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Assured portrayals of real characters in an amazingly chilling film!
The_Void5 May 2006
What we have here is a fantastic classic horror film, which benefits from great performances from all concerned and a plot not typical of serial killer films. The film doesn't adhere to convention and builds its story around an idea that was frightening for the time - and still is to this day. The murderer in this film is as evil as any other; the only difference being that here the killings are committed by a decidedly amoral child. The film presents a good portrait of its star, as it presents its ideas very much from a child's point of view. The young girl doesn't see what she's doing as wrong as she is always given a reason to pass on the blame for wrongdoings, and this always comes across in a plausible way. The plot surrounding the atrocities is even more interesting than the central idea, as we follow the torment inflicted on the girl's mother. The situation that Christine Penmark finds herself in is the stuff of nightmares; just what can you do if you find that your eight year old child has committed murder? The Bad Seed makes excellent use of this dilemma, and the fact that it's incredibly easy to buy into the plot ensures that The Bad Seed prevails as an potently chilling film.

The film is based on a stage play by Maxwell Anderson, and this comes across often as the film takes place in just a few settings and the whole thing is very stagy. This is, however, to its benefit; as the locations make the whole piece more claustrophobic, and the fact that we don't see the murders themselves benefits the film immensely as it allows the audience to spend more time considering the implications; which are what the film is actually about. The main reason why this film works so well is down to a great performance by talented child actor Patricia McCormack. McCormack presents a portrayal that finds exactly the right pitch between the sweet and innocent youngster that she appears; and the dark persona that lies just beneath her exterior. Nancy Kelly similarly gives a defining performance as her tortured mother, and excellently puts across a torrent of emotion. The acting is typically melodramatic, but all the cast somehow manage to keep their acting down to earth. Every scene in the movie is perfectly pitched and nothing is wasted as we are continually taught more about the characters and their situations. The climax to the film is fabulously poetic, despite being implemented on the producer's orders and overall, I really don't see much wrong with this film. Highly recommended!
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Another '50s movie way ahead of its time!!!
PeachHamBeach16 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
As the closing statement says, "This motion picture presents a premise that is daringly different."

It may seem to be a self-indulgent thing to say, but in 1956, a film about an angelic looking child named Rhoda Penmark (the remarkable Patty McCormack, whose performance is absolutely brilliant, vicious, and mercurial...she transforms with ease from a sweetie-pie to a bristling monster and back to a sweetie-pie), complete with cutesy dresses, disarming curtsies, and blonde braids, who in fact is a homicidal, amoral murderer, was indeed "daringly different". After the generation of Shirley Temple's angelic dresses and bouncy curles and darling dimples, the idea of a perfectly beautiful little girl being a chillingly cold killer is unnerving to say the least. I love this movie, the controversy surrounding its theme: is a murderous personality inherited???

The book HIDEAWAY by Dean Koontz may have been inspired by this classic B&W film. Koontz describes the malefactor in that book in much the same way little Rhoda is contemplated in this film. Something missing in their genetic codes. "The fundementals of nucleotides, DNA proteins..."

As in HIDEAWAY, where the reader was shocked to discover that Vassago's grandpa was a maniac who slaughtered his family, we discover in THE BAD SEED that there was a grandmother back in Christine's (Nancy Kelly) family who methodically murdered her own brood and then calmly left the country, never to be heard from again.

Just the sight of little Rhoda in that infamous scene with the ex-con/yardman LeRoy is enough to have your hair standing on end: "YOU GIVE ME MY SHOES!!! THEY'RE MINE!!! GIVE THEM TO ME NOW, LEROY!!! RIGHT HERE TO ME!!!" Ooh!!! {{{Shiver}}}!!! That is one nasty little seed, that is!!! And not one any sensible person would dare mess with. Poor LeRoy learns this the hard way.

Not a film for the easily upset or faintish. It's not a horror movie, but laden with truly horrific scenes. The "daringly different" premise is brilliant and far ahead of its time of the sweet, Mrs. Cleaver 1950s.

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Staginess is not a flaw here
Brandt Sponseller8 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) is the daughter of a famous writer, Richard Bravo (Paul Fix). She's married to Kenneth (William Hopper), a military Colonel who seems to spend most of his time away from home, usually on short-term call in some other city. The landlady of their apartment building, Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden), is obsessed with psychology, having even been analyzed by Freud. Because of this, she courts friendships with other intellectuals, including a criminology author, Reginald Tasker (Gage Clarke). But by far the most important character is Christine's young daughter, Rhoda (Patricia McCormick).

Rhoda is oddly adult in her behavior. She goes out of her way to excel at everything she does, to be prim and proper, to seem amicable and innocent. However, in the wake of one of Rhoda's classmates falling victim to a drowning accident while on a school picnic, suspicion falls on Rhoda. As more facts come out, Christine realizes with horror that her child just might be a "bad seed".

A tightly focused ensemble piece, heavy on dialogue and taking place primarily in one interior location, The Bad Seed is one of the better but more understated horror films from the 1950s. Because of its ideas, its unusual portrayal of a manipulatively "evil" child (and a weirdly cute young girl at that), and its nihilistic and abruptly mind-blowing ending, The Bad Seed was quite a shocking film in 1956. In my book, it still is. That's not to say that the film is graphic. Much more so than, say, The Haunting (1963), The Bad Seed is the classic example of how something implied and not shown can be just as effective and disturbing as something shown.

