Unwed single mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) and her four-year-old daughter Bunny arrive from the United States to come stay with her brother Stephen (Keir Dullea) in England. Ann drops Bunny off at a new school / day care ("The Little People's Garden School") and goes about meeting with the moving people and trying to get her things unpacked and organized. While there, she meets her eccentric new landlord Horatio Wilson (Noel Coward), a poet, playwrite, singer and alcoholic who carries his beloved chihuahua Samantha around with him everywhere. After a trip to the market, a flustered Ann heads back to the school to pick up her little girl. Problem is, she's nowhere to be found and no one who works there seems to know where she is. Actually, no one who works there even remembers seeing her, period. At least what they're claiming. The headmistress was off getting dental work done, so her inexperienced underling Elvira Smollett (Anna Massey) was put in charge for the day. During that time, a frustrated German cook - who was supposed to check in on Bunny while she was in the "First Day Room" - has quit. The school is large, extremely unorganized and seems severely understaffed, there are hundreds of children coming and going at any given time and many, many rooms to search.
Ann calls up Stephen, who promptly drives over to help her scour the school. The two start at the top floor; an off-limits area converted over to a flat where the two elderly women (lesbians?) who founded the school live. One of them is in the hospital, but the other, Ada Ford (Martita Hunt) turns out to be a perceptive and possibly crazy eccentric who sits around listening to recordings of children talking. She's working on a book about children's fantasies and nightmares and the staff apparently encourage her to stay upstairs because she may frighten the little ones. Finally fed up, Stephen telephones the police. Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) shows up to lead the investigation. A thorough search of the school is conducted, but Bunny is still nowhere to be found. Newhouse figures she has somehow wandered out of the school and will turn up in due time. Because not all of her things have arrived from America yet, Ann isn't even able to come up with a photo of her daughter. She then remembers there's one in her passport.
Upon returning home, Ann is horrified to discover that her daughter's passport and all of her belongings have vanished into thin air. There is no evidence whatsoever that he daughter has even been in London and no sign of a break-in. Hell, there's no evidence that her daughter even exists. No application for enrollment or money receipts for payment at the school have turned up and no one in London - including students and teachers where she was dropped off - seems to have even laid eyes on the child. Either the school is lying to covering their ass or Stephen and Ann are. It's revealed that Ann was a lonely child; her parents died at a young age and she was brought up by her brother. During that time she'd created a make-believe playmate named, you guessed it, Bunny. Ann claims that she named her invisible friend and then her own illegitimate daughter after a specific literary character, but Newhouse is skeptical of both her and her brother's stories. From all indications, Stephen has always supported Ann, both emotionally and financially. Perhaps in other less-wholesome ways, as well.
Several suspects are established, particularly the odd Miss Ford, who tells Newhouse "Children are at the mercy of their parents and for the most part parents are a very bad lot" and the lecherous pervert of a landlord who just barges into the Lake's apartment, tries to come on to Ann and has a whip collection and the skull of the Marquis de Sade (!) in his home. The fact we never actually see Bunny or most of what happened prior to her disappearance is enough to keep our interest for at least the first hour. Unfortunately, the film swiftly goes downhill toward the conclusion. Whatever joys are to be had here are in the mystery aspects of the story so I'm not going to go into any real detail about who the kidnapper is or how this film ends, but trust me when I say you will seldom be left with more glaringly obvious plot holes than the ones you're left with by the end of this one. I haven't read the Evelyn Piper novel this is based upon, which was adapted by John and Penelope Mortimer, but one hopes she at least managed to tie together some of these loose ends.
Considered a classic by some (I beg to differ), this was nominated for several BAFTA Awards, including deserving nods for the cinematography and art direction. The score is also excellent. The young leads aren't always believable, but the supporting roles are all skillfully played by some very fine character actors. Hunt, Coward and Finlay Currie (who runs a doll repair shop) are particularly good in their parts. The cast also includes Clive Revill (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) as a police sergeant, Adrienne Corri (THE TELL-TALE HEART) as a teacher, Megs Jenkins (THE INNOCENTS) as a nurse and John Forbes-Robertson (who got to play Count Dracula in Hammer's LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES) as a hospital attendant.
Sony released a DVD in 2005.