BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (Otto Preminger, 1965)

Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing is a brilliant mystery and a piercing study of twisted family relations.
     Single mother Ann Lake has just moved from Boston to London with the help of her brother, Steven, a reporter; when Ann goes to a private school to retrieve her 4-year-old daughter, Bunny cannot be found, nor does anyone admit remembering her. Meanwhile, the child’s passport, clothes and toys have all been removed from the apartment into which Ann has just moved that morning. We ourselves watched Ann unpack Bunny’s things; but we have not seen Bunny. “Bunny,” it turns out, was the name that Ann had given her imaginary playmate in childhood, and the police detective leading the investigation, Superintendent Newhouse, cannot quite conceal doubts of Bunny Lake’s existence.
     Some have charged Preminger’s film with “red herrings.” There are none. Preminger provides no false clues to mislead us. In Bunny Lake what we have instead is the criminal tossing about red herrings to mislead others, including the police, and by which, if only we are attentive, we are better able to solve the mystery. This film plays fair. Indeed, at the outset we see Uncle Steven pick up Bunny’s doll outdoors—a doll they put in for repair.
     The list of suspects, incidentally, includes Ann’s lascivious landlord, Horatio (Noel Coward), and the school’s reclusive retired co-founder (Martita Hunt, who played Miss Havisham in Lean’s Great Expectations, 1946). Laurence Olivier is seamless as Newhouse, who silently battles his prejudices to be professional and thorough. Moreover, Carol Lynley—whose Ann refers to her two Bostonian roles in Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963)—is intriguingly stylized, wonderfully resourceful.
     Preminger’s intricate, absorbing mise-en-scène is largely recorded in long-shots. Infinitely gray, Denys Coop’s black-and-white cinematography suits Preminger’s theme of ambiguity.

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