Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by John Lee Mahin
Starring: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Eileen Heckart, and William Hopper
An ideal housewife begins to suspect her loving adolescent daughter may be a heartless killer.
HOLY FRICK. I remembered bits and pieces of this movie, but I watched this as a teenager on a date. My mind was on second base and not the second act. Now that I’ve watched this as an adult – see my opening comment. The Bad Seed follows the lives of the Penmark Family immediately after the father, Col. Kenneth Penmark (Hopper), is temporarily called away on business, leaving his wife, Christine (Kelly), and their young daughter, Rhoda (McCormack) alone. On the outside, the family is a picture of success and grace, but as in all horror movies, we know that just isn’t the case. Rhoda is a very outgoing young girl and hyper-driven to achieve – even over achieve. After a bizarre incident involving Rhoda’s failure to win her school’s “coveted” Penmanship award pin, things begin to surface around this pig-tailed beauty’s behavior. Once this incident occurs, Rhoda’s true motivations are closely, if not reluctantly scrutinized. Yeah, yeah, everyone has a perfect kid.
I know spoiler alerts shouldn’t be required for a film from 1956, but I don’t want to ruin anything about this much adored classic film. Young Patty McCormack’s exuberance is such fantastic juxtaposition to her downright eerie dark side. She lights up every scene she’s in, showing us her duality depending on who she’s interacting with. Her mother, the finely talented, Nancy Kelly, was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the mother coming to grips with a terrible evil – one with a remarkable twist. We feel her pain all too intensely. As my wife pointed out, and I completely agree, the scene stealer of this film is the grieving mother, Mrs. Daigle, portrayed by Eileen Heckart. Her drunken, soul-crushing performance was nothing short of genius. Actors in the 50′s had such sincere flair – part stage actor, part dramatic theatrical actor – and all convincing. What a joy to watch these people perform. You’ll notice long and continuous shots in this film, a major achievement for the actors memorizing their lines with such fervor – something most modern films never come close to achieving with the quick edits that appeal to the nation’s youth.
The end of the film is so electrifying that an actual spoiler alert is shown at the end. The film asks the viewer to not spoil the ending for others who haven’t seen the film yet. I’m sticking with the tradition and asking that you take the time to watch this magnificent film that deserves its superior rating. Enjoy, kids. This one goes in the Fister’s Hall of Fame.