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Film / Bunny Lake Is Missing

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Bunny Lake Is Missing is a 1965 British Mystery Fiction/Psychological Thriller film, adapted from the 1957 novel of the same name by American author Merriam Modell (writing as Evelyn Piper) and directed by Otto Preminger.

Young American single mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) has recently moved to England to live with her brother, magazine journalist Steven Lake (Keir Dullea). After dropping her four-year-old daughter Felicia, whom she calls "Bunny", off at a preschool, Ann runs off to do some errands. But when she comes back to pick Bunny up, she can't find her anywhere. The busy school staff is of little help, claiming never to have even seen the girl. Steven, eager to assist his sister, joins in the search, but it proves fruitless. The police are called, but Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) suspects something is amiss with the whole affair, particularly when he finds no evidence of a little girl living with Ann, who he learns had an Imaginary Friend named Bunny when she was a girl.

Largely ignored on release, the film has gained a reputation as a Cult Classic. Dullea was cast in 2001: A Space Odyssey because Stanley Kubrick admired his memorable performance as Steven.

"Here we go 'round the Trope bush!":

  • Advertised Extra: Eager to jump on the bandwagon of The British Invasion, Otto Preminger hired The Zombies for the film. They do three songs, all of which are presented diegetically. The first two are performed on TV in the background of the pub scene, and the third is heard on a radio at the hospital.
  • Adaptation Deviation: The novel is set in New York, but the film shifts the location to London, while keeping the lead as American. Steven and Newhouse aren't in the book.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The novel's Blanche Lake becomes Ann Lake in the film.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Just when things become very hairy for Ann, Newhouse solves the crime and saves the day.
  • Cassandra Truth: Played With. We want to believe Ann, who seems like a nice, sincere person. But since we didn't actually see Bunny in the opening scene, it seems quite possible that Bunny really is just a figment of Ann's imagination. It's only after seeing Steven's odd behavior that we start believing her and it gets confirmed when Bunny finally appears at the climax.
  • Casual Kink: Horatio Wilson makes small talk with the police detectives by showing them his collection of canes and whips, plus what he purports to be the skull of the Marquis de Sade.
  • Creepy Doll: The film's most famous scene is Ann going to a "doll hospital" late at night to retrieve a doll of Bunny's that was taken in for repair. Lit only by an oil lamp, she's surrounded by disturbing, largely clothesless, dolls and doll parts.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: This was Preminger's final black-and-white film.
  • Dirty Old Man: Ann's landlord Horatio Wilson (Noël Coward), who tries to get Ann drunk and seduce her.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film covers about 18 hours or so of time.
  • The Ghost: The story is about finding her, but we never see Bunny until the final 15 minutes, when we learn that Steven kidnapped her, hid her in the trunk of his car, and has plans to kill her.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Ann tells Newhouse that Steven offered to pay for an abortion after she became pregnant, but she decided against it. Ann actually saying the word "abortion" was very daring for 1965, and is usually considered the first time the word was used in a film.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Ada Ford calls herself a "queer old party".
    • A non-sexual example. The film uses the old-fashioned sense of "marketing" as a synonym for "shopping", which seems especially odd for a young American woman like Ann to say.
  • Imaginary Friend: Ann had one named Bunny in her childhood, and gave the nickname to her daughter. It ends up becoming a key plot point.
  • In the Style of: The film doesn't even try to hide its Alfred Hitchcock influence. Parts of it bring to mind Psycho, The Lady Vanishes, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and even The Birds (mainly the way the school is depicted). Adding to this feel is the presence of Rebecca star Laurence Olivier, plus Lucie Mannheim (Annabella in The 39 Steps) as the school cook.
  • Incest Subtext: Steven is much, much too close to his sister, to the point of becoming a Yandere for her. See also the scene where Ann thinks nothing of walking right in and having a chat with Steven while he's taking a bath.
  • Internal Reveal: While we learn along with Ann exactly what Steven did, the audience gradually becomes aware that he's the culprit long before she does.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Part of the disturbing climax, when Steven and Ann are doing their childlike roleplaying.
  • It's for a Book: Ada's excuse for her recordings of children talking about their nightmares.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: The driver of the plot. Ann can't find anyone who actually saw Bunny, then Bunny's personal items from the flat disappear by the time the police show up.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Steven attempts an interesting two-pronged version of Gaslighting. He tries to make the police think that Ann is mentally disturbed and that Bunny is just a hallucination on her part. Then he pushes Ann into believing that they bought that story, making her go to extreme measures to prove that Bunny exists (which distracts her from keeping her eye on him).
  • Missing Child: Ann gets quite a jolt of this: leaving her child with strangers, only to have her disappear, then having her sanity questioned.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Ada Ford, quite literally. She's fascinated with the nightmares of children.
  • Police Are Useless: Played With. While it looks like Newhouse might believe Bunny doesn't exist, he actually keeps his cards close to his vest, feeling out both Ann and Steven, trying to see which one of them slips.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Once Steven drops his Mask of Sanity, he regresses back to a childlike state, which forces Ann to start acting like a little girl to communicate with him.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Superintendent Newhouse is very calm and thorough in his investigation, never jumping to conclusions despite provocative statements and evidence.
  • Red Herring: Creepy landlord Horatio Wilson and creepy retired teacher Ada Ford are the obvious suspects in the disappearance early on, but it becomes clear that Steven is the guilty party; the question turns to what exactly he did with Bunny. In the novel, Ada is the kidnapper along with a character who is not in the film.
  • Separated by a Common Language: When Newhouse asks Ann "Have you got a snap?", she has no idea what he means. He then pulls a picture out of his pocket and she says "Oh, a snapshot."
  • Struggling Single Mother: The nature of Bunny's Disappeared Dad is kept vague in the beginning, but it's revealed that Ann is not married, and became pregnant from an affair with a classmate.
  • Teen Pregnancy: This was the case with Ann when she gave birth to Bunny. Steven did not take it very well.
  • You're Insane!: Ann to Steven in the climax after her initial intervention fails.
    Ann: Steven, you're sick! You're mad, Steven! Sick!