Still, not everyone loves it, of course. "Staginess" is often cited with either a direct claim or an implication that that quality is necessarily a flaw. The Bad Seed's "staginess" is easily explicable. It is a film adaptation of a play by Maxwell Anderson, which was itself adapted from William March's last novel, published in 1954. It's easy to see how only minor changes would allow the film to be performed on a stage. However, I don't see The Bad Seed's staginess as a flaw. It's not as if plays are bad merely for the fact that they're plays, right? There seems to be some unspoken or unanalyzed attendant assumption that cinema shouldn't bear strong similarities to other artistic media and/or a belief that cinema should always be "naturalistic". I don't agree with either of those assumptions. Cinema can do many different things. It shouldn't all just be one way or another.

Rather than being a flaw, the staginess of The Bad Seed is an asset. It catalyzed the effective "tell, don't show" attitude towards the film's violence. It allows all attention to be placed on the fantastic ensemble performances, and especially on McCormack, who turns in the best young female performance this side of Dakota Fanning. And it helps make the film feel like the parable that it is.

Under director Mervyn LeRoy's hand, The Bad Seed is an extended meditation on two philosophical ideas--twisted psychologies and the nature versus nurture debate. It's not just Rhoda who has psychologically-rooted problems and dysfunctions, but everyone in the film. Christine is in denial, and shows that she has long been in denial, about her happiness, her life and her daughter. She continually tries to act as if everything is kosher and normal, but as the film progresses, she has periodic cracks in the armor, until the "breakdown" at the end--and even in the midst of that, she tries to act as if everything is okay and mundane. Monica, who keeps trying to psychoanalyze everyone (except the one person she most needs to psychoanalyze), tends to also intellectually browbeat or overpower them. Kenneth is an absentee husband. Leroy Jessup (Henry Jones), the apartment maintenance man, presents himself as just as twisted, deceptive and manipulative as Rhoda, and there is a pedophile subtext with the character. Claudia Fern (Joan Croydon), the head of Rhoda's school, seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and also seems to be in denial, as does Christine's father Richard, who also has elements of absenteeism and emotional distancing. Hortense Daigle (Eileen Heckart), the mother of the drowned boy, is an alcoholic, and her tragedy puts her over the edge. In fact, the only character in the entire film who seems well-adjusted is Reginald, and perhaps that's symbolic of his function as a criminologist.

The nature versus nurture material is incorporated in an unusual way. Characters debate this to an extent, but most take the nurture side. However, the film itself makes more of an argument for the nature side, and Christine, despite being in denial, comes to believe the nature side, as does Reginald, the even-keeled character. In fact, William March (the author of the novel) believed more in the nature side, and said as much to colleagues while he was working on the book, including doing research into psychotic killers.

What helps to amp up the disturbing qualities of the film is that Rhoda is manipulating the audience as well as she is manipulating other characters. Only very seldom does LeRoy have her "true nature" come through, and it's a shock to us in the same way that it's a shock to the other characters. The ending of the book was changed to be in line with the "moral code" for Hollywood films at the time, but the resultant, somewhat bizarre ending, is probably more shocking in retrospect than March's original ending would have been. There have been many horror films over the years with endings somewhat similar to March's. There haven't been many that end in quite the same way that The Bad Seed does.

While the film would certainly require a bit of adjustment for many younger modern horror fans, it is well worth watching, especially if you've become acclimated to slower-paced, dramatic, understated horror.
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The devil wore dotted swiss.
pocca27 April 2005
Minor 1950's classic that holds up well fifty year later. The film does have its flaws. Occasionally it has the feel of a staged play--at times it seems Mrs. Penmark has to answer the door every five minutes so as to get the other major characters on screen. The Freudian psychobabble and the altered ending add an unnecessary half hour or so to the running time. And the acting can be very overwrought (although the scene in which Mrs. Penmark is screaming in the apartment as Leroy screams outside--both counterpointed by Rhoda's untalented but very loud rendition of "Au Clair de la Lune"--is a moment of high camp horror on par with anything in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?") Still the movie works, largely because of Rhoda, the eerily self controlled little murderess who despite her sweet smiles always looks at though her hair is braided a bit too tight. It helps that an actress was cast who was cute enough, but not too pretty--Patty McCormack looks like a miniature gargoyle when she drops the sunny mask and starts roaring. Leroy, the leering simple minded caretaker is almost as unsettling--the scenes in which he sadistically taunts Rhoda almost amount to a very twisted flirtation, as he is clearly more delighted than appalled by her capacity for evil (at least until he learns just how far this capacity goes).

I haven't seen the 1980's remake, but I can't see how it could top the original, if only because evil little girls in jeans and T-shirts just aren't as scary as evil little girls with hair bows and starched frocks.
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An Unusual & Effective Thriller
Snow Leopard27 July 2004
With some familiar elements of classic thrillers plus some creative turns, this is an unusual and effective thriller. Patty McCormack is memorable as young Rhoda, and the rest of the cast succeed in making their characters react believably to some nearly unbelievable situations. The story moves slowly enough to build suspense carefully, while still holding your interest the whole time.

