chihuahuas, whips, and setting dolls on fire

Until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have thought there was a movie featuring both the Zombies and Noel Coward. I refer, of course, to Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing. Coward (in a wonderfully over-the-top performance) plays a chihuahua-clutching lothario, a man persuaded (or simply having fun trying to persuade himself) that his honeyed voice, particularly as modulated by the BBC’s transmissions, is the very soul of seduction. He also has a priceless scene in which he attempts to sell a couple of policemen on the joy of his collection of whips, including one owned (he says) by none other than the Marquis de Sade.

As for the Zombies: if you thought egregious soundtrack-placement was a recent phenomenon, you haven’t seen this movie. The band appears on a television (apparently, in 1965 Britain, a 23-inch screen was a marvel) in a pub, and implausibly draws the attention of a crowd of besotted middle-aged regulars. (The same song is later heard on a radio, being listened to by a rather oblivious janitor.)

The film itself is quite good: beautifully shot, artfully plotted such that we’re always kept a bit off-balance, with nearly every character in turn made iffy of motive, character, or stability. As for the premise: a woman’s young daughter goes missing…or does she? Without including any spoilers, I’ll say that the climactic scene of the movie is excruciating: if the movie hasn’t grabbed you, because it seems to last forever, and if it has, for the very same reason. Carol Lynley, who plays the female lead, has a peculiarly contemporary face: that sounds odd, but some people just have faces that seem right for particular eras. Lynley’s doesn’t jar or anything (unlike some actors whose faces read as too contemporary for historical features); in fact I think it makes the movie a little less dated (some of its psychology places it pretty firmly in the mid-sixties). And Keir Dullea (pre-2001) manages to be simultaneously obnoxious, creepy, and compelling.

The DVD unwisely includes a preview for the recent movie The Forgotten – unwisely for the sake of the advertised film since, as far as I can tell, the plot of that movie is the plot of Bunny Lake as run through the Implausiblizer. I love watching Julianne Moore – but please, give her something better to do. The Forgotten also appears to participate in the regrettable recent trend to visualize everything just because you can. Sometimes, subtlety, or letting viewers imagine things, is more effective. I saw an ad on TV the other day for the movie of The Da Vinci Code: apparently, at one point a 2D-looking cutout of a figure goes sliding around within The Last Supper. That would have been funny on South Park: in an ostensible thriller, I suspect it will be laughable – as laughable (at least in the regard of the audience I saw its previews with) as the letters flying around the head of the young female character in whatever that movie was last year about spelling bees and kabbalah or whatever that was. Even more sadly, a remake of Bunny Lake Is Missing is in the works…starring Reese Witherspoon. Nothing against Witherspoon – but we are reaching a point where, within a few years, all movies will have been remade, and so floundering Hollywood moguls will resort to making movies adapting cereal boxes, assembly instructions, and bathroom graffiti.

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