When Ann Lake goes to pick up her daughter after her first day of school, the little girl is nowhere to be found. With a Scotland Yard inspector finding no criminal evidence of abduction and no further trace of the girl’s disappearance, Ann’s brother Steven decides to take matters into his own hands.
I didn’t hesitate for one second when I was offered the unique opportunity to watch ‘Bunny Lake Is Missing’ on a big cinema screen, when a modest genre festival in my country programmed it in their thematic module of “British Cult Cinema“. And does ‘Bunny Lake is Missing’ ever fit into this category, or what! The film is acclaimed Austrian/American director Otto Preminger‘s rare foray to the London metropolis for a captivating and tense, albeit flawed, drama-thriller full of eccentric characters and philosophical as well as disturbing undertones.
The stunningly beautiful but vulnerable Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) just arrived from the US to her new home in the center of London, where her devoted and caring brother Steven Lake (Keir Dullea) arranged everything for her. Ann drops off her four-year-old daughter “Bunny” at school, but when she can’t find any of the teachers, she agrees with the school’s cook to keep an eye on the little girl. When Ann returns to pick up “Bunny” a few hours later, she isn’t there anymore. Moreover, nobody in the entire school has seen or heard about the girl. While Ann panics and Steven accuses the school board of sheer incompetence, the experienced Scotland Yard inspector Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) discovers that there’s no evidence whatsoever to prove the existence of “Bunny”. Is he dealing with a delusional mother and her over-protective brother or is the kidnapping of little Bunny Lake a perfect crime?
‘Bunny Lake is Missing’ doesn’t feature any action or violence throughout three quarters of its running time, and yet Preminger creates a truly ominous atmosphere and unbearable tension through mind-penetrating dialogs, mysterious characters and depressing images of an asocial London community. The subject of a child gone missing is automatically worrying, but add to this mentally unstable relatives and potential danger lurking behind every street corner and you’ve got yourself a gripping thriller. It’s remarkable and praiseworthy for how long the script actually manages to keep everyone (the audience, in particular) guessing whether “Bunny” is real or imaginary! I must admit the climax is overly long drawn out, slightly disappointing and severely damages the credibility of literally everything that happened earlier in the film. But luckily ‘Bunny Lake is Missing’ already became an indestructible classic in my book by then.
Under Preminger‘s surefooted direction and craftsmanship, the lead actors Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea put down stupendous performances. The most noteworthy portrayals, however, are coming from some of the supportive cast members like Martita Hunt (as a former school principal with an obsessive interest in children’s dreams), Noel Coward (as the despicable and self-centered homosexual landlord) and – last but not least – the contemporary British cult band The Zombies, who magically appear on every radio and TV-screen in the whole of London. And, finally, as a massive admirer of his work, I simply must also mention that Saul Bass‘ marvelous titles sequences also contributed a great deal to the powerful impression this film made on me.
Trailer on YouTube.