For this kind of story to work, it has to keep the tension and uncertainty without becoming obviously implausible or annoyingly overplayed. In "The Bad Seed", we see the tension and fear that build in the characters as the story develops, but events also unfold within an atmosphere that otherwise would be peaceful and normal, making for an interesting contrast that helps to maintain a good balance.

Unlike the many banal movies made in recent years about serial killers and the like, "The Bad Seed" also contains some substance. The characters, especially the mother (played by Nancy Kelly), not only have to make difficult decisions, but also must fearfully attempt to understand the reasons for everything. It's a good example of how well a thriller can work when carefully made without a lot of extraneous elements, and it's a demonstration that a movie can have a tense, dark story without being shallow or superficial at the same time.
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Though Flawed and Stagy, Still Chilling After all These Years - Part One
mmitsos-111 December 2004
I saw "The Bad Seed" years ago, circa 1970, for the first time, and have seen it periodically over the years. When I first saw the film, as a child, I found the film, expectedly, quite chilling.

I saw it again this afternoon, after not having seen it for about three years, and still find it quite disturbing. Now that we have IMDb, I decided to offer my thoughts. And so, I was shocked to find SO MANY comments about it...more than for any other film that I've reviewed on IMDb to date. If I add anything of unique value, great. If not, I'm happy to share my review anyway.

Certainly, there are flaws, or perhaps only "unique differences", in this film. Primarily, it can very easily be considered a filmed play, as the staging, the dialog, and the entrances and exits of the characters throughout the film seem to be lifted directly from the stage version. Therefore, some may find the film a bit too sterile or unnatural in many ways. However, I think it is this very sterile, staged, stark-from-a-production-standpoint quality that gives the film an even eerier and in some ways far more realistic edge than might be found were it to be produced today for film, with far more slick and sophisticated sets, dialog, camera work, etc. The realism and pronounced disturbing quality of this version stems from the simple story itself, the psychological horror of which could be in some ways obfuscated from a much more sophisticated, big-studio, modern-day production.

As for the subject matter itself, I know that the number of cases, historically, involving child murderers is actually low. Therefore, some critics have argued that to take a relatively rare phenomenon, such as the child murderer, and build a motion picture around it, portraying it in the vein of plausibility, can be misleading and dangerous, giving the impression, especially to younger viewers, that child criminals are more commonplace than you may think. I wholeheartedly reject this notion. The whole purpose of acting is to portray the entire range of the human condition with as much truth as possible, no matter how rare or commonplace certain aspects of human behavior might be. Though child murderers may be few in number, it's an area worthy of as much exploration, in film, as is an ugly, unrealistic alien telling us to "phone home" or the sinking of the Titanic.

Even though this film possesses a definite "campy", staged, and perhaps even "cult" quality, it is chillingly effective. One reason for which this film works is due to the character of Rhoda herself, played by Patty McCormack. The smiling, blond, blue-eyed veneer of the child juxtaposed with the idea of her criminal potential (and actions) is just plain "creepy". Moreover, the less you see, in terms of the actual crimes she commits, the more you conjure. And, you continually wonder who her next victim will be. Furthermore, you wonder how many people will eventually "come on to her" and become aware of whom she is, and how that knowledge will affect their fate.

Another reason for which this film works is because of the mother, Christine, played by Nancy Kelly. As we slowly watch her become aware of what has become of her daughter, we can't help but empathize with her predicament and her decision in handling it. The first few times I saw the film, just as I felt that Patty McCormack's portrayal and dialog delivery were probably mere replicas of what she offered on stage, I felt that Nancy Kelly's performance was affected and probably lifted directly from her work on the stage (I've never seen a stage version, nor have I read the book, yet). But in the case of Ms. Kelly, watching her realize what she has ultimately given birth to and raised is very heart wrenching. Moreover, I have always wondered if the use of her right hand was a direction given to her by either of her directors (for play or film), or if it was something she came up with herself. Two instances come to mind.

In the first one, the manner in which she hits the table with her right hand as she listens to what is happening outside near her shed while Rhoda plays "Au Claire de la Lune" on her piano is very pronounced, appears somewhat odd and is perhaps symbolic. She seemed to be pounding her hand not only in outward denial and anger at the realization she now has of what her child is capable of committing, but as a means to torture and punish herself for having given birth to her in the first place. In the second instance, Nancy Kelly used her right hand again in a very pronounced manner when she offers Rhoda her vitamins "that night". Again, I couldn't help but wonder what symbolism she wanted us to draw from her gesture. It might be said that this very hand, which once comforted and fed her child all her life, has now become the tool that feeds the ultimate fate of her child toward the end of the film. (Again, not having read it, I have a fairly good idea how the book ends).

