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The Nanny

Dullsville

The Nanny (1965)

     When you consider how many evil roles Bette Davis played in her prime years in Hollywood, it should not be surprising how well suited the gal is to the horror genre. The Nanny at the outset does not seem like much of a terror flick, but once you reach the last half hour or so, the plot certainly turns that direction.

     The Nanny reminded me of Secret Ceremony in that it featured a prominent American actress in a British production that features a disturbed child character. Davis is “Nanny” in a well-to-do English flat where for the last two years she has essentially played maid and caretaker of an adult woman she has spent her career looking after. The film starts oddly as Davis enters the home and goes about unloading groceries and removing her hat and coat while the woman hysterically cries in another room as her husband tries to calm her. The trouble, it seems, is that this woman does not want her 10-year-old son to return home that day. He has been in an institution for two years for a reason not initially apparent but that might be related to the death of the woman’s daughter. Nanny calms Vergie, played by Wendy Craig, and agrees to go with the master of the house to pick up the boy. At the institution, the boy, Joey (William Dix), has just played a prank on a maid by faking his own hanging. The facility’s director says Joey has a problem with middle-aged women and this is immediately apparent when he sees Nanny.

     The story lays out a boy who is paranoid about and loathes Nanny. He will not eat her food for fear she has poisoned it, he locks his door at night and makes her swear not to enter the bathroom while he bathes. When Vergie is poisoned through her steak and kidney pie, prepared by Nanny, it immediately appears as though Joey has put the problematic substance in the food. With his mother in the hospital and father out of town, Joey refuses to be left with Nanny, so his aunt comes to stay. The boy, soaking wet and in a towel, next claims Nanny tried to drown him, and the shock sends the weak-hearted aunt into a heart attack of some sort, which Nanny pulls her from. What follows is the revelation that the Nanny is indeed all that Joey says she is. She is also responsible for the drowning death of his sister, which occurred after she learned her illegitimate daughter died of a botched abortion. Nanny has been barmy ever since only no one has noticed.

     I am not much of a fan of creepy-kid movies. Although not as disturbing as Secret Ceremony, I would rather never see this one again. The story did nicely turn around the villain unexpectedly, but when Bette Davis acts loony it just comes off as campy. The boy was a pretty phenomenal actor it seemed, although he did not do much else in film. Craig, as the mother, however, was rather irritating. Seemingly the Nanny has coddled her into a child-like, dependent state following her daughter’s death. The Nanny’s livelihood depends on her employment with the family, so she, in her delusion, does everything she can to ensure the parents trust and depend on her.

     This certainly appears to be a low point for Davis. She had done another thriller the year before in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and was still getting plenty of work, although she had certainly passed her prime acting years some time before. The Nanny was produced by Hammer Productions, which was responsible for a plethora of low-budget horror films in the 60s and 70s, and it certainly reflects that approach. The story concept for The Nanny was okay, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this flick.

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2 Responses

  1. It was a mixed blessing that Davis continued past her “prime.” She produced some excellent work, even on TV, but also lowered her standards too many times to keep working. Either money needs or her internal drive to work must have caused this.

  2. I rather like THE NANNY. I thought the child performers were both quite good and their relationship was fleshed out nicely. Pamela Franklin was also quite effective in 1960’s chilling THE INNOCENTS.

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