Evelyn Piper (pseudonym of Merriam Modell [19 May 1908 - 1 July 1994]) is virtually unknown today, though she published many novels and short-stories between the mid-1940s and 1970, when her last novel, THE STAND-IN, was published).Her legacy today stems from two 1965 films based on two of those novels: BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING(published 1957) and THE NANNY (published 1964).I know I made a couple of attempts at THE NANNY a long, long time ago – I’ve decided it’s time to give it a serious go.
Starring Bette Davis, whose career had been given a huge boost with 1962's WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, THE NANNY was filmed by Hammer Films, known primarily for their Technicolor Frankenstein and Dracula films – THE NANNY, however, did not fall into that category – rather, it was what I affectionately call “one of Hammer’s nice little black-and-white psychological thrillers.”Within the first dozen pages a number of changes from page to screen (courtesy of producer/screenwriter Jimmy Sangster) are evident:
1) The setting of the story was transferred from Manhattan to London for the film (which should come as no surprise, since Hammer was a British film company - the casting of Davis, however, ensured wider international recognition for the film);
2) In the novel it’s Joey’s younger brother who was accidentally killed – the brother becomes a little sister in the film;
3) Nanny’s services were obtained through Victor Fane’s secretary, Althea, with whom he has an affair – Nanny has served Althea’s family for decades – in the film Nanny had been in service to Virgie Fane’s family, had been Nanny for herself and her sister.
3/27: A thoroughly unpleasant book; more than halfway through (it's only 152 pages in paperback), I'm tempted not to finish it, but while I have to admit I want to see how it all comes out, I'm not particularly enjoying the proceedings - none of the primary characters is particularly sympathetic - this is one of those novels in which the author reveals certain things early on, and then must devise ways of keeping the characters from knowing what we know.
If Ruth Rendell wrote a novel that combined a psychotic nanny, a teenaged sociopath and the neurotic mother of a frightened eight-year old whom nobody believes, it would probably be spellbinding.Evelyn Piper concocted such a mixture with The Nanny and it’s just, as I've said – unpleasant all around.It's hard to see what attracted a film company to this novel, and easy to see why it was altered for the screen, especially as the title character dies 37 pages before the end of the book (Sangster reconfigured the story as a battle of wills between Nanny and the boy, Joey, which Piper only partially develops in the novel).