[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]
“Nanny understands… She’s on your side!”
A young boy (William Dix) recently released from a mental institution is convinced that his nanny (Bette Davis) is out to kill him; but neither his no-nonsense father (James Villiers) nor his mother (Wendy Craig) — emotionally fragile after the drowning death of her young daughter (Angharad Aubrey) — believes him.
- Bette Davis Films
- Governesses and Nannies
- “No One Believes Me!”
- Psychological Horror
Some film fanatics would understandably consider nearly every movie Bette Davis starred — or co-starred — in to be a “must see” film, simply for her presence; while I wouldn’t go quite that far (I’m not a fan of All This, and Heaven Too, just to name one instance), I do believe her work in The Nanny — a worthy psychological thriller in its own right — was unjustly overlooked by Peary in his Guide for the Film Fanatic, and deserves mention here as a Missing Must See Film. It was made three years after Davis’s Oscar-nominated title role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and was clearly meant to capitalize on her new role as Mistress of Grand Guignol (check out her over-the-top beetle brows!). As always, however, Davis invests herself fully in her character, adding layers of nuance to what could easily have been a mere caricature; watch her eyes alone to see what a remarkably versatile and meticulous performer this star really was.
The script (by Jimmy Sangster, based on a novel by Marryam Modell) is consistently suspenseful and well-constructed, leading one to question who’s really disturbed — Joey? Nanny? — until close to the end, when deep, dark truths are finally revealed; yet even knowing the film’s secrets doesn’t prevent repeat viewings from being a pleasure, given that one simply watches the characters with new insights. Much of the film’s success is due to the fine performances given by the entire cast. Dix may get on your nerves playing obnoxious little Joey, but this is exactly what he’s meant to do, and he’s certainly more than simply a bratty little whiner; we genuinely believe he’s scared for his life, and doing what he can to protect himself from deathly harm. Meanwhile, Craig is appropriately on edge as Joey’s jittery mother, who means well but is too emotionally fragile to be of much use as a guardian, and Jill Bennett is well cast as her more level-headed sister. Henry Waxman’s atmospheric cinematography and Richard Robert Bennett’s creepy, memorable score contribute towards The Nanny‘s status as an all-around good show, one film fanatics will surely want to check out at least once.
NB: Director Seth Holt didn’t make many other films, but he did direct the fine suspense thriller Scream of Fear (1961), starring Susan Strasberg.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bette Davis as Nanny
- William Dix as Joey
- Wendy Craig as Joey’s mother
- Jill Bennett as Aunt Pen
- Pamela Franklin in a bit role as Joey’s neighbor friend, Bobbie
- Angharad Aubrey as little Susy (in flashbacks)
- Harry Waxman’s cinematography
- A genuinely disturbing and suspenseful script
- Richard Rodney Bennett’s memorable score
Yes, for Davis’s performance, and as an all-around good psychological horror flick.