Monday, 20 May 2013

The Nanny (1965)

The Nanny is a great film, one of the very best to ever come from Hammer Studios, in my opinion. It deserves to be up there with Peeping Tom and The Innocents, it's such a fine psychological horror/drama.

Bette Davis gives the greatest performance of her career without any of the eye-rolling or razor-sharp dialogue that we've become accustomed to (and that is always thoroughly enjoyable) as she plays the titular character, an elderly woman locked in a battle of wills with a small boy named Joey (William Dix). Joey has been away from home for two years, after his younger sister tragically died in the household bathtub, and returns with the same bad attitude he went away with. He blames everything on the nanny and sets out to remove her power at every turn.

What is the reality of the situation? An evil young lad forcing an elderly woman to squirm under his fist or a manipulative old woman doing her best to silence her young charge? The movie is impressively ambiguous for the first hour or so until we get to a finale that manages to shock, disturb and churn a stomach more effectively than many of the most modern releases.

An incredibly brave, complex psychological horror, this movie unsettles in almost every scene, whether it's due to the behaviour of an unruly child or watching a sad mother (played by Wendy Craig) revert to a state more childish than her own son. The supporting cast - including Jill Bennett, James Villiers and Pamela Franklin - are solid but this really boils down to an amazing two-hander between a petulant child and . . . for the love of God . . . BETTE DAVIS! Hard to believe that this movie was released by "the studio that dripped blood" and even harder to believe that many people may be unfamiliar with it.

Director Seth Holt treats the material well, but he's given a flying start by the fantastic script from Jimmy Sangster (adapting the novel by Marryam Modell). What starts off as a look at a stiff, unsympathetic family unit with a brat at its core slowly but surely turns into something mesmerising, tense and also quite sad. See this film as soon as you can, it's an absolute classic.

NB - the ONLY reason I don't give the movie a perfect 10/10 score is because of my gut instinct to Joey's brattish behaviour in the first half of the movie.


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