Saturday, April 21, 2012

THE BAD SEED 1956

For the most part, I don’t see anything inherently bad in a film morphing from one kind of entertainment into another over the course of its “screening life.” By this I mean that films; a populist entertainment/art form presumed of a certain marketable topicality at the time of their release, are, by nature, vulnerable to the vagaries of time. A movie can start out as one kind of entertainment— say, thoughtful social drama—but, due to changing public tastes, evolve over time into something that gives pleasure to countless hundreds in new, totally unexpected ways (e.g., high camp).

Some films, like John Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (1951), feel every bit as powerful and affecting today as I imagine they did for audiences some six decades ago. While other films, dismissed or misunderstood in their own time (Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter) benefit greatly from revisionism and the kind of clear-eyed, contextual reassessment of art that’s only possible with the distancing effect of time. Most commonly though, older films just take their place in our consciousness as works superficially cloaked in the trappings of their “time,” addressing otherwise timeless concerns of love, death, humanity, and hope. If the emotions are true and the stories compelling, we don’t necessarily care if the costumes are out-of-date, the dialog archaic, or style of filmmaking passé. The movie still works in the ways originally intended.

What seems to play havoc with a film’s continuing relevance is a non-scientific equation that takes over-emphatic, up-to-the-minute immediacy, multiplies it by sensationalism, and adds a dash of self-seriousness. The result is usually something so mired in a particular time, place, and mindset, that it’s near-impossible to enjoy or take seriously on any of the levels that may have been effective at one time. We see it in highly-stylized dramatic films from the 30s and 40s, where stage-bound acting techniques (characters speaking into the distance rather than to one another; gestures and facial expressions that indicate emotions broadly) have a distancing effect on our involvement in the narrative. In these instances, a film’s elder status is an intractable element of how it is viewed by contemporary audiences and establishes the boundaries for its broad acceptance.
When psychoanalysis was new, juvenile delinquency in its infancy, and post-war conformity at its height, Maxwell Anderson’s Broadway 1954 play, The Bad Seed (adapted from the 1954 novel by William March) must have been quite the eye-opener. A thriller about a sociopathic 8 year-old serial killer sounds like a weed among the roses in a Broadway season that saw the premieres of Peter Pan and The Pajama Game, but the chillingly original premise and by-all-accounts remarkable performance of little 9 year-old, anti-Shirley Temple, Patty McCormack, made The Bad Seed into a solid hit. Co-star Nancy Kelly won the Tony Award for Best Actress that year, and in a rarity for Hollywood, virtually the entire principal cast was recruited to recreate their roles for the 1956 film adaptation.

But not everything that plays well across the footlights survives the magnification of the movie screen. Suffering from a perhaps too-faithful adaptation that had characters doing nothing but conversing for fitfully long stretches while engaged in a lot of theatrically fussy “stage  business,” the close-up lens trained on The Bad Seed seemed to amplify the dubious premise of the plot (hereditary homicidal tendencies) while doing nothing to add verisimilitude or spontaneity to the progressively melodramatic proceedings.
Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark
Eileen Heckart as Hortense Daigle
Henry Jones as Leroy Jessup
Navy Colonel Kenneth Penmark and wife Christine seem to have the ideal child in their little Rhoda: an angelic, near-perfect package of pigtails and ruffles, adorned with girlish grace and good manners. When Kenneth is called away to Washington for business, Christine (who’s wound a little tight from the get-go) begins to suspect that perhaps Rhoda’s immaculate façade isn’t masking a more disturbed, darker nature. The mysterious death of a local boy and Christine’s epiphanic discovery of her own birth lineage lead her to believe that little Rhoda is a budding serial killer; possessor of a hereditary “bad seed” gene passed on to Rhoda by Christine herself. What to do? What to do? What to do?

