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10 September, 2011

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: THE NANNY


Year of Release—Film:  1965

There is something wrong in the Fane household.  The family consists of "Virgie" Fane (Wendy Craig), the mother, Bill Fane (James Villiers), the father, with Joey Fane (William Dix) as their 11-year-old son and Suzy (Angharad Aubrey) as the drowned baby sister.  Oh, and we mustn't forget one other "family member,” longtime Nanny (Bette Davis).  Little Joey has just returned home from confinement in a treatment center for the criminally insane where he was sent two years previously, when he was charged in the bathtub drowning of his little sister.  However, Joey insists it was not he who drowned Suzy but Nanny.  However his weak-willed and infantile mother refuses to believe him, insisting that their loyal Nanny couldn’t be the villain when she's been lovingly taking care of the Fane family for years.  The emotionally devoid Bill Fane, a Queen's Messenger, can't be bothered to sort all this out, as his mind is on business alone.  And, Nanny, quietly and efficiently goes about the business of running the Fane household, even fixing up the spare bedroom for young Master Joey's return.  However, Joey refuses to sleep there, insisting on taking the smaller bedroom.  The one with locks on the door and a window fire escape.  And, as it turns out, he may have had a good reason to fear Nanny.
Joey meets a teenage girl, nymphet Bobbie (Pamela Franklin), who lives one floor up in the apartment building and he tries to convince her that Nanny is trying to kill him.  At first, she doesn't believe him but later, when Joey shows up wet and wrapped only in a bath towel and tells her Nanny tried to drown him, she begins to believe his stories.  One evening, while the father is out of town on business, Virgie is poisoned by Nanny's cooking and hospitalized.  Nanny insists it was Joey who poisoned the food.  After all, wasn't Joey the one who stole Nanny's pills!?!  Enter earthy but ill Aunt Pen (Jill Bennett), whose rheumatic heart condition cannot tolerate any excitement.  Surely, she will believe Joey's claims that Nanny is evil and must be stopped!  While Aunt Pen is certainly no fan of Nanny, she, along with Virgie, was raised by her and knows that Nanny would never hurt the family.  Or would she?

Callous Joey is a very antisocial boy, always skulking about and threatening to "do something" if he cannot have his way.  His favorite hobby and only talent is tying a hangman's noose.  He refuses to eat anything Nanny has prepared, fearing she may poison him.  Now, with the father and mother both absent from the house and Joey and Nanny both convinced that the other one is the killer, the final and possibly fatal face-off begins.

THE NANNY was Bette Davis' first film after the successful HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), which garnered $7 million at the box office.  However, unlike her insane shrieking as the title character in HUSH HUSH, Bette's performance in THE NANNY is clinical and efficient as she almost robotically goes about her chores.  Bette is restrained in her role as the emotionally vacant Nanny, at times letting her eyes do the acting rather than through dialogue.  She and young William Dix as Joey play off each other effectively well.  Empathizing classic mystery and suspense over cheap gore, THE NANNY director Seth Holt slowly and steadily filled viewers with growing tension by utilizing low-angle camera shots in ever-so-slightly distorted angles.  The musical score by Richard Rodney Bennett is kept to a minimum except during times of extreme action and/ or suspense.  The pacing felt more stacked than blended, a feeling that no doubt had something to do with director Holt's editing skills.

William Dix comes across as cold and detached rather than just bratty and the viewer feels his fear.  Tiny moppet Angharad Aubrey is adorable as Suzy in the flashback scenes!  I'm surprised that this is her only movie!  Jill Bennett was highly convincing as Aunt Pen, coming across as more well grounded in reality than both the father and mother.  Her death scene was brilliantly acted and convincing!  The one weak performance was by Wendy Craig as Virgie.  She comes across as hysterical and profoundly helpless, lying about in bed, drenched in tears 90% of the time.  James Villiers comes across as a cipher.  But, it is Bette who OWNS this movie!  After witnessing the cold, unfeeling machinations of this Nanny, you'll forget the warm fuzzies of MARY POPPINS and MRS. DOUBTFIRE and purchase a teddy-cam for your nursery!

[Jimmy Sangster, who produced THE NANNY and wrote the screenplay for it, died 19 August at age 83.  He was one of the founding fathers, along with men like Terence Fisher, Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds, Jack Asher, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, of the famed Hammer ‘House of Horror’.  Among his later works are Circle of Fear (1973 TV series) and movies WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO (1972/ TV), SCREAM PRETTY PEGGY (1973/ TV) and THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970).  He will be missed.]

Enjoy!  Or not!


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