18 February 2011


Friday Night Movie: The Nanny

In honour of "Women in Horror" Month, I present the first ever Friday Night Movie that is not about my nostalgia for the 80s.

0:05 I had something like this in a playground near my house when I was growing up. This kind of takes me back, which is a nice way to begin . . .
0:11 And now I wonder whether it takes everyone else back as well, since it's clearly the sort of "dangerous" playground equipment we're supposed to be protecting children from these days.
0:56 Is anyone else thinking of Mary Poppins now?
3:37 Take note! A son has been mentioned, but not the daughter in the pictures.
4:03 We're all straining to hear what's being said and to make sense of the family situation, but the nanny has either heard it all before or decided it's not her drama--or both!
4:23 And at least somebody cares about the boy coming home . . .
5:28 He's been in that place quite long enough! Oh, whatever was wrong that they had to send a little boy away from home for two years???
5:46 But, Nanny, I don't want him home. And the look on Nanny's face following that confession is the reason Bette Davis won two Oscars and was nominated for ten.
5:58 I can't seem to manage anymore! When two women are sharing a home and one of them is breaking down because she can't seem to do anything right, you'll know that the other has declared full psychological warfare.
7:47 Ooooooooooh! Are these terrible mood swings or is her "woman's intuition" trying to tell her something?
9:03 At home where he is loved. Why don't his "loving" parents fill me with much confidence?
9:19 And why does this expert on children's normal and abnormal "mental fantasies" fill me with dread?

0:08 You know by now that young Joey is the key to everything, don't you?
0:27 I know he isn't dead because of what I've just typed . . .
0:42 . . . and because I've seen Heathers! =P
1:46 Your son . . . seems to have an inborn antipathy towards middle-aged females. And what does that diagnosis tell you, sir?!?!?
2:56 After I know the whole story, I'll want to look at the close ups of their faces again.
3:37 Nanny is the backseat driver of the entire family, isn't she? Crafty!
4:33 She's also the face you see over your shoulder every time you look in the mirror. Bwahahahahaha!
5:28 It's shameful to admit it at my age, but when my mother claims my bed because a guest needs to use my mattress, that is EXACTLY what I do with my sheets (and with my face) while scouting the house for another place to sleep.
7:10 I'm starting to feel a little sorry for the mother. She thinks it's all her fault. (The nanny is such an operator.)
8:16 Before this live blog is over, I'll have something scathing to say about "mod" parents, who seem to have nothing over their "hipster" counterparts.
8:40 If the stodgy father thinks that music is bad, wait until he meets his grandchildren in the 80s! ;-)
9:21 She has been with the family that bloody long??? And only Joey has ever hated her???
9:23 I know you don't need her, but your mother does. Well, of course. Nanny never "weaned" the poor woman, did she?
9:50 Will you sack her, then? But she didn't have much success with this boy. He won't even beat around the bush.

2:06 Do you remember when we were children? We were always going to marry someone important. And why not? "Helpmeet" to an important man is an excellent career, if you can find such a fellow. ;-)
2:18 After all the damage to families I've seen from women who think that something is wrong with their marriages but can't quite put their finger on what it is, I don't really want to scream at this woman to wake up and smell the disaster that is her home . . . but that is what she needs to do in this case, isn't it? (How 60s, aye? ;-) Of course, if this movie were remade today, the mother would have a nice career and still be all lost, so all is fair.)
2:48 Then there was the accident . . . Ooooh! An "accident"!
2:59 The entire saying is, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." I like the aunt; she hits the nail on the head without even knowing it.
4:06 Didn't I get it right about the mirrors?!?!?!
4:35 Nanny cooked it especially for your homecoming. Now we know why he wasn't eating two years ago. These sorts of hunger strikes are hard for children, though.
5:24 I just realised whom Joey reminds me of: Paul McCartney! LOL!!!
6:46 Okay, I'm convinced. She's a psycho.
7:50 Now, or I won't have a bath! And he's a survivor.
8:41 Adults dealing with an irrational child are usually happy to humour him and wink at each other over his head. The mother is scared because she knows Joey is not irrational.
9:14 Wow. She really can't do anything for herself any longer, can she?

0:06 It must be very important or else they wouldn't have sent him. It would be crazy to accuse Nanny of masterminding the trip as well, but I'm paranoid now.
1:15 If he wants to prove he doesn't need a nanny to look after him, he's doing an excellent job. Go, Joey!
1:21 Yes, that's right, Nanny. He's working to make you obsolete.
2:07 What are you doing out here? More to the point, what are you doing in the story? I didn't expect you, young woman, and I don't know what part you're going to play.
2:32 Ah, fags! ;-)
4:52 OMG!!! Did you see her eyes?!?!?! =O
6:09 Master Joey has accused me of trying to poison him again. If you thought he'd break after two years in that place, Nanny, you miscalculated. Go, Joey!
6:22 Believe it or not, I actually remember milk in glass bottles. We didn't have a milkman, though.
7:17 Now it's like a game! Spot the homicidal nut!
8:49 The truth is that all we really have to go by is Joey's attitude. Nanny really could be "all right."

