Color, 1965, 107m.
Directed by Otto Preminger
Starring Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea, Clive Revill, Noël Coward, Martita Hunt, Anna Massey, Adrienne Corri
Indicator (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Color, 1965, 107m.
The story of censorship in Hollywood would have been very different without Otto Preminger, a larger-than-life and fascinating filmmaker who managed to break more taboos in front of mainstream Hollywood audiences in the '50s and early '60s than just about anyone except perhaps Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. He really hit his stride with prestigious cinematic firebombs with Anatomy of a Murder, the politically touchy Exodus, Advise & Consent, and In Harm's Way, which were followed by Otto's take on a Hitchcockian thriller, Bunny Lake Is Missing, which took advantage of both the relaxing censorship standards and the growing craze for youth pop culture centered around swinging London.
Riffing on the basic idea of The Lady Vanishes, the film was developed by Preminger for years after he got the rights to the 1957 mystery novel of the same title by Evelyn Piper (a pen name for Merriam Modell, author of The Nanny). The film ended up making numerous changes, such as switching the location from New York to London and shifting the identity of the culprit, but the general story and characters remained the same. Single mother Ann Lake (Lynley), a recently relocated American along with her brother Steven (Dullea), arrives to pick up her young daughter Bunny from preschool only to find her child missing -- and no one with any recollection of ever meeting her. Superintendant Newhouse (Olivier) is brought in to investigate the case and begins to suspect that Ann's story is highly unreliable, especially since she had an imaginary friend named Bunny. The quest to prove the child's existence and whereabouts runs through a strange gallery of characters including Ann's lecherous, macabre landlord (Coward) and the oddball school staff, with the ultimate solution to the mystery coming at great risk to Ann's safety.
A film far more enjoyable for its execution and its cast than its storyline (which doesn't really pack much of a surprise if you think about it for five seconds), Bunny Lake Is Missing is the kind of film viewers kept in their memories for years even when it stubbornly refused to turn up on home video or accessible TV airings for decades. Olivier is clearly having lots of fun with his droll character, and the lovely Lynley makes the most of a part that mainly requires her to exist in a state of barely contained hysteria. The film is really packed with notable faces including Anna Massey (in between Peeping Tom and Frenzy), a young Clive Revill (The Legend of Hell House) in one of his first notable roles as Olivier's sidekick, the always enjoyable Adrienne Corri (who appeared in Doctor Zhivago the same year and went on to Vampire Circus), The 39 Steps' Lucie Mannhaim (solidifying the Hitchcock influence), The Brides of Dracula's Martita Hunt, and the scene-stealing Coward, a legendary playwright and raconteur who was prone to popping up in unexpected films like this, Boom!, and The Italian Job. His famous taunt of his young leading man ("Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow!") is one for the ages, and though he'll never be regarded as one of the screen's great actors, Dullea acquits himself well enough in a role that doesn't call for him to do much until fairly late in the game. Also noteworthy is the haunting and very effective music score by jazz musician Paul Glass, who went on to score To the Devil a Daughter and several noteworthy episodes of Night Gallery. In retrospect it's a fascinating turning point in Preminger's career, paving the way for his weirder and far more divisive films that same decade, Hurry Sundown and the loopy LSD epic Skidoo.
Released theatrically by Columbia Pictures, Bunny Lake Is Missing went missing itself for a long time after its network TV debut on ABC in 1969, perhaps due to legal issues over the trio of songs by The Zombies (including one memorable TV appearance). Eventually it turned up on DVD from Sony in 2005, with a Blu-ray release by Twilight Time following in 2016. That release is sourced from an excellent 4K master provided by Sony, showing this off as one of the most visually stunning black-and-white scope films of the decade. (As usual Preminger used Saul Bass for the main titles and advertising artwork, with stunning results once again.) The DTS-HD MA English mono audio (with optional English subtitles) is clear as a bell, and the entire Glass score is included as a welcome isolated track, too. The main extra here is an audio commentary with the label's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo along with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, and their knowledge about the project is considerable as they deconstruct its mystery paperback tropes, the backgrounds of everyone in front of and behind the camera, and Preminger's method of cracking what turned out to be very challenging source material. Also included are three trailers, all very much worth watching: a standard version, another introduced by Preminger doing his best Hitchcock or William Castle routine, and a really wild one hosted and sung by The Zombies adapting the one song heard prominently in the film, "Just Out of Reach," into a plea to audiences to "Come On Time" (which was also turned into a radio spot).
In 2017, UK label Indicator took its own stab at the film with an expanded special edition that should even tempt North American fans to consider importing it. The video transfer knocks up the bit rate a bit, which results in slightly more refined film grain in some brighter shots. It's also slightly darker, which results in an increased sense of depth in many shots; here's a sample frame grab from the Twilight Time disc for comparison to the first one seen in this review. The audio commentary, isolated score, and trailers are all carried over here, and a gallery of stills and poster art is included now as well. New to this release are a pair of great interviews produced by Fiction Factory. In the 26-minute "Carol Lynley Remembers," the star chats about hitting it off with the notoriously tyrannical Preminger on this and The Cardinal, thinking this was one of her best films, being awestruck by Olivier (who had to come shoot at night after doing Othello on stage), and the bizarre number of four-year-old kids on the set. In the 13-minute "Clive Revill Remembers," the articulate actor discusses his stage career (including his famous turn as Fagin in Oliver!) and his segue into this, his first major film role, which he found a lot of fun and a pathway to many future projects. As usual the Indicator liner notes booklet is a work of art in itself, studded with tons of beautiful color production photos, a fine essay by The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger author Chris Fujiwara (covering the film's journey through screenwriters like Ira Levin and Dalton Trumbo and its relationship to Preminger's take on the need for love throughout his filmography), a sampling of very different critical reviews from the film's release, and a compendium of interviews Preminger gave about the project while it was still in production.