I make light of the preposterous-sounding premise, but quite honestly, when removed from the gimmicky “serial killer gene” plotline, The Bad Seed is pretty solid thriller material and might have even tapped into the post-war/ McCarthy-era “banality of evil” zeitgeist of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (released the same year) had it managed to sidestep the theatrical histrionics and showed more faith in presenting a dark vision of idealized suburban perfection.
* Spoiler Alert! If you've never seen The Bad Seed, read no further. Run, don't walk, and get your hands on a copy of this film NOW! You're in for a treat. Come back later...we'll still be here.
I personally love the Hays Code-mandated, tacked-on ending (in the play, Rhoda lives and it's the mother who dies) that has God’s retribution striking down little Rhoda in the middle of her most Godless act, but feel it would have been even more powerful without the survival of the mother and her guilt-leaden hospital bed confession.

Thematically, The Bad Seed is ill-served by how deeply the plot is mired in outmoded Freudian psychological theorems. Stylistically, its effectiveness as a suspense thriller is undermined by an overwrought theatricality that turns every scene that should be gripping melodrama into a satire of American suburban ideals.
That little crinoline blur in the upper left-hand corner is an airborne Rhoda, avoiding the passive-aggressive spray of  the garden hose Leroy (Henry Jones) appears intent on training on her plot-significant Mary Jane shoes.
I couldn’t have been much older than Rhoda when I saw The Bad Seed on TV for the first time, and that was probably the last time I ever responded to it as intended. I was raised in a middle-class neighborhood during a time when kids were brought up to say  “please “and “thank you” and never, but NEVER speak back to grownups. So it shocked the hell out of me to see a little girl who could have stepped out of an episode of Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver behave so monstrously. The idea that a kid could exert any power over their own lives at all was alien enough, let alone plan and carry out vicious murders with nary a trace of remorse.
I didn’t mind that we weren’t shown the deaths of little Claude Daigle or Leroy the maintenance man (something unthinkable today, especially if that talentless hack Eli Roth makes good a long ago threat/promise to remake this film)  because my fertile kid’s imagination furnished all the gory details. I remember being very torn up by the grief of Eileen Heckart’s Mrs. Daigle and the sound of the gunshot near the end nearly sent me flying off the sofa. The strongest memory I have is of Rhoda’s final trip to the boathouse. It was spooky enough that she was out by herself at night in a rainstorm, but I thought maybe her maddeningly clueless father was going to wake up and catch her red-handed with the medal. That bolt of lightning hit me like ...well, a bolt of lightning. OMG! I had NEVER seen a kid killed in a movie before and that image stayed with me for many a nightmare.
Evelyn Varden portrays annoying landlady and neighbor, Monica Breedlove. 
Naiveté definitely has its advantages with some films, so at least I get to say that I had one pure experience of The Bad Seed. Perhaps the closest one can get without time-traveling back to the 50s.
Over the course of the next several years however, The Bad Seed, almost imperceptibly, went from serious to hilarious in my eyes. The pitch of the film had always been a little high, but with maturity, the passing of time, and changing tastes, The Bad Seed started to look as dated and reactionary as one of those “social guidance” films of the 50s and 60s. A turn of events that’s had the unusual effect of making the film more watchable, not less.


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
Although I consider most real-life children to be monsters, I think it’s extremely difficult to make them look menacing on the screen. The 1976 film The Omen sidestepped the pitfall its 2006 remake fell into (headfirst) by having the child’s evil nature left ambiguous. The child merely behaved in a normal fashion and the audience was left to project whatever we wanted onto his angelic pan. In the remake, the child actor is directed to continually glower at the screen; producing the surely-unwanted effect of a child suffering a tummy ache rather than the conveyance of a subterranean malevolence within the spawn of Satan. What makes Patty McCormack so memorably creepy in The Bad Seed is that she's like a schoolyard bully dreamt up by Murder, Inc.
"You better bring them back here! Right here to MEEEEEEE!