0:09 And if Nanny is all right and Joey is the worst brat in the world, then I truly sympathise. But that's a big IF.
0:43 Oh, Lord, that scares me so . . . =S
1:15 In other news, that hairstyle is starting to drive me crazy.
2:44 That's what I'm here for: to look after all of you. There's a similar creepy line in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. We're not supposed to be reassured that a woman who is not our mother is looking after us while our mother is still alive.
3:09 Master Joey has been rooting around in my medicine chest! If we assume that she's telling the truth, then we know Joey was looking for poison. If we assume that she's lying, then we can say she's setting him up to take the fall for something.
4:40 Oh, I feel for the poor pie! It looks so delicious.
4:46 And he was so happy to see his mother when he first arrived home. =( That was when he thought she'd be acting like a mother.
5:18 But as we can see, she's acting like an infant.
5:56 Okay, who saw that coming? ;-)
6:33 I like the way the children have a "backroom" existence.
6:41 Now here comes another adult. Sigh! We might never solve this case.
7:28 Did she plant it, Joey, or were you hiding it so that she couldn't use it?
7:52 They just assume it's his fault, don't they? The problem is that it's a perfectly reasonable assumption.
9:20 I still like the aunt. I'm hoping she'll be the key to the older generation's share of the mystery.

0:04 There's some sleeping pills in my case . . . They're just making it easy now, aren't they?
0:16 Can I sleep with you tonight? . . . No, you can't. I admit that if I were in the aunt's place, I'd give the same answer, to be loosely translated as, "Whatever it is, kid, get over it!"
1:12 What an awful editing choice! He should have dropped the playing pieces right after Nanny offers to make his aunt some hot chocolate.
1:51 Here we are again with the bathroom--the scariest part of any home.
2:41 Didn't we just see him put them away? Is this a blooper?
3:13 Oh, God, I'd be screaming if someone woke me up like that.
3:24 Ah, it happened to you, too, Penelope?
4:55 Someone please tell him that nobody believes him because he comes across as a little sociopath.
5:15 Notice that when they first meet, he tells her she's not a very good liar. Now she's returning the favour. And the question for us is whether she is also right.
5:51 The filmmakers do nothing to make him look younger, but never mind. A good story makes up for all technical shortcomings.
6:52 Awwww, poor Susie! =(
9:03 The clandestine outing didn't go well? Look at that body language.
9:28 Well, if this doesn't make you open the shower curtains properly before turning on the water, nothing will!

0:22 So far, it has been a flashback to an awful accident that both Joey and Nanny share the blame for indirectly . . . but it's not murder or anything.
0:36 She said . . . I pushed Susie in the bath and run away and hid. Yet something is wrong if Nanny had to lie about it.
1:16 It's an x-ray!!! =D LOL!
1:50 Oh, blimey, I'm scared again.
2:07 AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2:13 RUN, JOEY, RUN! (Just like in the cheesy song . . .)
2:33 That's right! The old one-two!
3:30 After that fright, this indifference is deadening.
3:39 He went down without a fight?!?!?! He must really be resigned.
4:27 Oh, my dear boy, they took your key! =(
6:10 When he said he was good with knots, he wasn't kidding!
8:12 Caught red handed!!!
8:48 I thought we'd have more of a scuffle over the milk and the tea, but it seems that Nanny chooses her battles.
9:29 "Overlay"? Currently the three scariest syllables in the English language.
9:47 What happened in the bathroom, Nanny? At last!!!

0:03 I love that you're turning out to be the warrior princess I knew you were, Penelope, but remember that you have a weak heart!
0:16 Oh, no! Not the pillow!
1:05 Penelope, if you must die, can't you at least take her out with you?
1:36 Crikey! This is the stuff of nightmares. =S
1:50 Forget Bette Davis eyes! Now she has really scary feet.
2:10 I just realised that if Penelope dies, no one may ever believe poor Joey.
2:31 You're just making it easier for her "to overlay" you, Penelope, throwing yourself across the bed that way.
2:41 Back to the eyes, which are two bottomless pools of evil here.
4:31 EYES! But not Bette's!
5:19 Curiouser and curiouser . . .
7:20 You were too busy looking after other people's children, weren't you? Some mothers have no other choice but to find work as nannies, but it's still incredibly damning when they are called to account for it.
7:40 She couldn't bear the thought of bringing up a . . . baby the way she was brought up. I wonder how many universally understood ways there are of indirectly calling a woman a bad mother.
7:56 So there's more than one dead child in Nanny's past.
8:29 In all fairness, the daughter's mistake is not the mother's fault . . . although we seem to think a good mother should feel sorry and blame herself.
9:15 I do feel for Nanny here. (Who wouldn't?)
9:56 And the stories intersect at last.