As for how the ending/epilogue in the film was handled, practically everyone on this site who has offered a review knows that the use of the "casting call" was basically dictated by the mandates of the Hays Code. I'll just add that I find that the chilling effect of the story carries over to this bizarre "epilogue". I still find it a bit unsettling to see each of these actors take their bows, especially considering that some of the characters they portrayed would, in my estimation, appear stranger to a child than does Rhoda....particularly Leroy, when he bows to the viewing audience carrying his large pitchfork.
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Vividly memorable
the_old_roman27 August 2001
My daughter, Rachel, always found this the most frightening movie she ever saw, and from a psychological perspective, it's easy to see why. Patty McCormack is magnificent as charming but evil first-grader Rhoda Penmark. Nancy Kelly is terrific in some scenes, but almost comically overwrought in others, as Rhoda's gradually terrified mother. Paul Fix deserves special mention in a strong performance as Kelly's father. And, Eileen Heckart is also a standout as the grief-stricken mother of a boy that we suspect Rhoda of killing. But, my personal favorite character is LeRoy, incredibly portrayed by Henry Jones. This is a characters I have never forgotten from the moment I first saw this one in the late 50's.

"That Rhoda is smart, almost as smart as me", he repeats for the camera several times in obsessive fashion. The ending which differed from the play has disturbed a lot of purists, but I think it has a lot of merit. Altogether, I give it 8 out of 10, very memorable and extremely well done.
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Moral conundrums
gkearns19 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
(THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE) What a flock of moral conundrums this little movie throws at us. Rhoda is every bit a little girl. She is not evil. Basically, no one has to fear turning his/her back on the child. Well, almost no one; the point being she was never out looking for a victim. (SPOILER) This is the key point that LeRoy (Henry Jones) misunderstood about her, which proved to be a fatal mistake. He thought he could see right through her because he thought she was just plain bad, like him. She wasn't "bad" in the normal way of things. She loved her dolls and toys. She loved to read fantasies and have her mother read to her at bedtime. She loved to play imaginary hostess with her new tea set. She loved for adults to make over her. (BIG SPOILERS AHEAD) In this story there are three people we know she has killed. The little boy who won the penmanship medal she felt she was more deserving of. Old Mrs. Post in Baltimore, who promised the girl her fish bowl when she died. And, of course, Leroy, who threatened her. She was capable of great lies when pressed for motivations, but was unafraid and even forthcoming if her cover collapsed. To her there were very logical reasons for her acts. (SPOILER) That's what LeRoy missed. Had he realized that when she had reason, she would stop at nothing to achieve her purpose, he would never have turned his back on her after he threatened her security. The conundrum here is that she is only different by degree than many typical everyday people who dodge thoughts of right and wrong when it suits their purposes. (SPOILERS) When her mother realized Rhoda had committed murder, she told the girl to go ahead and burn the incriminating evidence. Her grandfather had let his daughter grow into adulthood without letting her know about her shocking roots. Her teacher, perhaps the only one who really understood what was going on, just asked the mother to move Rhoda out of the school, rather than going to the authorities with her suspicions.

Then there was the bigger conundrum of our own attitudes about children. Rhoda gave out exactly what she thought the adults wanted from her - and she did it very well. She was the unreal, dream, story-book, Shirley Temple-like, non-sexual, pretty little girl people love. When things heated up, she by-passed the subject by turning on the "little girl language" the adults would eagerly eat up. Her selfishness was considered cute and natural. (SPOILER) Even at the end, most of the adults in her life looked on her as that wonderful story-book little girl. We do that a lot in this world, assessing one another by pre-determined stereotypes. Had Rhoda been publicly exposed, there would have been a clamor to analyze her behavior for the warnings we could look for in other children so "this kind of thing can never happen again." Many normal, innocent, sweet, pretty little girls would soon find themselves subjected to cruel psychological behavior mod preventive therapies. Sound familiar?

Patty McCormack was phenomenal as Rhoda. You could see her "reading" adult faces for reactions to her words. You could watch the evolution of decision cross her face at key moments. Hers was never the face of sinister evil. But she portrayed real childhood; and she portrayed determination; and she portrayed hate; and she portrayed jealousy, anger, and rage; and she portrayed happiness and glee. Patty McCormack did not portray Rhoda as any one-dimensional troubled child. There was a depth to her performance that was every bit equal that of any adult, legend or not, in any movie before or since.
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What Rhoda Wants, Rhoda Gets
ligela29 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a movie that stands the test of time because of the period in which it was filmed, its methods of filming and acting, and the level of knowledge of the subject matter at that time. It is truly a period piece and as such, it is a powerful chiller-thriller.

A hit on Broadway, 'The Bad Seed' was translated into film as though it were a play; hence various commentators speak of its staginess and sometimes overwrought acting as if they were serious objections to the enjoyability of the movie. But does anyone complain that 'Dracula' was stagy and overwrought? No, because the movie is classic in and of itself, and so is 'The Bad Seed'.

Translate your mind back to the early nineteen-fifties and 'The Bad Seed' takes on new levels of meaning and challenge. Christine Penrose, whose military husband is called away from home, is raising her darling daughter Rhoda on her own when things start slowly coming apart. Rhoda is the perfect eight-year-old, a pretty, intelligent and very affectionate child, in crinoline dresses and blonde braids, to whom everyone around gives praise and, often, gifts. She is always grateful and loving in her delight with what she gets.

