After a penniless widow (Bette Davis) loses her home to the bank, she befriends a junk dealer (Ernest Borgnine, Marty) who turns out to be an ex-bank robber wanted by the police. The widow quickly blackmails the fugitive into helping her rob a bank.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“This is a stick up. I’ve got a gun in my purse.”
This is a disarmingly offbeat little film. Although Bunny O’Hare would never be mistaken for a great movie, I was genuinely surprised at how amusingly sardonic this film was. Frankly, what I found most surprising was the fact that this unassuming low-budget movie attempts to discuss pressing and important social problems.
Directed by Gerd Oswald (A Kiss Before Dying and Crime of Passion), Bunny O’Hare (originally titled Bunny and Claude, a nod to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde) was produced by AIP (American International Pictures), a film company known for its entertaining B-movies. AIP made many films I enjoyed as a child (e.g. Roger Corman’s celebrated Poe adaptations, actress Pam Grier’s films, etc.).
Bunny O’Hare looks and feels like a typical AIP production. What sets it apart from its counterparts? Well, you have two Oscar-winning actors starring in what is essentially an exploitation film. Bless Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine for not “phoning it in” — the veteran actors proceed as if they were in a prestigious Oscar-bait, completely unaware of the movie’s shortcomings. More important, Davis and Borgnine seemed to instinctively understand the film’s serious subtext and that helps a great deal.
This is not a laugh-out loud comedy. Bunny O’Hare is a quasi-woke movie with a dark sense of humor. It’s, I kid you not, a sort of battle cry against social injustice. Unfortunately, AIP apparently got cold feet, took the movie from director Oswald’s hands and removed most of the social critique. In the end, Bunny O’Hare feels more like a cheap potboiler than a cynical comedy with a message.
Bunny O’Hare does have a few noteworthy moments. You get to see the legendary award-winning actors ride a motorcycle! Stunt people were used for long shots, but Davis and Borgnine did ride the motorcycle for the close-ups. “There is no reason why Borgnine and I weren’t killed in some of the shots up and down those New Mexico mountain roads,” Davis confessed to Whitney Stine, author of the book Mother Goddam.
You also get to see Borgnine smoke a marijuana joint! Additionally, Davis was supposed to drop an f-bomb at the end, but AIP’s Samuel Z. Arkoff James H. Nicholson allegedly forced her to re-dub the expletive with the more benign “screw them” — if you pay careful attention to her lips, you can clearly see her mouthing the f-word!
Finally, the film marked the return to the big screen of character actor Jay Robinson (Caligula in The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators) after serving a 15-month jail sentence for drug-related charges. Davis was instrumental in getting him a role in the film. Thanks to Davis’s gesture, Robinson was officially removed from Hollywood’s black list. The cast also includes Jack Cassidy (father of teen idol David Cassidy) as the pompous cop obsessed with capturing the bank robbers (Is he the inspiration for Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies?) and John Astin (Gomez in TV’s The Addams Family) as Davis’s irresponsible son (a role that apparently didn’t exist in the shooting script and was added in post-production).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Both Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine regretted making Bunny O’Hare. Borgnine’s career quickly bounced back with key roles in mega-hits Willard and The Poseidon Adventure, but Bunny O’Hare continued Davis’s losing streak. After the movie was panned by critics and failed at the box office, Davis tried to save face and sued the producers for altering the movie in post-production (she eventually withdrew the lawsuit). Although severely damaged by its producers’ excessive tinkering, Bunny O’Hare is a surprisingly entertaining, socially-conscious B-movie. Color, 103 minutes, Rated PG.