Purely by accident we wound up rewatching BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING last night. Which was well worth it — I’d forgotten just how excitingly Otto Preminger melds his two main stylistic tropes here: long takes (enhanced by the ultra-widescreen) and location filming. He somehow manages to cram some kind of a crane inside a tight staircase, he rushes from room to room (but tends to use the passage from indoors to out and vice versa to motivate the few cuts in his sequences).

Poor Carol Lynley has to work very hard to not seem to SEE this busy, nosy intruder with its heap of crew — she’s constantly required to look into, past and THROUGH the lens, giving her an unsettling blind quality. But on the other hand, the long takes and domineering camera eye seem to calm both Laurence Olivier in a major role, and Martita Hunt in a smaller one, and they give perhaps the most restrained and naturalistic performances of their careers. And this was done, we’re told, without Otto’s usual beetroot-faced temper tantrums: Larry let it be known that he didn’t want any shouting, and as long as he was around, there was none.

In the extras, Lynley recalls that Otto found it amusing, when an actor was struggling with nerves, to sidle up behind and scream “RELAAAAX!” in the player’s ear. John Huston recounts this happening to Tom Tryon on the set of THE CARDINAL, but Huston gives no clue that Otto was being humorous. Carol L was in THE CARDINAL too, but I bet Otto gave poor Keir Dullea the same treatment.

BLIM is preposterously crammed with familiar faces from the previous thirty years of British cinema. Finlay Currie turns up for one scene, Megs Jenkins is practically an extra (maybe her nurse is the same character from GREEN FOR DANGER?) and Lucie Mannheim, from THE 39 STEPS (Fiona excitingly noting that she was Conrad Veidt’s first girlfriend) gets a bit.

There’s also the Zombies. Otto had a weird sense of showmanship — turning up in his own trailers, Hitchcock-style, is understandable (although the one for IN HARM’S WAY is inadvertently hilarious, with Otto standing talking to us in the middle of war scenes, apparently invisible to those around him, like Christopher Walken appearing in his own visions in THE DEAD ZONE). He promoted BUNNY with orders that nobody be admitted late, and requests not to reveal the ending, a la PSYCHO. But he does other things that are stranger: here, a pub TV is tuned to a performance by posh sixties beat combo the Zombies, and the film stops for a bit to enjoy the show. And the same song turns up whenever a radio is turned on. Otto and songs is a whole essay in itself: the sung end credits of SKIDOO and strolling troubadour Pete Seeger wandering through TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON… Otto is an artist but also a huckster, but his sales techniques would make Stan Freberg wince. It’s comparable to Jerry Lewis’ use of product placement, which was always so unembarrassed — it was like Jer was PROUD that he could get Colonel Sanders to associate with his movies (the only other filmmaker to woo the Colonel was Jer’s namesake, Herschell Gordon of that ilk).

Paul Glass’s score is very attractive, but behaves oddly too: Lynley’s exploration of a doll repair shop’s spooky basement, lit by oil lamp, should be terrifying, but Glass treats the place as enchanting, a delicate wonderland.

It’s an odd movie, all in all, but effective enough as thriller and mystery, until the last act, which is a tad unconvincing. A character who’s seemed acceptably normal throughout is revealed as the crazed baddie, and is suddenly completely deranged, a dissociated manchild who can be tempted into children’s games at the drop of a hat. Fiona rightly wondered how he’d held down a responsible job previously.

Impossible to know whether screenwriters John & Penelope Mortimer are to blame for this, or Ira Levin who did some uncredited work on it. Haven’t read Evelyn Piper’s source novel. But I think I recognise the Mortimers’ style in the quirkier details, as when Olivier notes that bus drivers are notoriously unobservant: “They’re philosophers and poets, mostly. Probably out of self-protection.”

While everyone else is mostly underplaying, Noel Coward as a sleazy landlord and BBC personality, seems to be having the time of his life, showing off his chihuahua, his African masks, and his collection of whips.

Well worth seeing — Preminger is almost anti-Hitchcockian in every aspect (despite Hitch’s dalliance with the long take) so it’s fascinating to see him waddling about in the master’s disguise.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING stars Heathcliff; Mona and Regina Fermoyle; Dave Bowman; Lady ; Miss Prism; McWhirter and Sheik Abu Tahir; Magwitch; Annabella Smith; The Witch of Capri; Mrs. Alexander; Mrs. Grose; Nervous Man; Ancious O’Toole; Grogan; Antoinette de Montfaucon; ‘Bluebeard’,- Gilles de Rais; Sir Nules Thudd; and the Zombies as themselves.

27 Responses to “Mitehunter”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Kier Dullea, gone tomorrow” — Sir Noel

    Kubrick cast ier in “Soo1” because of is performance in “BLIM”

    Otto was A Piece of Work and a Half but when the elements were right there was no one like him. I am especially fond of the Maudit de Tout Maudits, “Skidoo” It figures significantly in the husband’s memoir Early Plastic as he was crashing I John Phillip Law’s basement during production. Ah The 60″s ! Here it is in all its baroque glory

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Here we go (J’espere)

  4. Third time’s the charm!

    I was just talking about Skidoo the other day. There’s nothing else like it, that’s for sure!

  5. Preminger is said to have chosen only music from his own films for Desert Island Discs and when Roy Plomley nervously referred to his on-set cruelty, Preminger rejected the allegation so fiercly that Plomley’s voice quivered through the rest of the show.