0:37 Can you imagine what it must have done to Nanny to see Susie like that so soon after hearing about the deaths of her own daughter and her daughter's unborn baby? =(
0:51 AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I activated "Full Screen Mode" by mistake and got a close up of Nanny!!!!!
2:50 I'm kind of surprised at Nanny's decision. . . . Let's see how it plays out.
3:42 The knots are holding fast, but they're not worth much if everything else in the room is going to prove so easy to budge.
4:01 I don't believe it! He couldn't even barricade the door properly!
4:05 Please tell me you have a weapon under your pillow, Joey!
4:53 You crazy old lady! You don't even know you're crazy, do you? Crazy people never do.
5:32 Did you really think this would go without a hitch?
6:22 After all that . . . she found she loved him too much. =( But now he will never love her. How sad is that?
7:21 And maybe none of the children she ever cared for loved her back. Remember that in the great tradition of governess literature, these women are often more sinned against than sinning.
7:47 I hardly recognise this woman. Is she the same mother who didn't want her son home?
8:38 One last question: if this is a happy ending, why is the music in a freaky minor key?

I started this live blog prepared to point out why nannies make great Gothic villains. Step-mothers are too "folk literature;" nannies are the anti-mothers of readers who fancy themselves too sophisticated for fairy tales.

But there is more to nannies than the resentment they earn for being there when one's real mothers are absent--or as in this case, for being mothers absent from their own children's lives. And there are no judges, juries and executioners better than children when it comes to making sure no good deed goes unpunished.

I'd write more, but it's really late and I'm getting sleepy!

Thank you for watching with me. I'd love to hear your own thoughts on the movie in the combox--especially whose side you were on at the beginning, and whether anything changed. I obviously sided with Joey all the way, but I seem to be in the minority on the Internet. And that's odd, considering that I'm more like Nanny in real life. Scary eyes and all. ;-)


Enbrethiliel said...


Since no one else is here yet, I'll begin the discussion.

Right now, it's mid-afternoon where I live, a few hours after I told my brothers about this movie over lunch. (It's not the same as screening it for them, I know, but they were really interested when they heard the initial premise, so I gave in.) I was surprised at how differently I saw it "in the bright light of day."

Last night, I was so convinced that the Nanny is a cold-blooded killer that I took my cues from Joey, who doesn't mix any compassion with his hatred when it comes to her. Today, explaining her actions, I suddenly realised the weight of her sorrows. She does love the children she cares for--a terrible position for any dependent who might be "sacked" at any moment and who is reminded of this inferior status in every conversation, with every "Sir," "Madam," "Miss," and "Master" she drops.

She goes a little crazy on the day Susie dies--not psychopath crazy, but abnormal-mental-fantasies crazy (as the school psychologist might say)--but it's perfectly understandable. She has just had the worst morning of her life, only to come "home" and find it had just become unimaginably worse. The few minutes in which she can't tell whether Susie is dead or still alive reflect the confusion she had had to live with all her life: her inability to tell whether the children she cares for love her back or not.

Wow. This movie was made fifty years after Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw, but there's nothing to stop them from being studied together.

I'll be looking into more "Governess Horror".

cyurkanin said...

YES! An evening well-spent! Thank you for choosing this one!

When the credits began and I saw that it was a HAMMER film, I didn't think I'd be making it through it (and what in the world was Betty Davis doing in this?). HAMMER films was/is known for its B movie horrors with titles like Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, and of course all of the "Curse of..." movies, the ones I used to watch on Saturday afternoons as a kid. And then a few minutes into the movie I realized that I had already seen this: on one of those Saturday afternoons as a kid. Luckily, this particular HAMMER wasn't one of those horrors but a psychological thriller and I didn't recall a thing about it.

Betty Davis of course stole the movie, but the surrounding characters weren't exactly given the greatest material to work with. I think all they could do was feed off the greatness of Betty and for me, that was enough.

I didn't find myself in Joey's camp from the beginning, nor in the nanny's. I assumed that there simply would be no hero or heroine in this and I think that's pretty much how it turned out. Just continuous tragedy that would probably continue long after we leave Joey and his mother in that forced happy ending.

Strangely, my favorite part of the movie was the short bit of dialogue between Joey and Suzy. Two kids with no acting baggage reciting their lines in their crisp British accents; I had flashbacks to Lord of the Flies the rest of the evening. The stiltedness of the dialogue makes for a much better atmosphere of creepiness than if they had been made to show any childish innocence. Joey was a little turd before the incident as much as he was after and Suzy simply played her role as a prop around which the plot unfolded.