The only reason this scene gets laughs is because Patty McCormack is scarier than hell in it. You can't believe a little girl in pigtails and a pinafore can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
 Today, when the bratty behavior of children is business-as-usual in every sitcom and movie I see (seriously, the sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin is indistinguishable from the average middle class brat I encounter these days) little Rhoda Penmark comes off more like a miniature Alexis Carrington than homicidal maniac. Her outbursts and threats make us giggle certainly because of the incongruity of her behavior with her size and sanitized appearance, but also because she’s carrying on in a way we’ve long come to associate with entertainment industry divas. Rhoda is rude, ruthless, selfish, self-involved, single-mindedly determined to get what she wants, and impervious to the suffering of others. Now, who doesn't think that sounds like Madonna?
The Original Material Girl
PERFORMANCES:
Nancy Kelly and Eileen Heckart give the kind of herculean performances that garner Oscar nominations, and indeed both (along with McCormack) were in fact nominated for Academy Awards. Both are very good but neither actress lets up “acting” for even a second, making every ill-tempered intrusion by McCormack a welcome one. Kelly’s stylistic excesses and singsong way of conveying sincerity may induce laughter, but the anguish her character goes through is really rather remarkably played. Heckart has some great material and much of it she plays with real poignancy, but a little too much standard “drunk” shtick creeps into the characterization for it to avoid the occasional lapse into overkill. The film’s star and absolute marvel is 10 year-old Patty McCormack. Although her performance is over- rehearsed to within a hairsbreadth,  her Rhoda is a hilariously two-faced creation - an identifiable hyper- phony like Leave it to Beaver's Eddie Haskell - whose absolute refusal to be what her appearance signifies feels like an act of guerrilla rebellion against the stuffy middle-class blandness surrounding her. Rhoda Penmark is one of my favorite movie villains. The film positively drags whenever she’s not onscreen.
Rhoda has intimacy issues
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
No longer a viable suspense thriller (not for me, anyway) The Bad Seed works remarkably well as a satirical black comedy of American paranoia in the mid-50s. McCarthyism took root because post-war America was just starting to look within its own backyard for threats to the so-called American way of Life. What did it find? Well, juvenile delinquency, for one. And what else is Rhoda but a steely-eyed juvenile delinquent in Mary Janes? (OK, a juvenile homicidal delinquent, but I’m trying to make a point.) As the perfect little angel who’ll stop at nothing to get that coveted Penmanship Medal, Rhoda is an unassuming anarchy let loose on the stiff, airless “normalcy” of the falsely idealized world inhabited by the adults. Like all the crooked politicians and gangsters throughout history, Rhoda manages to get away with murder (heh-heh) by showing the world a false image of conformity. Everyone is so slow to pick up on the rather obvious clues of Rhoda’s guilt because….well, little girls just don’t do that. If The Bad Seed were remade and Rhoda's guilt was left ambiguous, it would become clear that Rhoda makes people uneasy merely because she either conforms too much to the image of the perfect little girl, or too little. (1985 saw a predictably terrible and over obvious TV remake...a waste of time.)
Little Rhoda Penmark having one of her "moments"
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
In spite of its daringly original premise and first-class credentials, I’m afraid the movie that once promoted itself as “The most shocking motion picture ever made!” containing “The most chilling moment the screen has ever unleashed!” is now an enduring camp staple, no more frightening and every bit as riotous as this scene of holy terror Jane Withers laying into Shirley Temple in 1934’s Bright Eyes (YouTube link). 
Actress Patty McCormack has embraced the cult/camp status of The Bad Seed and frequently appears at screenings, judging Rhoda look-alike contests, and answering questions about the making of the film (she is great on the DVD commentary). Mining the camp-factor, The Bad Seed has become a favorite of 99-seat theater productions, usually with an adult male cast as Rhoda. People seem to have a deep affection for The Bad Seed, either due to childhood exposure to the then-frightening film, or cult appreciation that has the laughs coming at the expense of the film’s over-earnestness and 50s mind-set, not at the performers themselves.
In the Censorship Code sanctioned denouement, Rhoda goes back to the pier to retrieve the coveted Penmanship Medal and gets more than she bargained for. In the play Rhoda survives while her mother commits suicide.
I had the chance to see a stage production of The Bad Seed and was surprised to discover that one of the big shocker set pieces of the play was a nocturnal walk through the house by a restless Christine after the death of Leroy. It’s a stormy night full of thunder and lightning, and as Christine moves to close an open window, a flash of lightning reveals the charred corpse of Leroy lunging out at her. I’d like to report that the effect gave the audience the intended jolt, but on the night I attended, the actress playing Christine had so much trouble lifting the blinds that she was obliged to politely hold the screen aside to accommodate the unexpected terrorizing by Leroy (who missed his key light, so to us in the audience it pretty much looked like Christine was just wrestling with the curtains).
More shocking than anything you'll see in the film itself is this bit of mind blowing behind-the-scenes cheesecake that shows prim Nancy Kelly keeping the crew "entertained" between setups (more likely, giving her gams some air on the hot set). Joan Croydon (Miss Fern) doesn't seem to be getting into the spirit of things.
"But it was his fault. If he gave me the medal like I told him to, I wouldn't have hit  him!"

