Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Bad Seed, as drama goes, is stupid, incredible, jaw-droppingly, howlingly ridiculous. It's worth a rent for the camp entertainment value.

I was expecting something along the lines of Village of the Damned , so I didn't realize this was a serious social drama, and that's what made it ridiculous: a "perfect looking" (actually kind of psychotic looking) little girl is discovered to be violent, but the understanding of her behavior is almost completely genetic, that she has inherited her bad behavior. The perfectly "good" (and cowardly) mother retreats into a pathetic, insular, helpless hysteria rather than doing anything to correct or discipline her child (that is, until the extreme ending). So, in a way, the film is strangely appropriate today, when too much blame for behavior is chalked up to genes.

Nancy Kelly gives a dreadful performance as the mother, indulging in the worst excesses of the era. Evelyn Varden (the queen of "canning" in The Night of the Hunter) is memorably annoying as the upstairs neighbor, and Henry Jones has a ball as a slow-witted janitor who is (IRONY!!) the only adult who sees the girl for what she is (a fact he repeats far too many times). Eileen Heckart is amusingly hammy and rather heartfelt as the drunken mother of the victim. Patty McCormack is iconic as the lead (she provides commentary on the DVD), skipping around in her perfect pink dress and masterfully distracting the adults from the topic with nauseating offers of a "basket full of kisses."

It's actually refreshing to see a child portrayed as manipulative and secretive about her misbehavior, because real kids sometimes act that way, even if it's taken to ridiculous extremes in this story (unbelievably, a novel and successful Broadway play before it was a movie!). The idiotic understanding of evil and the pathetic portrayal of an everywoman's reaction to it seriously mar the film, however. A few tweaks in one direction and the film might have been a somewhat successful drama; in another, and it could have been a successful lampoon of dramatic conventions of the day. But I have to admit it's probably more entertaining this way.

Song: "I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon



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