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The Bad Seed


A chilling argument for birth control.

Rod Lott October 7th, 2011

For newcomers to 1956's "The Bad Seed," its age and black-and-white nature are plusses, diminishing expectations to how diabolical it really is. Although the title says it all — this girl is evil, EVIL! — you'll be surprised how much the story gets away with for such conservative times.

thebadseed

Prim, proper, pig-tailed Rhoda (Patty McCormack, then all of 11) is so mature for her age, it's almost too good to be true ... because it is. A cunning mind lay behind her curtsy. She's as manipulative as she is malicious. Her desire for a penmanship medal she doesn't receive soon leads to a drowned schoolmate. When Rhoda hears the news, she says in so many words, "Oh, well. PB&J, please."

Her mother (Nancy Kelly, "One Night in the Tropics") begins to suspect something just isn't right with her only, perfect child. Ironically, the smartest character is the film is the slow-and-simple groundskeeper (Henry Jones, "Vertigo") whose worldview isn't clouded by complex thought, so he sees right through Rhoda's happy-go-lucky skipping act.

If "The Bad Seed" appears too talky for today's audiences, that's simply the material showing its stage roots. Both Kelly and McCormack originated their roles on Broadway a year before, and they're so at ease with the material, you’re sold. Not surprisingly, they earned Oscar nominations for their work, and yes, even little Patty earned it. She's shockingly good in many intense scenes that most child actors wouldn't be able to approach.

The ending is abrupt, but terrific, even ballsy. Its power is lessened slightly by bringing out the actors individually for a cheesy final bow, itself followed by Kelly giving McCormack a much-needed spanking for comic effect. The movie itself, however, is dead serious.

Warner Bros.' high-def debut of the picture comes with the trailer and a quick conversation with McCormack, who now fully embraces the role that simultaneously made and hampered her career. —Rod Lott

 
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