I also thought that the "softeness" of the movie put it a rank above others, almost feeling like I was watching a Hitchcock. I thought the silences were great; today's movies would have been compelled to add creepy sound effects or music as if to "cue" the audience that they were supposed to be feeling something now. And the close-ups and quick camera changes were rare enough to make them effective without overwhelming the senses.

Great fun reading your commentary on something not from the 80's! I hope you pick another one out of your comfort zone again someday!

Movie: 4.5 stars
Commentary: 5 stars

Thanks again!

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome! =) Thanks for watching!

I think Bette Davis escaped to the UK for a bit after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? because Hollywood (and US audiences, perhaps?) wasn't giving her a reason to stay. It was probably The Nanny or nothing.

The rest of the cast do look and sound incredibly vapid, next to her, don't they? I always feel sorry for the co-stars of actors who, to quote Daniel Day-Lewis, make all the actors around them look as if they're acting. (He said that about John C. Reilly.)

You're right about Joey being a total turd through and through. You must have noticed that I was sympathetic to him at the beginning--but even then, he reminded me uncomfortably much of my tutee Scrap Metal, who never thinks of others if he can help it and seems to relish frustrating people who are just trying to make his life easier. (His own nanny tried to quit three times--but after she became the only one to last longer than six months, there is no way Scrappy's mother is going to let her go.)

Speaking of tutoring, last week, when Rain Dancer and I were discussing Wuthering Heights, the novel she is required to read in English class, I found myself saying that Heathcliff is like a spanner thrown into the orderly works of the neighbourhood. He isn't supposed to be there; he never fits in; when he's gone, everyone is happier; and after he dies, the world just rights itself and goes on the way it would have had he not interrupted. And I think that when I started this movie and saw what a wreck the mother was, I was predisposed to think of Nanny as another Heathcliff--another unwelcome outsider.

But she's not, is she? That is, she's not a Heathcliff sowing trouble wherever she goes. But she is an unwelcome outsider, and it pushed her too far in the end.

Sheila said...

Wow, thanks for sharing this movie. I watched the whole thing -- albeit in snatches -- while trying to cheer up the baby from his cold. (He enjoyed it too, and wasn't a bit scared. ;) )

I too was expecting the nanny to be a much bigger villain. I expected Nanny to have some truly evil plot, deliberately forcing the mother to be reliant on her, and perhaps trying to kill Joey in order to force the mother into further reliance. And I expected Joey to come out as more mature and, well, good than he actually was. Instead it's a lot more nuanced. Nanny actually DOES love the kids, and Virginia and Pen, just went a little psycho there. It's a lot of pressure being a nanny, isn't it? And I don't think Nanny, despite what the doctor said, gave up her daughter on purpose to raise other people's kids, but simply because she had no support to raise her herself.

The problem comes in when people are so reliant and so trusting in the nanny that they absolutely can't see anything wrong in her. The mother, for instance, is very much at fault for not wanting her son home, for refusing to actually care for him herself.

Of course, my viewpoint is colored by my experience as a nanny. I felt that the mothers resented me for being in their place, especially at important moments for their kids, and yet they didn't actually want to be there themselves. I found that particularly to be the case when the mothers were wealthy. The poorer ones HAD to work, and so were honestly regretful that they couldn't be there.

I really enjoyed the movie, anyway. Thanks!

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome, Sheila! I'm glad you--and Marko--enjoyed it. ;-)

It's so easy to play Blame the Nanny, isn't it? She makes such a convenient scapegoat.

But it's even easier to play Blame the Mother--which is what the doctor does. I agree with you that Nanny (She doesn't seem to have a name other than "Nanny," does she?) would not have chosen to raise other people's children rather than her own daughter, if she had had an alternative that let her stay home.

How odd that Virginia and Penelope didn't know about this daughter. Nanny would never have volunteered that information, I think . . . but I read the women's complete ignorance of it as a kind of passive, unintentional cruelty. Of course Nanny has always existed only for them and couldn't possibly have another life worth talking about.

I've already mentioned my tutee Scrap Metal. He has one of the most frustrated nannies I have ever met. Scrappy is awfully mean to her and both his parents let it slide because "he's just being a boy." His nanny said to me once, rather bitterly, "I have four children of my own. My advice about raising children should count for something." She could have also said, "I get this boy ready for school in the morning, welcome him home in the afternoon, prepare his meals, make him take his medicines, draw his baths, wash his clothes, and hear the feedback from his tutor--both when he stays with you and when he stays with his father. For every hour you see him, I get four. My advice about raising him should count for something."

But I think another reason Scrappy can get away with so much is that his mother is one of those who has to work; so when she finds time to be with him, she doesn't want to spend it disciplining him.