Sunday, July 25, 2010

April 17, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘The Nanny’

Hammer’s bread and butter was gory Gothic Monster Movies, but the studio also pumped out a number of twisted psychological thrillers in the Hitchcock vein, such as Maniac (1963) and the exceptional Taste of Fear (1961). By far the best of these pictures I’ve seen is Seth Holt’s tremendously morbid The Nanny (1965). Little Joey Fane (William Dix) has just been discharged from a kiddie mental institution, where he was placed after allegedly drowning his pre-K sister, Susy. Joey is certainly an antisocial sort, who delights in tormenting “middle-aged women” by staging his own suicide, but he believes the true culprit behind Susy’s death is his nanny, Nanny (Bette Davis). What follows is a bizarre clash between ten-year-old Joey and Bette-Davis-in-1965-aged Nanny, who is also given to some rather unwholesome behavior. Davis’s casting seems to have been inspired by her recent “crazy old lady” turns in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), but The Nanny is not the high-camp exercise those films were. This is a grim, surprisingly complex thriller, and the real reason behind Susy’s death is both genuinely surprising (particularly for a film of this sort) and expertly handled by Holt. Davis is terrific, of course, but so are Dix and Pamela Franklin, who plays Joey’s Mod 15-year old neighbor, Bobbie. Franklin later starred in another Psychobabble recommended flick, The Legend of Hell House (1973).

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