  6. Fiona Watson Says:

    In a strange turn of events, Lucie Mannheim ended up marrying Marius Goring who co-stars with Connie in The Spy In Black. Anyway, here’s the bizarro trailer for BLIM. Even The Zombies are suspects! And the less said about Lucie’s junket the better (although Larry seems to quite enjoy it).

  7. It makes perfect sense that Otto would plug his movies on Desert Island Discs — why pass up a chance for self-promotion?

    UK Shadowplayers can listen to it here:

    Before this film, I never knew junket was a foodstuff, I thought of it only in press terms.

  8. Mark Fuller Says:

    The way things are going, The Zombies may be my next live gig…..twice cancelled already, they’re playing a gig pub in Bristol next February. Still amazing live (or were two years ago, when I last saw them)

  9. Great credits by Saul Bass, literally torn from the screen.

  10. Oh, I love the Zombies.

    Saul Bass accompanied by Paul Glass is musical in itself. Otto should have had the credits sung in this one, instead of Skidoo.

  11. lukeaspell Says:

    A masterpiece! For me, as you know, all the buts in Preminger are ands! The shop is creepy AND enchanting, Preminger is an artist AND a huckster.

    The book, which I haven’t read either, is apparently a more conventional (possibly homophobic) thing; the “acceptably normal” character was invented for the film, presumably at Preminger’s instruction. While I’m sure “think PSYCHO” is something like how he contextualised it for Columbia, BLIM’s depiction of “the problem of an unwed mother attempting to establish the identity of her child”, as he summarised it to Andrew Sarris, makes it seem not only relevant to his interest in social issues, but personal. The abrupt revelation of the normal character’s derangement is an extreme example of Preminger’s sense of human unpredictability, but I think it works emotionally, politically and formally. The last time I watched BLIM, it gained an additional resonance from my having recently seen THE CARDINAL for the first time; what happens to Lynley’s character there, who’s responsible and why, and how it haunts the film, all seem to have some bearing on the culprit and ending of BLIM. LAURA is in there too, of course, and the killer’s breakdown in that film is arguably equally abrupt, in its own register.

    The climactic sequence is, as Jonathan Rosenbaum has noted, the start of Preminger’s late period, but I’d suggest that the first signs of that are the (intentionally) unnerving casting of Carol Lynley as her own daughter in THE CARDINAL, and some aspects (particularly the end sequence) of IN HARM’S WAY.

    I’m writing an essay about Preminger’s televisions!

  12. David Ehrenstein Says:

  13. “Still amazing live”
    Is “live” le mot juste for The Zombies, Mark Fuller? Especially considering they’ve playing for over fifty years. The ultimate revival band.

  14. Mark Fuller Says:

    I’ve seen a few bands that might be termed Undead but The Zombies are definitely still live – or as I said, were in Cardiff a couple of years ago . Maybe Faustian ?? Colin Blunstone might have signed some pact somewhere because amazingly he still has THAT voice…..the set is Zombie material obv. but also CBs solo hits and Argent’s too. You see why Rod recruited Russ Ballad for his band: they had similar range and power. CB still has his.God gave Rock’n’Roll to all of us but he gave Blunstone the best voice for it……probably.

  15. Preminger’s televisions? Did he have a video wall? The shadow of Thomas Jerome Newton is appropriately long.

    “Still amazing live” and “still amazingly alive.”

  16. Fiona Watson Says:

    Speaking of music, On my BLIM Lucie Mannheim related tour of the internet, I found this astonishing thing. Her hubby Marius Goring re-wrote the lyrics.

  17. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Lyrics by the composer of “The Red Shoes” ? Fabulous!

  18. The English-language version of Lilli Marlene was hugely popular in Britain, and Humphrey Jennings made a (totally fictionalized) short “documentary” about the history of the song.

  19. lukeaspell Says:

    Not Preminger’s own televisions, but the televisions in his films! The most conspicuous examples appear THE MOON IS BLUE, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and SKIDOO, but he always does interesting things with them, even when, as in THE FAN and THE HUMAN FACTOR, they aren’t turned on.

    It would be interesting to know something about his own sets, though. He was interested in the medium, and had an idea for something like HBO years before it became possible.

  20. And he sued the networks to try to stop them putting commercial breaks in his movies, right? I have a few books on him, I wonder if anything is said about his viewing habits.

  21. lukeaspell Says:

    Yes! His testimony at a congressional hearing on subscription television is well worth reading if you haven’t read it already. I’m afraid I don’t seem to be able to get a direct page link, but it starts on page 221 here, the last result if you search “221”:

  22. Thanks! I have not only the magnificent Fujiwara book but also Willi Frischauer, Gerald Pratley and Otto’s own book, if you need anything researched.

  23. Thanks! I should be alright for now, I have the Fujiwara and I’ll probably get the others before too long.

  24. Al Adamson’s films were catered almost exclusively by KFC and he managed to get the Colonel to do this cameo in HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS:

  25. I see he’s in The Phynx, too, along with Joan Blondell, Edgar Bergen, and Richard Pryor. A must-see, and then probably a must-forget-seeing.

  26. David and Fiona, I expect you’ve already seen this BLIM trailer featuring The Zombies, but in case there’s anyone here who hasn’t…


    Otto really was nuts, but the wonderful thing is, as an indie filmmaker he could follow his instincts.

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