The Nanny (1965)

As a kid, I saw The Nanny (1965) back in the early 70’s on television. I remember the film freaked me out to the point I was rattled about taking a bath. I certainly didn’t have an English nanny, and my folks were good middle class people that didn’t discipline using water tortures, but Betty Davis left an indelible impression on my psyche. It’s a testament to her range in successfully transcending her skills to the thriller-drama genre. The Nanny, along with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955) and Psycho (1960) are filmdom’s quintessential beware of the bathroom shockers. Diabolique and Psycho are almost cliché, and in ways I prefer the subtle handling and flashbacks used in The Nanny. Watching a modern print available on the UK DVD Hammer Collection, I now appreciate the camera work, script and acting, especially 10-year old Joey (William Dix), the protagonist and primary vehicle for the film. He carries the movie —not Betty Davis. He’s a brat and you wish the nanny would strangle his neck.

The opening scenes of The Nanny are deliberately low key. We are introduced to the nanny, running errands and picking up a birthday cake. We learn that she has worked several years for a positively disfunctional upper class English family, and the mother suffers from a nervous breakdown and other psychoses. The dad is a snob who escapes at a gentlemen’s club. The aunt has medical issues. And then we meet young Joey.

One of the nanny’s victims?

The Nanny is not for all tastes. It’s not a horror film and reminds me a bit of an RKO Val Lewton treatment rather than a Hammer film. There are no monsters. It’s populated with wacko unlikeable characters. The film is more of a character study than thriller. Betty Davis is surprisingly low key in the title role (don’t expect What Ever Happened to Baby Jane), but her presence elevates the film to a cult status level.

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