Saluting John Guillermin / Bunny Lake Is Found

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Oct 2nd 2015

Earlier this week, veteran director John Guillermin died at age 89. His 40-year body of work ranged from the classy (The Waltz of the Toreadors, Death on the Nile) to the colossal (King Kong, The Towering Inferno) to the rough-and ready (I Was Monty's Double, Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, El Condor). Twilight Time has brought to Blu-Ray two of his most idiosyncratic and personal works, which he made back-to back. Rapture (1965) is a haunting, beautifully shot chamber piece about a young country girl's awakening to her sexual identity as a woman, despite the controlling parentage of a strict father, when a stranger enters their lives on an isolated Brittany farm. Drawing vivid performances from Melvyn Douglas as the father, Dean Stockwell as the visitor and especially Patricia Gozzi as the yearning, carnal Agnes, Guillermin considered this a favorite among his films. The box-office and critical disappointment of Rapture was soon followed by an epic World War I adventure that flew highly and mightily: The Blue Max (1966), a rousing aviation tale of an ambitious German flyer vying for glory (symbolized by the title honor) among his comrades and superiors in ways that commingled bravery and unscrupulousness. George Peppard, James Mason and Ursula Andress head the cast, and the thrilling aerial combat photography captivated audiences and inspired subsequent moviemakers of war and other action pictures that followed. Both widescreen wonders are signature works in the Guillermin oeuvre, worthy of medals and a 21-gun salute to a late, great film artist.

Opening in theatres 50 years ago tomorrow, Otto Preminger’s Blighty-set thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) took a while to go from missing to found. Not critically hailed upon release (The Village Voice’s Andrew Sarris being a major exception), this eerie and eccentric thriller about a missing child who may or may not be real has grown in critical favor in the decades since. Bolstered by a committed cast (Carol Lynley as the distraught mother who can’t seem to prove her daughter’s existence, Keir Dullea as her chillingly controlling brother, Laurence Olivier as the investigating inspector, Noel Coward as a sleazy neighbor), the movie is now treasured as a time capsule of swinging ’60s London and as a kind of companion piece to such other psychologically styled illusion-vs.-reality thrillers of the time as Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up. Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader considers Bunny Lake Is Missing, available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, “one of [Preminger’s] most darkly poetic and wrenching films, a reflective mid-’60s return to the ghostly film noir style he developed at Fox in the ’40s…Gradually it becomes clear that the subject of the investigation is not the missing child but the absence of love in [the mother] Lynley's own life…Preminger approaches the mystery of human irrationality and emotion through logic and detachment; the effect is stingingly poignant.” It is also mesmerizing to watch, a reminder that the director of Laura could still weave a powerful spell for mystery fans.