She's got a point. It's hard to argue with logic like that.
Copyright © Ken Anderson

22 comments:

  1. The review should probably have a big "spoilers" tag under the heading, but then again, it's hardly surprising that several of the characters "get it" along the course of the film.

    That said, I had no idea about this movie before you posted your review (the rest of which I shall get back to reading after I see the movie). So I'm very grateful that you've posted about "The Bad Seed". I'm definitely going to look for it the next time I'm at the DVD rental store.

    I'm glad that you made the reference to Don Sigel's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", because the first thing that I thought about when I saw the title "The Bad Seed" and its release year (1956) was "Invasion".

    "The banality of evil" is something that I think a lot of people don't get these days, and of course, the "passage of time" does alter how some films are perceived. With those thoughts in mind, I recommend the anti-Communist short film "Red Nightmare", starring Jack Webb. It's one of those "social guidance" movies you mentioned (made with help from the US Department of Defense!) that is deadly serious in tone but is absolutely hilarious with the benefit of hindsight.

    I immediately looked up "The Bad Seed" in the Leonard Maltin film guide, and it's available on DVD; the guide also directed me to a film entitled "Mommy" (1995) starring a grown up version of Patty McCormack playing a "bad seed mother"(there is also a sequel, "Mommy 2: Mommy's Day").

    Again, thank you for reviewing the film--I'll get back to you if/when I locate and watch it on my next trip to the DVD store. I'll also look out for "Mommy"; I may need to order that on special import.

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    1. Aw Mark, very sorry that your exposure to The Bad Seed might be spoiled by what is divulged in this post, and indeed, I did consider tagging it with a “spoilers” heading (the poster for the film pleads “Talk you want about the man and the woman, but please don’t tell about the girl!”) as I did with my post on The Mephisto Waltz; but that set a precedent I won’t be repeating. As I don’t consider myself to be either a reviewer or a critic, my posts are just personal essays about certain films that mean something to me. Depending on what observations I want to make, the full content of a movie has to be open for me to examine. On review, I see all of my posts contain major spoilers, but the practice is especially dicey with thrillers.
      I’m certain The Bad Seed will become one of your favorites, and if you’ll take a little advice from a guy whose seen it, don’t waste your money exporting Mommy…it’s super low-rent and an embarrassment that McCormack even participated in it. Thanks Mark

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    2. Well, I certainly see you as a reviewer/critic! Please don't sell yourself short, Ken! Newspapers and magazines would be extremely fortunate to have you write for them.

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    3. Wow! Thanks, Mark. I'm aware that you've actually been motivated to seek out and view many films you might not have otherwise known about on the strength of my posts, so I will give the spoilers issue a consideration... especially when it comes to thrillers. I love the discovery aspect of films. Do you know how rare you in not being familiar with "The Bad Seed" in the first place? I envy that you get to experience the film with "somewhat" fresh eyes. As always, glad that you enjoy the site!

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  2. You cover far too many of my favorite films here. I'll definitely be back often. Great work!

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    1. Thanks very much, Thombeau! If you like my blog even a little, it's a small way of paying you back for all the hours of gut-busting laughs and "What were they thinking?" shocks I've enjoyed at your blog "The Redundant Variety Hour"
      http://ultimatevariety.blogspot.com
      A site that makes me both proud and ashamed to be a dancer!

