Monday, August 26, 2013


I watched THE NANNY (1965) the other day. This black and white British film starring Bette Davis is,  believe it or not, a Hammer Film, a fact that I was unaware of. And it's a good one too.

Davis plays the title character, a middle aged nanny in charge of a British household comprised of a man, his wife and their young son Joey. At the beginning of the film, Joey comes home after spending time in a mental institution. It seems that the young man is more than a bit disturbed and he may have had something to do with the unfortunate demise of his younger sister.

Joey is welcomed home to a dysfunctional household. His father is stern and detached and about to leave the city for several days on a business trip. His mother had never completely recovered from the death of her daughter and she seems to be afraid of what Joey is capable of doing. She's a near complete basket case.

The nanny, is of course, very kind and loving towards Joey but he will have none of that. He hates the woman and accuses her of all sorts of dreadful things, such as trying to poison and drown him (on two separate occasions). But as the plot progresses, we learn that all is not what it seems and perhaps the young man does have a very good reason to fear his nanny.

Davis does a remarkable job here. She remains cool and unflappable for most of the film only slowly  revealing the cracks in her veneer and the madness that lies beneath. She manages to be both monstrous and oddly sympathetic at the same time once we discover her sad back story. THE NANNY is a good little psychological thriller and I recommend it to fans of both Bette Davis and Hammer Studios.

By the way, THE NANNY was one of several horror films that Davis starred in in the autumn of her career. Her other horror films include the classic WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), HUSH...HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), DEAD RINGER (1964) and THE ANNIVERSARY (1968). Due to her appearances in these films, Davis earned the not-so-kind sobriquet of "horror hag", a term used to describe not only Davis but several other past-their-prime actresses who played out their careers by appearing in horror films.

Other notable "horror hags" include Joan Crawford who co-starred with Davis in BABY JANE before flying solo in STRAIT-JACKET (1964), I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965), BERSERK! (1968) and TROG (1970). Olivia de Havilland starred in LADY IN A CAGE (1964) and co-starred with Davis in HUSH...HUSH while her sister, Joan Fontaine, closed out her career with THE WITCHES (1966).

You can't really blame these women for taking these roles. After all, at this point in their respective careers, they were never going to be cast as young ingenues or romantic leads. They still wanted to continue making films but the parts being offered were becoming few and far between. But to canny producers and studio heads, these women's names and reputations (to say nothing of their talent) still had box office draw and their appearances in these B-movies helped sell tickets and make the films profitable. In my opinion, they all delivered good, solid (in the case of BABY JANE, outstanding) work and the films provided many young horror film fans (like me) their first exposure to these actresses.



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