The Bad Seed (1956)
Reviewed on 2013 November 10
This gem from the ’50s may seem a bit dated in its acting and dialogue, but I give the crew a lot of credit for both complying with the Hays Code and having the guts to go there (oh, you’ll know what I mean when you watch it). Beyond that, it’s just a solid movie. It’s also one of the first I can think of to tackle the issue of nature vs. nurture.
Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) has what seems like an idyllic life. She’s affluent, she lives in a gorgeous apartment complex, and she has a handsome colonel husband (William Hopper) who dotes on Christine. She even has a fun landlord and upstairs neighbor, Monica (Evelyn Varden). Monica may be a bit pushy by today’s standards, but 1) the old girl is usually right and 2) she dotes on Christine’s unnaturally “perfect” daughter, Rhoda (Patty McCormack, working the script like a pro).
Ah yes, little Rhoda. Rhoda looks and superficially acts like a Hummel figurine or one of those little Lefton china angels brought to life, but it’s all a show. This prissily-dressed she-demon has all the ambition of a Wall Street broker, but she’s not encumbered by the nuisances of “soul” or “conscience” or “morals.” Her internal GPS is set to RHODA ONLY, and when she wants something, she has no qualms about mowing over anything or anyone who gets in her way. What’s frightening is that she is as smart as she is evil.
The acting from everyone ranges from good to excellent, with McCormack hitting it out of the park and also a good, heartbreaking bit from Eileen Heckart. I think one of the best indicators that you’re watching a truly well-made movie is catching something new when you re-watch it. I always knew the Rhoda character truly lived up to her title character, but watching it again made me feel cold inside. This little monster with the deceptively sweet face is a full-blown sociopath, and what’s scarier is that she was evil from the moment she emerged from the birth canal. Her mother WAS one of the sweetest and kindest (and what the heck, prettiest) women in cinema, and through no fault of her own, Rhoda is dangerous. There’s a scene about two-thirds of the way through where the distraught mother hugs her daughter, and the expression on Rhoda’s face is beyond disturbing.
This is no spoiler, but here’s a hint: If you’re really having a bad day and want to gloat, skip the credits and stop watching when you see the words The End.
Three chocolate morsels, and a popsicle. Or two. This is one of my favorite movies.