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  3. Really enjoyed your terrific post on one of my favorite camp movies. I particularly liked your point about Rhoda as both a precursor of Madonna (and what does THAT tell us about Madonna?) and as a guerrilla rebel girl - There's something remarkably subversive about our little darling in her forthright non-niceness and in her determined sense of what she's entitled to; you almost find yourself envying her confidence. No doubt, she has the makings of a CEO. I recall when I first saw the film that its 'shock' ending induced belly laughs in me - I was not prepared for it, and yet it was so entirely over the top that I nearly fell off the couch in hysterics. The film, like you say, is so theatrical and over-rehearsed that it can only be approached as prime camp. I will say, though, that the novel is actually quite good and quite chilling (and does NOT make you laugh). If you haven't read it, I do recommend it.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your personal response to the film's "shock ending"...I swear, everyone has a different story based on how old they were when they first saw the film. Your reaction (hysterics) reflects most of what I hear, accounting for the film ranking so high on everyone's "must see" camp lists. I think I will take you up on getting a copy of the novel...Hello, Amazon! Thanks for writing and I am looking forward to exploring your film blog, Grand Old Movies. I see you discuss many films i'm unfamiliar with... perhaps a new favorite is lurking there somewhere.

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  4. I adore those backyard scenes with Rhoda and Leroy. I've got the DVD, so I can revisit them whenever it's been awhile. "You can Waaassh and you can Waaassh, but there's always some [incriminating blood spatters] left." I'd love to have heard Henry Jones talk about playing Leroy. Both he and Patty McCormack are soooo terrific in their roles, it really is a Clash of Sociopathic Titans when they come up against one another.

    I think, over the years, I've become more appreciative of just how exceptionally talented McCormack was. She does things that simply amaze me, coming from an actor that young. Like when her [Rhoda's] mother's reminding her of the old lady who once lived above them and of her fateful relationship with Rhoda...and meantime, Rhoda just sits there with her back turned like it's something she's heard a million times before, coming out with a perfectly bored "Yes, Mother [sigh]."

    An excellent review, Sir, by the way. I've already forgotten how I stumbled on this blog, but I'm very glad I did.

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  5. Thanks, Rennieboy.
    I have to agree with you about those scenes with Leroy and Rhoda. Their characters are so evenly matched in depravity that you always wish the scenes would go on longer. McCormack and Jones play off of each other so well;
    each giving as good as they get in a verbal volley and battle of wits. Patty McCormack's performance is indeed one of those that is so remarkable for one so young. Especially when you read about how Peter Bogdanovich had to stitch and paste Tatum O'Neal's performance together in "Paper Moon", you really get a sense of how talented McCormack is. Thanks so much for the comment and compliment!

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  6. Sorry, but I forgot (a bad habit) to mention just possibly my favourite line of Rhoda's in the whole movie. It's when Leroy unwittingly signs his own death warrant by telling Rhoda he's got the murderous shoes. He then desperately tries to pass it off as just kidding, but there's no fooling Rhoda.

    I think one of the keys to effective film acting is not only what you say, but how you say it...the overall impression you give. At one point in Rhoda's increasingly threatening confrontation with Leroy, McCormack has the line "They're mine [meaning the shoes]. Give them back to me."

    Your description of Rhoda as "a schoolyard bully dreamt up by Murder, Inc" is wonderfully apt. That line is delivered perfectly - and I mean "perfectly." The truly menacing but still controlled emphasis McCormack gives to "mine" and "back" cooks Leroy's goose right there. What Rhoda looks like and who she really is - masterful creativity!

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  7. Ha!
    Well, I think you nailed it. A prefect description of just what would make a grown man recoil in fear from an advancing little girl. The big flaw in the TV remake was that they gave the little girl the words, but you could totally tell she had absolutely no idea what she was saying or why. You're spot-on in noting McCormack's modulated emphasis that speaks volumes and REALLY gets under the skin. Leroy doesn't have a chance.

