Review Day 17: The Bad Seed (1956)
Stage plays turned into films can be hit and miss, what works for the stage may not entirely translate well to the screen. The Bad Seed (1956) however manages to work, it feels like a stage play with most of the film taking place in the same setting. The story and the performances are certainly captivating, and manages to keep attention through this slow burn character study.
Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) is a house wife who has a loving husband Col. Kenneth Penmark (William Hopper) and the picture perfect daughter in Rhoda (Patty McCormack). When Kenneth gets called away to Washington D.C., Christine is left to look after Rhoda with some help from her friendly landlord Monica (Evelyn Varden), but while Rhoda is at a school event a young boy suddenly drowns and Rhoda was the last person to see him. It comes to light that there was some jealousy between Rhoda and the boy, and his mother Hortense (Eileen Heckart) suspects Rhoda knows more than she is letting on. Christine starts to investigate whether children can be evil, and wonders if she is has some how responsible as Rhoda isn’t the innocent girl she seems like.
The really interesting aspect of The Bad Seed (1956) is it’s theme of nature vs. nurture, something that people still ponder about today. It does gives the audience something to think about, for all intense and purposes Rhoda has been brought up well by loving parents, her overly nice and innocent act is very unsettling and it makes one guess whether there is just evil in her own nature. Christine does wonder whether she was adopted, and thinks that perhaps if something is wrong with Rhoda, if it was her fault. Everything is played out with a lot tension, which really works for the most part too and anytime Rhoda is overly nice it just feels like something bad will happen.
The theatrical element of the film really works, the performances feel theatrical and the slow burn pace also works and helps build up some great tension. Some performances perhaps were over done at times, but some how they just seemed to work and add to the overall film. Patty McCormack is incredibly unsettling as Rhoda, her performance is so captivating and and almost frightening, this was definitely a memorable performance. Nancy Kelly is incredible as Christine, so much emotion and grief is shown, it is heartbreaking at times and she fit the role (she was part of the Stage production, as were most of the cast). Evelyn Varden is absolutely delightful as Monica, her performance is very sincere and grand. Monica is such a memorable character, it is a shame she didn’t have more screen time. Eileen Heckart was a tad over top as Hortense, but it worked because she is grieving mother drinking to numb her pain, and she knows deep down her son’s death wasn’t accidental. The women are very much the focus of The Bad Seed (1956) and they worked extremely well together, they fit these characters and knew them well.
Some may consider this to be a cheesy or campy film, it is though a well done horror film, not needing a single drop of blood to tell a compelling story. The ending was changed from the stage play version, whether this was a good or bad choice doesn’t really matter because this ending still works and adds some closure for the audience. The horror of the story is enough to make this intense viewing, having some sort of closure is almost a sign of relief. Rhoda is one of those unforgettable child characters that will certainly stick with viewers, especially as she says “What can I get for a basket of kisses?”.
Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea