Wonder of wonders, I actually finished a book. This one’s been a long time coming. I read it in fits and starts, but I can finally say that I finished Bunny Lake is Missing by Meriam Modell writing as Evelyn Piper.
After seeing the wonderful black-and-white film starring Laurence Olivier and Carol Lynley, I fell in love with this interesting and unusual mystery revolving around a nervous mother who goes to pick her daughter up from her first day of kindergarten at a new school in a new city. The nerves don’t go away, though. Not only is her daughter not there, but nobody seems to remember her, not even her name. A lengthy police search and interrogation with the slowly unraveling mother reveals that Bunny is possibly imaginary.
That’s where the stories diverge.
In the movie, Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) finds comfort in her brother Stephen (Keir Dullea) as an American woman now alone in the strange city of London. The details of Bunny’s life become fewer and far between, with not only no record of her at the preschool, but in Ann’s apartment as well – her clothes, toys, and any photos of her are gone. Ann remembers that she took Bunny’s doll to a doll hospital to have it repaired, and successfully retrieves the doll, only for her brother to storm in, burn the doll, and take Ann to a mental hospital. Ann escapes from the hospital and returns home, knowing that Stephen had something to do with Bunny’s disappearance, only to find that Bunny has been in the trunk of Stephen’s car all along as he had planned to kill her. Seeing that Stephen has reverted to a childlike mental state, she entertains him with songs they used to sing and games that they played as children, until the police come, arrest him, and declare Ann Lake’s 24-hour nightmare over.
The book, however, disappoints. The simple yet believable plot of the movie bears no resemblance to the events of the book. First of all, there’s no Stephen whatsoever. I don’t know where Otto Preminger came up with that, but I’m glad he did. Instead, there are half a dozen more characters and twice as many plot twists. The book includes not only Newhouse (now a therapist), but Wilson, a policeman; Louise Benton, headmistress of the school; and the Negrito family who own a bodega near Ann’s (well, Blanche’s, as she is called here) apartment. Second, the culprit in the book isn’t even really mentioned much up until the end, Piper instead choosing to focus on Rose, George, and Eddie Negrito, a family for whom she provides only vague details not only about their ethnicity but their role in Bunny’s disappearance. I’m still not quite sure of exactly how they were involved, only that Eddie saw something and possibly sheltered Bunny for a little while. It turns out that [spoiler alert!] Ada Ford, a former teacher at the school, had planned to kidnap Bunny all along, enlisting the help of Eddie Negrito and Ann’s mother (who remains unseen in both movie and novel). Altogether, the red herrings and the odd and unfounded sexual tensions between Blanche/Newhouse/Wilson/Louise just make it way too convoluted.
It is a rare case when a movie is better than the book, but in this case, I’d tell you to go see the movie in a heartbeat rather than suffer through 150 pages where what’s missing, aside from a little girl, is a little plot structure, continuity, and sympathy for any of the characters.
For your edification and entertainment, here are the incredibly mysterious and moving title sequence, made by Saul Bass. The whistling music is positively haunting and its minimalism doesn’t come off as low-tech; in fact, it’s rather striking for 1965 and wouldn’t be at all out of place for an opening sequence today.
The mystery I’m left with is…where is Suky Appleby? According to her IMDb, this was the first of only two films she appeared in, the other coming out one year later. After that, it seems as if her whereabouts are indeed unknown. A mystery on top of a mystery: it seems as if the original portrayer of Bunny Lake is missing, herself.