Otto Preminger was a craftsman of cinema. His absolute control of the details and the impeccable staging always accompanied him. Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) has, in effect, that trademark that made Preminger a master of the seventh art. Whether from the stand with his Anatomy of Murder (1959) or immersed in the dark world of addictions in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Preminger was always poignant when it came to telling his stories. Common stories that mutated until they became unusual chronicles.
The psychological suspense and thriller converge in Bunny Lake Is Missing. The leisurely pace of the opening sequence changes drastically when the dilemma that drives the story is introduced. When we meet this Ann (Carol Lynley) things start to get bizarre. A statement and a missing girl are enough to move all the gears. Laurence Olivier in his role as Superintendent Newhouse and Keir Dullea as Ann’s brother complete the picture.
Her name is Bunny Lake
The most effective tool in John and Penelope Mortimer’s script, which in turn is based on Marryam Modell’s novel of the same name, is the psychological complexity of Ann’s character. The director’s discourse is built on his actions and as it evolves it becomes denser. The rhythm fluctuates with Ann’s tempo, and it is her emotions that set the tone. Her daughter has mysteriously disappeared and there seems to be no evidence to support the mother’s theory.
The other element is precisely the omnipresent figure of Bunny Lake. Preminger’s treatment of the unfortunate girl is that of a MacGuffin, at least as far as her influence on the first two acts is concerned. Like Detective Newhouse, the viewer doubts the existence of Bunny Lake and ponders that everything is an invention of an unstable Ann. The trident made up of Lynley, Dullea, and Olivier is perfect and their moments together on stage are very strong. The psychological suspense is achieved not only with masterful staging but also with formidable performances.
Shape and background
Cinematography by Denys N. Coop (Rosebud, The Executioner) provides form alongside composition by Paul Glass (Lady in a Cage, Fear No More). It is not only how Bunny Lake has disappeared but also what is told. Preminger finds plenty of room to tackle subtexts ranging from motherhood to incest. From the initial titles, with that hand that tears the paper to show us the names, and even the sequences when the camera follows the characters with a documentary air, everything works so that we can read between the lines and connect with the director’s intentions.
We can find something of Geroge Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), in the relationship between Ann and her brother Steven, above all because of the psychological manipulation and the way it is used to shape the narrative rhythm. We can also connect with La Aventura (1960) by Antonioni, particularly in the way the element of disappearance is handled.
If we look closely we will find a simulated ending that fits perfectly with what Preminger shows us. The second conclusion is the one that censorship was going to tolerate.