The Bad Seed (1956)
Directed and produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay by John Lee Mahin, based on a novel by William March and a play by Maxwell Anderson
Cinematography by Harold Rosson
Edited by Warren Low
Warner DVD (2:09)
The passage of fifty years can certainly lessen the impact of some movies once considered powerful at the time of their release. If any of the impact from a film’s initial run survives, there has to be something going for it. In many ways, the impact and power of The Bad Seed (1956) has certainly lessened. We’ve seen plenty of other evil children in the movies since 1956 (The Excorcist, The Omen, The Good Son, etc.) so watching one from 50 years ago may seem almost quaint. Yet Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) still holds up as quite a hellion.
When Rhoda’s mother Christine (Nancy Kelly, left) learns that Rhoda was a witness to the accidental drowning death of one of her classmates, Christine is concerned that the event will traumatize Rhoda. Far from it. She’s totally unfazed by the incident. Later Christine wonders if Rhoda was actually the cause of the little boy’s death.
I am generally not a fan of plays adapted into films and while LeRoy gives us some good tension-filled scenes away from the interior of the house, most of the film takes place in confined indoor areas, reminding us (or maybe just me) that this is based on a play. That’s not as much of a problem as a play that loads us down with information that’s already been well-explored. Add to this the endless number of scenes of the Penmark’s caretaker LeRoy (Henry Jones, not the director) taunting Rhoda, and the film seems much longer than the two-plus hour running time. (95 to 100 minutes would’ve been plenty.)
Yet despite the tacked-on curtain call ending that totally lessens the impact of the film, much of The Bad Seed remains effective, especially the performance of Patty McCormack, who went on to star in many child and adult roles including Frost/Nixon (2008) and The Master (2012). At 71, she’s still quite active with two films currently in post-production.
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