THE NANNY (Seth Holt, 1965, UK) Joey is a lost boy who haunts the periphery of his parent’s life, more adult than his own mother: a neurotic woman caught in the grip of their charming and innocuous nanny. This Stygian melodrama appertains to the disturbing quality of childhood trauma and how adults often overlook the truth when spoken from the mouths of babes, their convex reality relegated to the concave. Director Seth Holt creates mounting tension and dis-ease as the family unit dissolves, Patriarchal power absent while Maternal instincts are impotent, kept at the mercy of the family caregiver. The battle of truth between the seemingly sociopathic boy and the nanny is wonderfully ambiguous; as Joey seems to be the offspring of a malignant seed, corrupt tendrils at the root of the problem.
The film begins with Joey’s release from a psychiatric hospital where he was incarcerated for the last four years. The reason for his treatment is alluded to in the pictures on his mother’s wardrobe and a sudden flashback to a little girl, though the incident is not shown until much later…and from different perspectives. Joey is an unlikable troublemaker, a contemptuous punk, while the darling nanny offers gentle excuses for Joey’s rude behavior, but the boy lives on the razor’s edge of awareness, watching every move of the elder housekeeper.
Bette Davis imbues her nameless character with just the right amount of sincerity and wisdom, but a fierce determination lies behind her eyes. William Dix is wonderful as the spoiled brat who eventually deserves our sympathies, his intelligent and creative ruminations believable and very child like…but not childish: this is a boy aged beyond his years. These protagonists battle throughout the story and as our loyalty shifts, we see each character from a different perspective.
Soon, the nanny once again attempts to submerge and smother the truth as her sickened mind teeters on the brink of madness. The chilling climax reveals an old woman who deserted her own family to take care of another, a cancerous guilt that psychologically devours her…while a little boy is violently baptized into adulthood. Final Grade: (B)