Thrown out on the street by a wealthy ex-lover, beautiful actress Ann (Sydne Rome) is hit by a car carrying young babysitter Michelle (Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris (1972)). A year or so later, a guilt-ridden Michelle shares her flat with a still-traumatized Ann. Ann's acting career lands in jeopardy when she refuses to get naked for a love scene with fading matinee idol Stuart Chase (Robert Vaughn) because of her body scars from the accident. Posing as Michelle in a dark brown wig, Ann takes a job babysitting a little boy named Boots (John Whittington) who happens to be the son of the man that rejected her, wealthy businessman Cyrus Franklin (Carl Möhner). She drugs Boots and brings him to an abandoned house just outside Rome. When Michelle arrives to begin babysitting Boots wakes up and freaks out. Mistaking Michelle for the kidnapper, he locks himself in the bathroom. But then Boots and Michelle menaced by a sinister man (Vic Morrow) who barricades them both inside.
One reason why this French thriller remains quite obscure despite a relatively starry cast might be its mystifying multiple alternate titles. No less than two in French (Jeune fille libre le soir and the simpler La Babysitter) and two more English including Wanted: Babysitter and Scar Tissue. The latter refers to Ann's disfigurement which has less to do with the plot than initially seems the case. Whatever the title this was the final outing for French film legend René Clement whose critical stock had fallen very low since the heady days of Forbidden Games (1952) and Plein Soleil (1960). Yet viewed today some of Clement's later works like Rider on the Rain (1970) are rather beguiling. His thrillers grew increasingly experimental if not downright surreal packing allusions to fairy tales and children's books. Here Clement's strange Alice in Wonderland obsession is apparent once again, as it was in Rider on the Rain and The Deadly Trap (1971), through the reoccurring presence of the white rabbit that appears just before Michelle is drawn into a bewildering world where nothing is as it seems.
At the time art-house patrons expecting more cerebral fare were aghast at Clement's eccentricities yet one imagines Wanted: Babysitter might appeal more to today's cult film fans. Tonally it is quite close to a giallo. It has the familiar ingredients: an absurdly contrived set-up, elliptical plotting that is hard to follow, gratuitous though not unwelcome nudity (strangely Sydne Rome is more alluring here than in Roman Polanski's supposedly sexy comedy What? (1972)), moments of bad taste, oddball supporting characters with strange psychological quirks and an excellent experimental electro-funk score from Francis Lai. It is even set in Rome. After a laborious and unnecessarily complex first act things grow more interesting. As Boots wakes up scared witless poor, befuddled Michelle struggles to cope with a little boy who thinks she is a psycho and a menacing Vic Morrow at her door. The core concept of the heroine unaware she is part of a kidnap plot has great potential though Clement's treatment is anything but conventional. Where most thrillers are taut and suspenseful, Wanted: Babysitter meanders through a bizarre yet strangely watchable melange of melancholy and absurdist comedy.
An engaging though oddly blank-faced actress, Maria Schneider essays a pleasing gutsy heroine though she suffers mightily. The gradual thawing of the relationship between Michelle and Boots is nicely handled by Clement as they come to rely on and empathize with each other. On the other hand the comedy involving Michelle's chubby, seemingly deluded would-be boyfriend Gianni (Renato Pozzetto) backfires as he stumbles onto the hideout and forces the kidnappers to concoct another elaborate plan. Clement peppers the film with news footage of riots and protests and off-hand comments about inflation (significantly, Cyrus Franklin is the head of an international food corporation) in what seems like an attempt at sociopolitical context but the culprits are absurd showbiz caricatures and their motivations personal rather than political. Though nowhere as bad as some maintain and entertaining in a twisted way, it is a halfhearted thriller where the police are clods and both victims and kidnappers prove equally hapless pawns in a wider yet poorly explained scheme. Rather than build to a heady climax, Wanted: Babysitter merely grinds to a halt in a very glum fashion.