Made in 1965, Hammer Studios made a good choice in deciding to make the movie in old school black and white – there are some effectively blocked shots here, shadows dancing over Bette Davies’s face, caressing and highlighting her bone structure, that just wouldn’t be the same in colour, especially the blood red tones Hammer are known for.
The movie is not the standard horror picee that Hammer became famous for, but rather a clever psychological thriller that will keep new viewers guessing right up to the very last reel.
“Is it Master Joey who is actually mad? Or is he right about his seemingly gentle nanny? Is she actually a barmy fruitcake with murder in mind?”
When I placed the disc in the player, I was of the impression that I’d never seen this movie before but a few minutes in and I realised that I had seen the film before, though long ago on a TV viewing and I’d not realised the film was done by Hammer who I associated with Dracula, Frankenstein and other gothic chillers. Mind you I didn’t really remember that much, just had the vague impression that I’d seen it somewhere. sometime. And so I was not sure how things would turn out and then cleverly laid aura of mystery completely enveloped me.
When we are first introduced to Master Joey (William Dix) we are shown a troubled, though clever little boy who has a very black sense of humour. He scares one of the teachers at his home for disturbed children, by rigging up a device that makes it look as if he has hung himself, within the first few minutes of the movie. And as soon as he returns home to his family he is shows as cheeky and incredibly naughty, while his nemesis, the titular Nanny, comes across as all sweetness and light. If anything the old woman, played by Bette Davies, comes across as having the patience of a saint in the way she deals with the boisterous Joey.
The movie contains a commentary from Jimmy Sangster, Marcus Hearne (author of The Hammer Vault) and Rene Glynne and for a commentary recorded 41 years since the film was made, the anecdotes come thick and fast – it seems both Sangster and especially Glynne who possesses an incredible memory. Sangster tells us that Greer Garson was Hammer’s first choice for the role of the Nanny but when the actress turned the role down, Bette Davies was approached.
Besides the Hollywood weight of Bet Davies, we have British actress Wendy Craig as Joey’s mother. I found it unusual to find Craig in such a dramatic role since I was brought up watching her playing variations of a dizzy middle aged mum in sitcom after sitcom. And although her part isn’t that substantial, she seems to spend most of the movie lounging about half wasted, she certainly comes across well – through subtle use of her eyes she clearly shows the anguish of the woman who is still mourning the accidental drowning of her daughter. The young actor playing Joey is William Dix and the Internet Database tells us that he made one more film in 1967 and then didn’t make another until 2001. The rest of the cast are made up those familiar British faces that often turn up in old movies or TV shows.
I really enjoyed this movie – Bette Davies and her young co-star William Dix are particularly good, and the plot is paced so the suspense runs right up until the final denouncement.
A creepy movie, excellently directed, written and acted…and you can’t really ask for more than that.