now cannot be trusted before the movie to give away too much of a tricky plot. Especially not for Bunny Lake Is Missing, which he managed to sabotage in the opening sentence. For shame, Osbourne; you've compromised the cool dry air of metropolitan cinematheque sophistication by letting your omniscience make a blunder fatal to movie watchers who want unfiltered viewing. One of the original taglines even warned against patrons entering the theater after the film started, a la Hitchcock's Psycho. Osbourne should've warned you not to stop watching the movie or something, and that's it.

The stars of the film, Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea, manipulate your sympathy towards them almost from scene to scene every few minutes. Lynley carries most of the film until the final act when Dullea suddenly steps out further and they're great together. Preminger's work with actors is so masterful, his relatively unknown leads are captivating even when surrounded by Olivier, Noel Coward and The Zombies (via TV footage shot specifically for the film.) Olivier's a better actor than I thought, he's able to move things along when they need to be moved along as in Rebecca. Coward has a macabre comedy routine as a creepy old man and Marita Hunt is a creepy old woman they're seen episodically, first with Lynley and Olivier then Olivier and Dullea.

Denys Coop's late period black and white photography is superb. Saul Bass title sequences are always a treat. Paul Glass' music is a little overbearing at the big moments and suitably impish in the quieter parts. All the details work in harmony. This is essentially a perfect movie.

As to the twists, well...There's a remake on the horizon and two things are assured. One, no alternately delicate and frightening depictions of mental illness. Two, no way that the ending will be fresh for anyone because the trailer will probably give away the first answer to the big question Bunny Lake centers around, and if you really want to you can find out the ending just by reading the cast of characters on IMDB. You can't really do movies that build up twists upon twists anymore because if a movie does have a twist post Fight Club and M. Night Shyamalan, there's only one and it has to be as ludicrous as possible. This is a thriller from another era, existing between the modernity of Zombies songs and the old hands like Olivier and Coward, with a secret that's actually unpredictable.

So see it now, while you can. No one will be admitted once the clock starts ticking!

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