Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Bad Seed (1956)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

A few weeks ago I read John Waters' most recent book Role Models, a collection of essays describing his heroes and inspirations, and included was a brief aside discussing Patty McCormack, the actress who played sociopathic 8-year-old Rhoda in both the stage and film versions of The Bad Seed. I had to see this movie. SO I DID. Rhoda is a suspiciously perfect child, and after her father is called away by his military job, her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) begins to notice more and more of her peculiarities. When a boy in Rhoda's class drowns on a school outing, Christine pieces together that her own daughter is a remorseless murderer.

With a fiendish star at its center and a slow-burn escalation to craziness, The Bad Seed is a pretty awesome movie and I totally understand Waters' fascination with it- especially his specific love for Patty McCormack. As Rhoda she is creepy and smart as hell, with a matter-of-fact line delivery as she alternatively tears apart those she dislikes and sweetly serenades those she wants to manipulate. She is without pity and completely self-serving, but maintains the fear and innocence of a child who at times must admit she doesn't have it all figured out. Pigtails never looked so menacing. Well maybe they have. But probably not.

Most of the film is actually focused on the mother Christine and how she gradually pieces together the truth about her own daughter. She is simultaneously sickened and protective, recognizing that while Rhoda may be inherently evil, she also can't help the way she is (there is much discussion of environmental vs genetic factors in the development of sociopathy, and since it's the 50's most of it is probably incorrect). I loved Nancy Kelly's breathy voice and oscillation between crippling fear and decisive action. She's a pretty badass mom, really, plus she's from a family of crazies. Henry Jones also has a great supporting part as Leroy, the menacing handyman who sees through Rhoda's facade because he himself is so dastardly. Most of the cast is from the stage production, which is pretty cool.

My only issue with The Bad Seed is how stupid and out of place the ending is. The climax is awesome (that pounding piano! Oh jeez!) and most of the ending is kind of mind-blowingly great. BUT THEN there's the dumbest final scene that doesn't make any sense and looks awful and is unintentionally laughable. It's a tacked-on ending to appease the studio, so I can forgive it, but it's really too bad because it does take away somewhat from the film as a whole. I can just choose to stop the film after the main big shock happens and pretend that's the ending, though.


Pair This Movie With: I am reminded of The Good Son, which explores similar themes of evil children and unsuspecting adults. I loved that movie as a kid but have no idea if it's actually good? It's got Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, so that's a start.