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  8. I've never seen the TV remake, Ken, but yeah, it's those relatively little things (you might think) like tone of voice, inflection, facial expression; they're so much a part of McCormack's power - and Rhoda's credibility.

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  9. Finally, I got around to taking a look at this movie. They just don't make them like this anymore. As a rather pleasant surprise, the film featured one of my favourites things--spoken credits!

    It seems like these days, horror films fall into one of three categories: (a) zombies rising from the grave, (b) demented slasher, or (c) hideously inventive forms of torture--some movies promise two or all three of the above in various combinations and measures. Usually they involve a bunch of callow youths getting lost somewhere in a forest. Haven't we been there (many) times before?

    "The Bad Seed" leaves so much unseen and therefore leaves it down to viewer imagination. You don't get that very often from movies these days.

    Who did the drawing of the cast of characters? It's also worth looking at the full-colour publicity pictures of Patty McCormack mugging like crazy for the camera at Internet Movie Database.

    Great to hear the hometown mentioned in this one!

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    1. Yay! Welcome to the land of "The Bad Seed." perhaps now you'll get a chance to see a stage production of it sometime and see how it differs. I've seen two different productions and nothing sins it faster than a Rhoda who's not up to the job. It a tough role to pull off.

      As per your comments about movies today, it seems people are somehow so benumbed in their experiences that they need movies to throw jolts at them every two seconds in order to elicit any kind of response from them. Ergo, films today are so hyperactive and needlessly explicit when a little bit of subtlety would go a long way to really tapping into the difference between suspense and shock.

      The late, great Broadway caricaturist, Al Hirshfeld did the drawing. Did you see the movie on a big screen or on DVD? The commentary by Patty McCormack is priceless. She get's the movie's camp appeal, but she also knows it's a well-made suspenser. Now...remind me who mentions your hometown and when? Was it Rhoda's windbag grandfather?

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    2. I watched the movie on DVD and the copy looked like it came from Japan--it seemed to have what looked like kanji all over the box. I'm not certain if there was a commentary; probably not on the copy that I saw.

      Yes, Melbourne is mentioned by the grandfather as the place where Bessie Denker wound up after moving to Australia. It's always good to hear Melbourne mentioned in foreign movies and know that we're not all that obscure to the rest of the world (it's not a small place, but it's also not what you'd call a "world city").

      Just remember, "On The Beach" was filmed here! But what really makes me laugh is that some scenes were filmed in a place called Geelong!

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  10. actually, i would have preferred the original ending, the betty-crocker-bites-it version in which mom fails to survive, and the crinolined devilress prevails. people WILL insist that virtue triumph in these things, even insisting on REMAKES so that it can be forced to.

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    1. Hi Gus
      Thanks for stopping by! I think it would have been fun to see the film with the original ending. It certainly would have been a shocker back in 1956, but I honestly think they could have gotten away with it. To me, killing a child (even one as rotten as Rhoda)was more traumatizing than what the original plot contrived.
      Now, the murderer getting away with it is a common twist (The Omen).

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  11. Terrific recap of a very conflicting picture. Is it a quality recapturing of what was surely a riveting stage presentation or a stinky piece of overripe cheese? As you said as time moves on it's really both and entertaining either way it's approached.

    Having read the book, seen the remake (pallid but Blair Brown is worth watching in most anything) and watched this several times I have to say I find the movie ending satisfying but the original ending more chilling and true.

    Having watched it several times as I said I was struck by the performance style of the various players. Viewing now you can see some players understood the difference in mediums between the stage and screen and some never would.

    Nancy Kelly, who should have had that understanding since she got the big push from Fox in the 40's although unsuccessfully, gives a operatic full blown playing to the rafters performance that must have been gripping on stage but is far to big for the room on screen. Eileen Heckart hits the middle ground somewhat, some of her scenes are pitched a bit to big but she is terrifically affecting at others. When she hugs Christine and tells her she knows that Christine knows something it's heartrending. It's two of the main supporting players who knew how to bring down the work to the proper level, Henry Jones is venal and creepy as Leroy but is always contained in the scene: he's fighting with or tormenting Rhoda not playing to the crowd. The other is Evelyn Varden, so great as Icey Spoon in Night of the Hunter, who modulates her part of Monica Breedlove to a realistic level. Monica is a bit of a chattering good-hearted buttinsky so any overly big gestures are more organic to her part than others but the actress still keeps them within range of the screen. She probably would have had a quite successful supporting career in film and TV had she not died suddenly a few years later.