What is wrong with this picture? Rhoda wants something very badly, something she feels she won and has been unjustly denied, something that disappeared when its owner died a sudden, tragic death. So why does it turn up in Rhoda's possessions?

Christine Penmark has no idea what is going on. Children were not believed to have mature personalities according to the psychology of the day, and the case of Leopold and Loeb was brutal and startling, and apparently a singular aberration, just a few years before the play debuted. There was then no way to explain what Christine begins to perceive: that Rhoda takes what she wants if she can't charm her way to it, and anyone who gets in her way she simply 'removes'.

This wasn't supposed to happen in the 1950's. Today we may be more reliably informed, especially to the statistics that point clearly to the 'nurture rather than nature' explanation, but Christine is alone with her manipulative little murderess with no world-view to encompass what she faces. Her confusion and denial aren't weaknesses of character but the product of the general understanding of the day.

It is not until she has a chance encounter with a criminal psychologist who posits the 'nature, not nurture' theory of criminality, and then digs more deeply into the dark secret of her own childhood that things begin to add up, and Christine Penmark herself unravels in as ghastly a manner as her life has done.

The play is in black and white, and so are the performances and the ethics and morality of its message. Rhoda has only two sides to her: the apparently good, affectionate, perfect angel and the manifestly evil, selfish, deadly crocodile-brained killer. Patty MacCormack is excellent in the dual portrayal, and her performance as a child actress is an achievement seldom rivaled and never bettered.

Nancy Kelly's utter devastation, step by step, is carefully crafted and touched with a dread terror that recognizes, though never states, that Christine knows that she herself is not safe around Rhoda, let alone anyone else. Her response to that knowledge is telling; she is the mother of a murderess, after all.

The performances of Henry Jones as the unsavory handyman the audience ends up wanting Rhoda to put out of our misery and Eileen Heckart as the bereft and alcoholic mother of Rhoda's dead schoolmate are both stand-outs. Again, look to the time of the filming. People had no access to the psychiatric and sociological services both of these two characters needed in spades. People like them were out there in the 50's, more of them than we -- five decades or so later -- want to think, and without help or restraints we expect to come naturally now. Terrifying or pitiable, they were there when the movie was made.

I read the book before I saw the movie, so I expected the original ending and was somewhat disappointed that it was changed. But the add-on tag is yet another level of good v. evil, one the audience might embrace emotionally if not intellectually, and perhaps more reflective of other beliefs of the 1950's, also.

Beware if the Penmarks move in next door. They may not be good neighbors, no matter how much they smile and compliment you. After all, it runs in the family. Oh, and as Christine Penmark had to do, take a long look at your own....
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jweatherford2713 July 2001
I was blown away! I was at the edge of my seat the whole time. Those people gave me the creeps. I was just flipping through the channels when I came across it. Normally I'll change the channel after a minute or two to see what else is on, but not when I saw this movie! I was so terrified, I sat through the whole movie, uninterrupted. I'm shivering just thinking about it right now!
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Eileen Heckart Is Heartbreaking ....
drednm31 October 2004
as the mother of the drowned boy.... a performance that must rank with the best of the 1950s. Heckart repeated her stage role in the 1956 film with Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack as the mother and daughter. Henry Jones (also in the stage production and excellent), Evelyn Varden, Gage Clarke, Paul Fix, Joan Croyden and Jesse White are good in support. Jones and Varden are especially good. William Hopper is and always was BLAH. But Eileen Heckart is superb as the drunken, crushed woman who knows there is something more to her son's death than she is being told. Her two scenes are riveting as she lurches across the room, begging for information, yet totally in control of the situation. Kelly, McCormack, Jones, and Varden are also good (if stagy) in their roles. Kelly seems hopelessly hammy but grows on you even though she seems to be imitating Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard most of the time. Great film, literate, interesting, riveting..... a must!
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Old favorite
ant bee1 January 1999
I first saw this movie when I was about 10-11. I cried my eyes out....doesn't effect me the same way now, but I truly admire Patty McCormick's acting ability. A true classic and now-a-days the premise of the story is maybe truer than the writer ever would have guessed
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Very good
painkilla75 August 2006
I thought this movie was made very well. Despite what another had commented about this movie, I do feel that her facial expressions were very much eerie and the girl did a very good job as "the bad seed". The way she would look and smile whenever she lied made me think about how bad of a person she was and the look in her eyes also would show how she knew that she could manipulate anyone who got in her way. feel that for it's time it was a very good movie. It had to do something right, since it was nominated for an Oscar. So in all despite the comment prior to this one, I do feel that it was a very good movie. I thought that the ending was good too, since it gave people a sense of reality to the people who played the characters(some can't see past a character that a person plays).
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Does Pure Evil Emanate from the Environment or Does It Originate from Heredity?
romanorum11 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Cute little eight-year old Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack), with the long blonde pigtails and big blue eyes, seems like any typical child her age. She always wears dresses, is polite, and even curtsies. Rhoda can even roller skate. But anyone that crosses her the wrong way is in danger, danger for his life. Rhoda is not beyond lying, cheating, or murdering. The scratchy-voiced, strained and suspicious mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) suspects that she herself was adopted into the nice Bravo family from a family of criminals. Is it possible that she has passed on her evil genes to Rhoda? After all, the amoral child has no conscience: she can readily read a child's book right after causing a drowning or she can play a musical piece on the piano after causing someone to burn to death.

