I saw "Bunny Lake Is Missing" for the second time last night at San Francisco's Castro Theatre. The first time was also at the Castro twelve years ago during an Otto Preminger festival. Preminger made a number of better films "Laura" and "Anatomy of a Murder" come to mind but I have a special fondness for "Bunny Lake" even though at times it drags and is overly talky.
Among the merits of casting Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea, it can be successfully argued that they look like siblings often not the case in films which works very well for this film, as does their ethereal out-of-body quality.
Criticism has been made that the role of Ann Lake was written one dimensionally and therefore offered Lynley little to do but weep and whine; but this may have been Preminger's intention to support that part of the plot that suggests Ann may not have a daughter and that Ann herself may be more than a bit unbalanced.
Dullea is an unusual looking actor who can photograph good looking or simply strange. Preminger used this well early in the film, although he seemed to lose subtlety as the narrative headed towards its denouement.
The film's superior black-and-white widescreen photography is one of its strengths. London locations and interiors are effective and impressive. I especially liked the doll hospital cellar sequence with Lynley holding an oil lamp as she moves about, the high angle shot of the backyard the begins the final sequence, and several sequences when characters pass quickly from one room to another.
The sexual subtext is not as hidden as it would have been in the 50s, but subtler, say, than after 1970; its ambiguity adds to the film's texture without getting in the way.
In fact, 1965 seems a perfect time for this film to have appeared since the cinematic fulcrum was still well placed to balance a filmmaker from older Hollywood who also enjoyed pushing the envelope. A little bit later, color photography would have been mandatory, and the characterizations would have moved into a much more bizarre, psychedelic arena.
Perhaps because of how its strengths and weaknesses combine, the film has a seductive, haunting integrity for me. As the film began with the Saul Bass titles and Paul Glass's score, I felt a pleasurable sensation of awe which I used to feel more often when seeing a movie, and which reoccurred a number of times in "Bunny Lake".
Try to see this film on a large theater screen to experience the full power of the black-and-white widescreen cinematography. Otherwise, view the letterbox DVD on a screen large enough to allow you to see details. There is much to enjoy in "Bunny Lake Is Missing", so don't miss out.