Friday, November 15, 2013

Forgotten Gems: "The Bad Seed"

Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark
Talk about obsessions... I don't exactly remember the first time I saw Mervyn LeRoy's 1956 thriller The Bad Seed, but I know it was Mom who introduced me to it. (Oh, yes. She had a dark side, too ). Based on the stage play by Maxwell Anderson and the novel by William March, the film explores mid-20th Century ideas about DNA and Nature Vs Nurture.

Young Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack, left)  is the perfect child. Smart, neat and loving, she hides a dark secret. When Rhoda's classmate, Claude Daigle is drowned at Rhoda's private school annual Spring picnic, Rhoda is suspected of killing him because he won the school's penmanship medal over her.

As Rhoda's mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) delves into her past, she comes to learn that she is the child of the infamous murderess Bessie Denker and may have passed her mother's psychopathy onto Rhoda. Henry Jones; William Hopper; Paul Fix; Elizabeth Varden and the amazing Eileen Heckart round out the stellar cast as Rhoda's family and victims, most of whom reprise their original Broadway stage roles. Jones, as the half-witted handyman Leroy and Heckart as the grieving alcoholic mother of the murdered Claude are especially good, but this is McCormack's movie and she owns every scene she's in.

Yes, it has a mid-50's camp feel about it, but The Bad Seed still has the power to be creepy and awful. Of course, having been produced under the Hayes Code, the movie couldn't be released with the  play and novel's original ending (SPOILER ALERT) and young Rhoda is struck by retributional lightning at the end, though she survives in the original versions.

I have wanted to direct a production of Anderson's play for almost 30 years, but have yet to come across a young actress capable of convincingly pulling off the role of Rhoda, while trying to justify the play's mid-century values and still holding relevance, today (though gun violence-related events in the past few years have made me rethink that).

The 1985 TV remake starring Blair Brown; Lynn Redgrave; Richard Kiley; David Ogden Stiers and openly gay actor Chad Allen doesn't hold a candle to the original.

If you are a genre film fan and have never seen this movie, you should. If you have seen it, then you know why it deserves to be seen,

Again, give me the money and I'll make a version of this story that will make you poop you pants!


More, anon.

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