The Bad Seed may have been a bit talky and theatrical as it was adopted from a Broadway play with many of the original actors. For instance, ten-year old Patty McCormack reprised her role. Nevertheless it can be a bit unnerving for any parent of a young child who wonders how she will turn out. The subject matter is so difficult and the tension so obvious that the film director had the cast take bows after the movie's end. Both Patty McCormack and Eileen Heckart deservedly received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

By the way, what does the Nordic-looking Patty McCormack have in common with Cathy Carr, Dodie Stevens, Little Peggy March, Penny Marshall, and Bernadette Peters? The answer is that they are all Italian-Americans. Patty McCormack was born Patricia Ellen Russo in Brooklyn, New York.
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I found it exciting!Can I have a peanut butter sandwich ,mom?
dbdumonteil26 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
For most of the sequences ,the actors seem to be on stage ,but when you deal with such a far-fetched screenplay ,it does not matter .Anyway,the final cast and credits is a clever answer from Mervyn Le Roy to those who would blame him for the "staginess" of his movie.And if it were not enough,the director,imitating French director HG Clouzot at the end of his classic "Les Diaboliques" ,urges the audience not to spoil the ending!So I won't either! The movie was almost entirely filmed in studio and the scenes a director with a lesser talent would have shown are left to our own imagination .The lines are often so precise we really "see" the scenes which are told,almost in the same manner as the mother's bedtime stories.

For people who like "diabolique" "hush hush sweet Charlotte" " whatever happened to Baby Jane" or "lady in a cage" ,this is a true delight from start to finish .Patty McCormack set a pattern for vicious nice little girls to come in plenty of horror movies in the seventies and beyond and even in TV series ,the likes of Nellie Oleson.She magnificently overplays ,and although her character is incredible ,she will win you over.The "it's not over when you think it is" trick is at least used three or four times ,climaxing in the scene with a divine intervention.

best use of the French old folk song "Au Clair De La Lune"

To be savored.
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Spooky movie classic.
triple816 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers

This is a horror movie classic and strongly recommended to fans of horror movies/psychological thrillers etc. Bad Seed is an old black and white movie and a chiller about a girl named Rhonda who isn't exactly a happy, sedate child. To say the least.

This is one of the oldest horror movies I've ever seen-and a great one!It does horror the way it SHOULD be done. Bad seed is a very chilling movie and Rhonda is quite scary. Any horror fan who wants to see a truly chilling movie should check this out. I have introduced many a horror purist to this and they always like it.

Obviously horror movies are made quite differently now and usually aren't in black and white but maybe some should be as the mood is set from the beginning. This is a movie that doesn't need any special affects to scare. It's pretty chilling all on it's own. The atmosphere in this is right on the money. To sum it up with one word to describe it would be "spooky". It is one of the better scary movies I've seen and it would be extremely difficult for me to envision any horror fan of any age not liking this,it's a dark creepy chill fest!
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Justifiable Homicide? Second Take Thinks Just Maybe.
secondtake22 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Justifiable Homicide? Second Take Thinks Just Maybe.

The Bad Seed 1956

This is not a horror film, or a psychological thriller, not really. It's a kind of frightening parlor play, a small dramatic piece (based on Maxwell Anderson's actual play) that is less about the girl and her deviance than about the mother and hers.

For Nancy Kelly is a complete wonder as the tormented Donna Reed style mother in The Bad Seed. Maybe she reminds me a little of my own mom, a 1950s paradigm of middle class civility and culture, not quite stuffy, not quite earthy, but warm enough and funny enough to be lovable from a handshake's distance, with what was once admired as reserve, or poise, or simply a lack of excess. These are all things that we need to feel about this modest and deeply feeling woman, trapped (in the Eisenhower-era) in a domestic home (a palatial apartment) with her one child. If this were set in a tough urban setting, or some hick stereotype of a back country farm, we wouldn't be quite as shocked. But in the house next door, no way.

As 8 year old murderesses go, Rhoda certainly stands out. This precocious, cute villain is played to the precious hilt by Patty McCormack. She is so sweetly heartless (or heartlessly sweet) it chills and astonishes anyone who can keep from thinking of it is total camp. It isn't camp at all--to me, camp, and kitsch, are more willed than conditioned--and between McCormack's insouciant brilliance (she's ten during filming) and Kelly's hemorrhaging doubt, it's too much to take. You want to cry out and interfere.

The one character who is not clueless, the mother's father, is so lifeless he contributes only some facts to his slowly suspecting daughter. And the one character who might help, the funny and unflappable and ever wise aunt living upstairs (played with perfection by Evelyn Varden) is clueless. Another two or three of the cast make caricature appearances that are part of the farce, but most remarkable must be the hired help, character actor Henry Jones. What did he tell the littler girl? "You're so cool you couldn't melt butter."

