THE NANNY (1965)
Director: Seth Holt
Fox Home Video

England’s Hammer Films had been utilizing popular American actors since their early years, and even after homegrown superstars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee put the company at the top of their game, the import practice was still in vogue. A character actress in her downward years, the still legendary Bette Davis was earning high marks in the mid 1960s with WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? and HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, so it was only natural that the “Studio That Dripped Blood” would employ her bravura services. With a solid screenplay by Jimmy Sangster (who also produced), 1965’s THE NANNY was one of Davis’ better vehicles of the decade, and she would go on to do another film for Hammer, THE ANNIVERSARY (1968), also scripted by Sangster.

In England, a prim and humorless older woman who we only become to know as “Nanny” (Davis) works in the upper class apartment of a young couple, Virginia Fane (Wendy Craig) and her husband Bill (James Villiers). Blamed for the drowning death of his younger sister, bratty 10-year-old son Joey (William Dix) comes back home after spending time in a facility for troubled children. With his mother an emotional wreck and dad away most of the time, Joey’s insubordinate behavior towards Nanny stems from his belief that she actually killed his sister, and that he is next on the plate. Joey refuses to eat anything she prepares for him (for fear he will be poisoned) or to have any direct contact with her. Since no one believes Joey and he feels he can't talk to any adult, he confides in upstairs neighbor Bobbie (Pamela Franklin), the 14-year-old daughter of a doctor who accepts what the boy has to say as the truth.

With the striking monochrome photography of Harry Waxman and taut direction by Seth Holt (who helmed Hammer’s earlier TASTE OF FEAR), THE NANNY is a shining Hammer psychological thriller, proving once again that they were more than just Technicolor gothics. Based on a novel by Evelyn Piper, Sangster’s screenplay allows for well-developed characters, mostly of a dysfunctional nature, and a number of unsettling flashbacks which help reveal the events of a great tragedy in an unusual but very effective matter. Everyone in the film is really good; future Britcom star Wendy Craig as the neurotic mother who needs a nanny just as much as a child, James Villiers (also in Holt’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB) as the cold absentee father, William Dix as the defiant child forced into his own traumatic self-sufficient world in the aftermath of family misfortune and Pamela Franklin (still years away from adulthood) as the charming, fag-smoking teen who befriends Joey. Jill Bennett (THE SKULL) has a smaller but memorable part as Aunt Pen, and she shares one of the best scenes with Davis. Hammer film regular Maurice Denham (COUNTESS DRACULA) can be briefly seen as a psychiatrist.

As the title character, Davis is restrained and very different than the over-the-top performances which embody her other thrillers of the period. With dark, bushy eyebrows and masculine sternness that makes up her physical being, the Nanny is a tragic character, with inner conflicts which are only revealed when the actress needs to display them, giving us another great Bette Davis performance. She also carries out the British accent flawlessly, which is not always an easy thing to do by an American actor. Rumor has it that actress Greer Garson was first offered the lead, accepting and then quickly refusing it, but it’s hard to picture anyone but Bette in the role. Her second film for Hammer, THE ANNIVERSARY, let’s her sink her teeth into a wonderful black comedy, very diverse from THE NANNY indeed.

Fox has released THE NANNY as part of their “Cinema Classics Collection” in an anamorphic transfer which preserves its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The black and white image looks quite good, with crisp detail, excellent grayscale and deep black levels. The print source does reveal some scattered speckling, but it’s miniscule. The mono English audio is acceptable, but it tends to carry some hiss and distortion in parts. An additional Spanish mono audio track is provided, as well as optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Extras include a “Restoration Comparison,” which is a side by side comparison of the original transfer (done in 2005) and it subsequent restoration into HD master, and you’ll see a few examples of how the film was digitally cleaned up a great deal. The original 20th Century Fox trailer highlights the more chilling aspects of the film and doesn’t forget to identify Davis as the star of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? and HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. An interactive pressbook lets you examine the pages of the original advertising campaign, letting you zoom into ads and articles to get a better look (this is a cool extra featured on many a Fox DVD). Two TV spots are included, as well as three different photo galleries; posters, lobby cards and stills. The latter is especially interesting as it features some rare color photos, as well as some behind-the-scenes shots (look for director Holt with Davis on the set). THE NANNY is available to purchase separately, or as part of Fox’s “Bette Davis Collection” which also includes ALL ABOUT EVE, PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER, THE VIRGIN QUEEN and HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. (George R. Reis)