Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Bette Davis has an open invitation here at the Doll’s House, so it should surprise no one that her 1965 maybe-killer-kid outing, The Nanny, would take its place during the Month of the Vertically Challenged Villains. Without further adieu, I give you the grand dame of cinema (who isn’t Joan Crawford).
Quick Plot: A wealthy British family has been torn apart by the accidental (or cue dramatic sound cue, WAS IT?) bathtub drowning of its youngest member. Ten-year-old big brother Joey was sent to an institution of sorts for two years after he went on a hunger strike/massive jerk attack on his nanny following the tragedy. He returns home with the same bratty attitude while sickly mom sighs and stuffy dad leaves town for a business trip.
You know what that means. It’s up to supernanny Bette Davis to bring a spoonful of sugar into the house, but that’s quite a challenge when the spoiled juvenile delinquent wants nothing more than to make her life hell.

The Nanny is a Hammer production, but you won’t find any naked vampiric breasts or crimson blood in its black and white frames. The story unwinds slowly, inviting its audience into this unhappy WASP family and giving us plenty of time to wonder where the truth lies. Joey is a horrid little boy, but we also know enough about Bette Davis to expect a director to milk her craziness and give us the goods. But Nanny is soooo calming and surely can’t be evil. Or maybe--

I won’t spoil The Nanny, an underseen but strong little thriller that keeps you guessing and cursing at children for most of its 90 minute running time. The film doesn't break any molds, but it's a high quality hidden gem that if nothing else, lets you wonder how much better the world could have been had Bette Davis been cast as Mary Poppins.
High Points
Bette Davis is, as expected, quite magnificent, but much also must be said for child actor William Dix who toes a fine line between sadistic brattiness and sympathetic misunderstood little boy

I always appreciate smart casting and Jill Bennett and Wendy Craig are absolutely believable as flaky rich sisters, both in visual likeness and performance
Low Points
Yes it’s only 90 minutes, but there does come a point when The Nanny starts to drag, something perhaps inevitable (for me) when it comes to the mystery genre
Lessons Learned
Most grownups are balmy
Expensive juvenile facilities might put on a good show, but that doesn’t mean they’ll cure your son of silly hijinks like staging a fake suicide for laughs
Small children shouldn’t have pillows

The Nanny isn’t the most exciting film I’ve watched this month (c’mon: we kicked it off with Bloody Birthday!) but it’s a classy piece of genre fare that should keep Davis fans satisfied. I only learned of its existence from Fangoria’s recent 300th anniversary issue a superb piece with hundreds--literally, three of them--of movie recommendations. The Nanny is slow and not as macabre or campy as some of its era’s colleagues, but pop it on the queue for one of those slower, wine-infused days where the classy can meet the horror.


  1. Seriously draggin my heels on this one. I've been MEANING to watch it ever since I got my Hammer coffee table book filled with posters (and yes, I believe that IS its official title). The poster you used at the top of this post really spoke to me. Must. See.

  2. I feel like you would dig this one Christine. You have to if you don't want to anger the ghost of Bette Davis and trust me: you do NOT want to anger the ghost of Bette Davis.

  3. Hi Emily! I read some of your comments over at Movie Feast and followed them over here to your blog.

    I'm way behind on commenting, but I really like THE NANNY. I watched it last October. You're right--it's not ground breaking. But Bette Davis really captures the repressed emotions of a woman committed to a family that's not her own, while allowing her own life to fall apart. And the one time she tried to reconcile her actual family's issues, her secondary family falls apart. Nanny isn't really a bad person--just horribly misguided and out of touch with reality, which is typical of Hag Horror flicks.

    Really like the blog! I look forward to visiting often.

  4. It's never too late Burgundy! Comments are like Twinkies. Ain't no expiration!

    Especially when they're great (unlike Twinkies, which are not). Excellent point about Nanny and her place in Hag Horror, easily one of the sadder subgenres out there.

    Thanks for stopping by and come back soon!