Did I say that Kelly is a complete wonder yet? Well, Patty McCormack will blow you away, too, even a second time around. And these two actresses are the movie.

Don't forget, this killer gene didn't actually skip a generation, did it?
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Though Flawed and Stagy, Still Chilling After all These Years - Part Two
mmitsos-111 December 2004
Since the following paragraphs could not be included along with the rest of my review, here are my final thoughts.

In the end, I think that this film works, and is definitely worth watching. As great as "The Exorcist" was, which for me is the definitive "horror flick", "The Bad Seed" is in many ways more chilling, perhaps because its story seems even that much more plausible than someone's being possessed by the devil. This film is, to a degree, definitely flawed. The dialog is a bit affected, and the character of Kenneth Penmark, played by William Hopper, is just too vapid. Moreover, the entire conversation among Christine, Monica, Richard Bravo (Christine's father) and Monica's brother appears completely "planted" and a bit awkward, though obviously serves some measure of establishment into Rhoda's character as well as foreshadowing. Even so, you will not forget this film. You might even parody some key lines throughout your life, as I have done. ("You're the prettiest mother", "Give me back those shoes, Leroy", and "Good Morning, Miss Fern", while making a curtsy).

Overall, I highly recommend this film, and it should be watched periodically over the years, because you'll always catch something new, and want to study each character's contributions and mannerisms, even though the film is clearly stolen by Patty McCormack, Eileen Heckart, and, most especially, Nancy Kelly.
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A filmed play, with the actors projecting to the rafters...
moonspinner5512 September 2004
Someone made the unwise decision early on to stick as close to the hit Broadway play as possible in adapting "The Bad Seed" for the movies, including having several key actors reprise their roles, including Patty McCormick in the lead as a sociopathic youngster in long pig-tails. The piece has not been rethought for the screen, and what works on a bare stage doesn't always deliver in the more intimate medium of cinema. So it's not all McCormick's fault: she delivers a performance of a headstrong, evil child in a perfunctory, overly-rehearsed manner and probably deserved the accolades she received at the time. It is a very demanding role for a youngster. However, there are no shadings in the dialouge for McCormick to pick up on, and she's not fresh in the part. Worse, she's directed to be too terrific--enunciating very clearly and loudly, as if to reach the back row, all the details of a complex human being are ironed out. This couldn't possibly have been intentional, as the rest of the cast members are handled in the very same way. It's so forthright, uneasy, repetitive and awkward, it becomes a static transformation of stage material onto film. *1/2 from ****
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Evil knows no age.
lewiskendell23 November 2011
"Now there's a little ray of sunshine, that one."

An occasionally riveting movie from the 50's about a sunny, charming, sociopathic little girl and her mother's desperate attempts to protect her and hide her nature. The Bad Seed sometimes makes the mistake of focusing too much on the dull adults, but overall, it's a solid movie. Good acting all around, and unlike similar modern movies like Orphan, The Bad Seed gets better as it goes along instead of imploding into an absurd mess. It feels a lot like a play, which is natural due to its evolution from novel to stage-play to film. 

I thought The Bad Seed was a sinister (and relatively timeless) gem of the 50's, and I'm sure it was quite controversial in its time. The ending was changed because of the Hays Code, in fact, and feels a bit like a cop-out as a result, but not to the extent of ruining what came before. Check it out if you're interested. 
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That ideal looking family of the 50's might not be so ideal after all...
calvinnme22 January 2011
is what you'll be thinking after you watch this one. This film was trying to emulate what TV audiences found so appealing on the small screen at the time - the half hour or one hour weekly playhouse shows that brought a high quality stage production into your living room. Remember movie competition with TV was fierce at this time.

The movie succeeds at parodying the premium that people of the 50's put on conformity to conventions so as to not stand out from the crowd and therefore being deemed "normal" whether you are normal or not. Because here disguised in blonde braids, an innocent smile, and a ruffly almost symbolically white dress is a human without a conscience - a sociopath. Worse, the sociopath is only nine years old. She wants what she wants when she wants it, which is not so unusual for a child. What is unusual is that she'll commit murder to get it. They don't have to be major things either. If she sees anything at all she wants and you are standing in her way, she removes you as dispassionately as one would remove a wall during remodeling.

The problem is, this is no child of the slums. Instead she is being raised by a loving Leave-it-to-Beaver like mother in the most middle of middle class environments. The father is somewhat absentee, but he is so only because of military assignments. The mother knows what she has on her hands, though not at first. The wonderment of this film is watching Rhoda's mother discover the depth of Rhoda's true evil self and also discover a possible although controversial reason why she is the way she is. She has two problems at cross-purposes here. On one hand, having a conscience herself, she wants to protect society from Rhoda. On the other hand, being a mother, she wants to protect Rhoda from society's reaction to her. Oddly enough, she's not afraid that Rhoda will get the electric chair or even go to jail. Her worst fear is that she'll be locked up and studied and stared at as the human oddity that she is. Being different was the worst thing you could be in 1956.

