The Bad Seed - Blu-ray Review
By Jeff Swindoll Oct 13, 2011, 14:07 GMT
A single mother discovers that within her seemingly angelic daughter beats the heart of a cold-blooded serial murderer. One woman must make a terrible decision about the daughter she loves and desperately wants to protect in this classic thriller. ...more
“What will you give me for a basket of kisses?”
Some parts creaky, some parts creepy - the original devil child stalks her way onto Blu-ray. The little pig-tailed sociopath is out to get that penmanship medal that you won and if you don’t give it to her you’re just going to make her kill you. It’s your fault that she has to do this to you.
Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) is bidding goodbye to her husband Kenneth (William Hopper, son of gossip reporter Hedda) who has to go to Washington D.C. for military duty. Neighbor and landlord Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden) pops in to give a gift to the Penmark’s daughter.
Rhoda (Patty McCormack) has been practicing “Au Clair de la Lune” on the piano and arrives to accept Monica’s gift, in tap shoes, a pretty pinafore, and pigtails no less. The creepy janitor Leroy (Henry Jones) comes through to get his cleaning supplies and picks on Rhoda.
Rhoda is scheduled to go to Mrs. Fern’s (Joan Croydon) school picnic but before she goes she talks about how Claude Daigle won a penmanship medal that she coveted.
Christine wiles away the afternoon chatting with Monica, Emory (Jesse White), and Reggie (Gage Clark) about psychiatry, Reggie’s hobby especially when asked about the serial killer Bessie Denker. Horrible news comes over the radio when it’s announced that a child drowned at the school picnic. Christine panics thinking that it’s Rhoda, but Monica is strangely calm stating that Rhoda is too willful a child to drown.
The news comes through that it wasn’t Rhoda but Claude that drowned. Christine is concerned that the sight of Claude’s corpse will affect Rhoda but when she skips in she’s unfazed. This unnerves Christine, but she has happy news that her father Richard (Paul Fix) is coming to visit but she’s about to discover that she has a closer connection to Bessie Denker than she realizes and that Rhoda does too.
It all comes to a head when Hortense (Eileen Heckart), the drunken mother of Claude, comes calling looking for information about the missing penmanship medal.
Director Mervyn LeRoy certainly enjoyed the stage production of the Bad Seed since he followed that pattern to a degree and maybe to the detriment of the production. He did some great things in bringing over a majority of the cast, including McCormack.
It followed quickly on the heels of the stage show happily since she didn’t have time to outgrow the role. He also was open to the suggestions of the cast; after all they had done the material over 300 times and had honed some bits of business they knew worked with the audiences.
To his detriment he also chose to keep much of the stage’s one room setting and at times the film seems like a filmed play although he does go outside where the original couldn’t.
Kelly’s acting also goes for the rafters at times, but it’s really not about her. McCormack steals every scene she’s in as the manipulative little demon., at one time charming Monica, then turning around and gives an icy confession about her procuring of the coveted medal. Kelly also has her moments as the conflicted mother, but I do wish she had dialed it down for some of it.
If you listen to the fantastic commentary you’ll find out how the play originally ended. It’s a much darker and more effective turn. The movie manufactures an “act of God” end for little Rhoda that stretches it and even turns a bit schizophrenic as we have a comedy dénouement for the credits.
The Bad Seed is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (1.85:1). There’s some argument whether it should’ve been fullscreen, but I thought the framing looked fine. The transfer did look soft in places, but was overall decent.
Special featueres (presented in standard definition) include a commentary with McCormack and fan Charles Busch, a 14 minute interview with McCormack, and the film’s 3 minute theatrical trailer. These come from the DVD release but are still fascinating.
The Bad Seed may have aged a bit when compared to other sinister kid movies, but it gets much right. McCormack acts her black heart out and is held up by her costars. The chills may be tempered by the staging and tinkering with the ending (thanks to the Hays Code) but it’s still chilling.
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