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  12. That leaves Patty McCormack who gives a great chilling performance surely formed over months of continuous reenactments on stage. Within itself it's masterful but limiting work and I think is a fine example of the difference between a talented child performer who doesn't make the transition to adult star and one who does.

    To go off point of the movie for a minute, McCormack and another equally talented although quite different child star Margaret O'Brien shone brightly if briefly but I think what stood in the way of their making the difficult leap to adult stardom is that what was special about them disappeared as they matured. Watch them in later work and there's no connection to that childhood figure. When you see Margaret O'Brien in Heller in Pink Tights there is no resemblance to the winsome overly weepy child she was. I remember being shocked when I saw in the credits list of Frost/Nixon that Patty had played Pat Nixon, she's unrecognizable. True that is several years on but even in the early 80's when she was in The Ropers she looked like someone else. She's had a steady respectable career but hardly a remarkable one.

    On the other hand when you watch any of the big five, Natalie Wood, Judy Garland, Jodie Foster, Deanna Durbin and Elizabeth Taylor, that made the successful move across that tenuous road in their childhood roles or their adult ones they are readily identifiable and there is a clear remnant of their younger selves in the woman they had become. Perhaps that's the key-a sort of in born magnetism, rare and present from birth, that defines true star quality. Maybe it's not fair to compare her to Judy and especially Deanna, choosing as she did to withdraw into anonymity, who had their great musical gifts to carry them over although other talented childhood singers faded in maturity but the other three ladies had and still have an innate charisma that jumps off the screen at any point in their careers. Patty does not, even in her big follow up vehicle Kathy O' where the studio tried to sweeten her she makes minimal impact.

    Okay off my soapbox and back to the film. I've read that both Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell were considered for Christine before Warner's decided to go with the stage cast. Both are intriguing possibilities, two such different actresses but I can see both in the part although what divergent interpretations they would have given. I could see Bette's being closer to Nancy Kelly's but more modulated while Rosalind's would have been a more suppressed anxiety along the lines that she played in The Velvet Touch. Have you seen that? It's an awesome little suspenser with a brilliant ending that besides Roz has Claire Trevor, Leon Ames and Sydney Greenstreet in the cast.

    One last thing, the closing credits when they introduce the cast are such an odd thing. I completely love them but they also break the entire mood of the picture and are now one of the things that firmly move it into the cheese factory.

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    1. Hi Joel!
      Thanks again for stopping by and for such an info-filled comment! I especially like the observations you make about child stars and what qualities are retained or lost as they transition into adult roles.
      i had no idea of either Rosalind Russell or Bette Davis being considered for this film, although Russell seems the best fit (Bette looks EXACTLY like someone who would pass a homicidal gene down to her kid)..
      I have seen "The Velvet Touch" and was delightfully surprised by what a good film it was given its relative obscurity.
      As always, I get a big kick out of reading what you think about these films. Thanks for taking the time!

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  13. As not only a dear friend, but also co-star of my TV pilot HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES? It was an absolute honor for my creative partner and I to have Patty McCormack accept the role of Connie -- a part that was written for Patty herself! The TV pilot is currently on Youtube for people to watch and the producer and star James Di Giacomo is presently in talks with a couple major Hollywood studios -- hoping to get this witty dramedy on a major cable network.

    If you loved Patty as "Rhoda," then you will most definitely love her as Angelina's mother, Connie. Patty plays a fouled-mouthed married-to-the-mob type character who carries a gun a in her purse!

    See Patty McCormack in this original comedy series for free on youtube.com/missjonesshow and follow the show on Facebook and Twitter to get up to date info about their progress @MissJonesShow

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