Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Nanny (1965)

I must admit that I have never been a huge fan of Hammer Studio films, although their horror outings from roughly 1957 through to the mid-70s were influential and they did churn out a number of moderately diverting movies to fill the odd 90 minutes. They brought the talents of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to the fore, for which we can thank them. However they also gave us an assortment of largely forgettable buxom beauties, some lurid color photography, and a number of derisory plots.

This Hammer film from the period has nothing in common with the rest of their output . For a start it is in not so glorious black and white, gives roles to a different assortment of actors than usual, but most importantly stars Bette Davis, who is well up on my all-time favourite actresses list. It is one of two movies that she made for them in the 60s when she was scrabbling for work. While it is a far less flamboyant role than the eyepatched, monstrous mother she plays in "The Anniversary" (1968), this remains one of her creepiest characters ever, almost on a par with Baby Jane.

She is the beloved family nanny in the household of Wendy Craig and James Villiers, having also been Craig's and her sister Jill Bennett's nanny when they were little. However there was a tragedy two years before when the younger of her charges was found drowned in the bath. Davis blamed the girl's death on her brother Joey and the lad is just returning home after two years at a special school for problem children. His version of the events is that Davis was responsible for his sister's death and that she is out to get him as well; however he is such a bolshie little brat that one does not quite believe him. Against this Davis brings such subservient menace to her role -- she has remained in the household for the past two years even 'though there were no children, to look after the increasingly childish and hysterical Craig -- that one just can not warm to her.

Yes, she is almost too good to be true. As the boy played by a fine child actor, William Dix (he only appeared again in the original "Doctor Doolittle"), reveals his version of the events to the feisty teenaged girl in the apartment upstairs, Pamela Franklin, we begin to be convinced that Davis is some sort of monster in disguise. Then when Craig lands in hospital with food-poisoning (blamed of course on Joey) and Bennett who has a weak heart is left to die after seeing Nanny hovering outside Joey's bedroom door, suffocating pillow in hand, there is no further doubt. The denouement is wrapped up too rapidly for the film to be a classic of any kind and it is certainly not a horror movie in the usual sense of the word. However it will remain a fine reminder of Davis' acting skills even during one of her fallower career periods.
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