In the middle of her ‘60s Grand Dame Guignol period, Bette Davis went to England to make The Nanny, a rather quiet, cautious thriller that gives her more room for characterization than most of her later films. As a “barmy” governess hiding several dark secrets, Davis starts out with a benign expression under incredibly silly beetle brows, with subtle, sinister flashes of malignancy underneath her severe composure. Director Seth Holt lights her harshly, and lingers over the interesting, very British faces of the rest of the cast, especially William Dix, Davis’s bratty child antagonist. Holt creates an atmosphere of gray ominousness and is content to let his measured compositions build atmosphere, but when the plot revelations start, the film’s careful psychological detail is abandoned for melodrama, and Davis is filmed like a ghoul (or “Boris Karloff in skirts,” as she once laughingly described herself in this period). The last scene is perfunctory and unbelievable, but the film is worth seeing for its tense first half, and for Davis’s carefully controlled performance of joyless, sometimes sadistic servitude.
- 20th Century Fox
- 93 min
- Seth Holt
- Jimmy Sangster
- Bette Davis, Wendy Craig, Jill Bennett, James Villiers, William Dix, Pamela Franklin
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