Saul Bass' opening credits and Paul Glass' jazzy score set the tone for this psychological thriller about the disappearance of a little girl and the police investigation that follows. The atmosphere is dark, unsettling and tense and is beautifully enhanced by Denys N Coop's magnificent cinematography. There's something undeniably perverse about the behaviours of many of the story's characters and this not only complicates the investigation but also increases the number of potential suspects.
After arriving in London from the United States, single mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) takes her 4-year-old daughter, Bunny, to be enrolled at a local nursery. With no staff members available to receive the new pupil, Ann enters the kitchen and informs the grumpy German cook that she's leaving the child in the building's "First Day Room" and rushes off to meet the removal men who are waiting to move her possessions into the apartment that she's due to share with her journalist brother, Steven (Keir Dullea). Later that day, when she goes back to the "Little People's Garden School" she's horrified to discover that Bunny has disappeared and none of the staff seem very helpful or indeed, willing to take any responsibility. Ann turns to Steven for help and after he carries out a search of the building, they decide to call the police.
Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) is assigned to the case and discovers that no-one at the nursery remembers seeing the little girl and the cook has quit her job. Furthermore,when one of his detectives goes with Steven to his apartment to get a photograph of the missing girl, they find that all Bunny's belongings have mysteriously disappeared. This leads Newhouse to question whether Bunny actually exists and when he's informed that, as a child, Ann had an imaginary playmate, also called Bunny, he starts to have doubts about Ann's mental state.
Ann feels frustrated about not being able to prove that Bunny exists until she remembers that she has a receipt for one of the girl's dolls which she'd taken to a nearby shop for repair. When she succeeds in collecting the doll, things suddenly become more sinister in a way that shocks her but eventually enables the mystery surrounding Bunny's disappearance to be solved.
The eccentricities of the characters in this movie, provide a great deal of interest for its audience as well as providing the actors with some colourful roles that they're able to exploit to the full. Ada Ford (Marita Hunt) is the retired co-founder of the nursery who lives (seemingly as a recluse) in an attic room where she spends her time researching and writing about her rather unhealthy interest in children's nightmares. Ann's creepy landlord Horatio Wilson (Noel Coward) is an alcoholic, masochist and radio broadcaster who, despite being gay, still hits on her and tries to impress her with his "melodious voice". Superintendent Newhouse is thoughtful, reserved and methodical in his work and also recognises that Ann and Steven's relationship seems more like that of a married couple rather than that of a typical brother and sister. The acting performances are all of the highest calibre and enormously enjoyable to watch.
"Bunny Lake Is Missing" didn't receive the critical or commercial success it deserved at the time of its initial release but has achieved greater recognition since. It certainly does well at evoking the period in which it's set and in this connection, the three songs contributed by "The Zombies" are both important and great to hear again.