So here, on the surface, we have an ideal 50's housewife, the daughter with perfect manners, the patriotic husband serving his country. Underneath that surface we have murderous rage, secrets kept from grown children about their own identities, a suicide pact of sorts, and a tranquilizer pill popping and peddling neighbor to boot. Highly recommended.
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All the Stage's a World
Aldanoli31 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"The Bad Seed," 1956's shocker about a homicidal little girl, is another of those motion pictures that, regrettably, a modern audience can't view in the same way as it could have been seen by those who were alive upon its release. So much more is known now about human psychology, and the world has been witness to child soldiers, school shootings, and other crimes perpetrated by children on both adults and other children that the film's shock value has diminished since 1956.

Still, the movie deserves some credit for broaching a topic that, in its time, was both novel and disturbing. It remains a well-acted piece, aided in no small part by having most of the Broadway cast transplanted directly onto the big screen for this effort. And by having the main character be a ten year-old *girl,* who seems outwardly as sweet and perfect as a character out of a Norman Rockwell cover from the Saturday Evening Post, it still plays against one's expectations of how children are supposed to behave -- and what can lie beneath the surface of those childlike appearances.

It is not, of course, without its flaws. As many of the other reviews have noted, it does almost nothing to disguise its stage origins -- characters are forever entering or exiting doorways, there are set-piece moments and speeches for many of the characters (Leroy the handyman even talks directly to the audience a few times), and one can imagine exactly how even the outdoor scenes, such as the picnic by the lake, would be done on stage, likely with a small spotlighted scene on an apron alongside the main stage. It's too bad that director Mervyn LeRoy didn't try to open up the picture more than he did, so that it wouldn't feel as if the movie were filmed while being presented in a theater.

Still, what redeems "The Bad Seed" even for today's viewing audiences is the marvelous acting -- both Nancy Kelly as Rhoda's mother and Patty McCormack as the title character herself are wonderful, and McCormack, who must carry a number of scenes, is remarkably poised for a ten year-old. The film also benefited from having the likes of Eileen Heckart as the mother of the little boy Rhoda is suspected of having killed for a penmanship medal that, throughout the story, she just can't seem to give up.

And for those who grew up in the television generation, there's the added pleasure of spotting a number of actors who would make their marks later on television, including future Perry Mason sidekick Paul Drake (William Hopper), Frank Cady, who would play general store owner Sam Drucker on "Petticoat Junction" and two other television series in the mid-1960s, and the ubiquitous character actor Henry Jones as Leroy, the only character who can see through Rhoda's facade of sweetness. Indeed, in some ways Rhoda presages Eddie Haskell of "Leave it to Beaver," alternately obsequious around adults and creepy around his peers. Considering that Leroy describes himself as the only person who's "just like" Rhoda -- something of a sociopath himself -- Leroy is the one character who allows Rhoda to show herself as she is.
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Dark, but outstanding
robbins622 August 2005
A true classic which depicts a childhood sociopath like no other movie of its time. While the age of the protagonist (brilliantly played by Patty McCormack) may be a "stretch" (an advertised 8 year old), it nonetheless presents the contrast between a "good front" and "true evil." Rhoda is simultaneously the world's "perfect child" and evil incarnate, one minute pretending to host a "tea party" and the next, "palming" some matches to create more mayhem.

Nancy Kelley superbly plays a mother who only begins to comprehend the depth of her child's psychopathology, and the neighbors (especially "Aunt Monica") remain delightfully "blind" to the "true Rhoda." Henry Jones (as "Lah-roy") plays a supposedly "simple-minded" yet crafty handyman who nicely sees through Rhoda's "false front." His creation of the fictitious "stick-dog" is unbelievable (yet somehow briefly frightening to Rhoda).

Eileen Heckart, though she only has a few scenes, steals the movie portraying the bereaved mother of Claude Daigle. Frank Cady (alias Mr. Drucker from "Green Acres") plays her husband who nicely "tends" to his wife during her moments of despair (uttering a classic line, "Come Hortense" when it's time to drag his inebriated wife out of the Penmark apartment).

This is a movie that is worth seeing, again and again
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Can't Turn Away
ddagg21 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Once again I found myself watching this film on TCM despite the fact I have seen it numerous times. There are many issues (mentioned by other commentators)that make this film hard to take given today's aesthetic. Yes it is "stagy", yes the acting is mannered, yes the main idea of the film is no longer shocking. Despite all of this you simply can't help but watch.

The performances are truly wonderful. Kelly, McCormack, Jones and Heckart are all exceptional and the fact they and others played this on the stage shines through. They work as a well-oiled machine. Nancy Kelly is very over-the-top in parts but this must be viewed in the context of the style of acting at the time. Further, watch her performance multiple times and pay close attention and I think you will find her reactions are not so far-fetched in the context of the story, as she gradually realizes what her daughter is capable of. I used to think McCormack was too arch, but on further viewings it is clear this is a well thought out performance and very effective, one of the best children's performances I have seen.

Beyond the acting, the film places a question that is very relevant today -- what drives children to commit unspeakable acts -- in a very simplistic setting. The frame work forces the viewer to consider the basic question of why and more importantly how would you react if you came to understand your offspring were evil.

Don't be afraid of the things that make this film out-dated and stylized, instead give it a try and you won't be able to resist watching it again and again.
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