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Child's Play (1972)

At an exclusive boys' school, a new gym teacher is drawn into a feud between two older instructors, and he discovers that everything at the school is not quite as staid, tranquil and harmless as it seems.


Sidney Lumet


Leon Prochnik (screenplay by), Robert Marasco (based on the Broadway play by)

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1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
James Mason ... Jerome Malley
Robert Preston ... Joseph Dobbs
Beau Bridges ... Paul Reis
Ron Weyand Ron Weyand ... Father Mozian (as Ronald Weyand)
Charles White ... Father Griffin
David Rounds David Rounds ... Father Penny
Kate Harrington Kate Harrington ... Mrs. Carter
Paul Alessi ... Student
Jamie Alexander Jamie Alexander ... Sheppard
Anthony Barletta Anthony Barletta ... Student
Brian Chapin Brian Chapin ... O'Donnell
Kevin Coupe Kevin Coupe ... Student
Bryant Fraser Bryant Fraser ... Jennings
Mark Hall Haefeli Mark Hall Haefeli ... Wilson
Christopher Hoag Christopher Hoag ... Student


Paul Reis returns to the exclusive Catholic prep school he graduated from nine years earlier as a gym teacher. He is reunited with his former mentor and English teacher, the affable and gregarious Joseph Dobbs, the most popular member of the faculty and advisor to the junior class, and Jerome Malley, a strict disciplinarian and teacher of classical languages, whose old-fashioned methods make him heartily disliked by his pupils. Reis finds himself caught in between the two men in a struggle for the hearts, minds, and souls of the boys. Malley, nicknamed "Lash" by his students has ruled out retirement, and Dobbs, who feels that Malley has lost touch with the students, hopes to inherit the senior class. Even though Malley's mother is dying an agonizing death from cancer, the Latin and Greek teacher refuses to surrender his position as head of the senior class to a man whose motives he questions. The tensions on the faculty are mirrored in the student body, which has endured a rash of ... Written by duke1029@aol.com

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


You only lose once.


PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

1 June 1973 (Ireland) See more »

Also Known As:

Den dödliga leken See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Marlon Brando originally signed for the role of Joseph Dobbs (Robert Preston), but quit the production before principal photography commenced. According to Bob Thomas's "Brando: Portrait of the Artist as a Rebel", Brando quit the production when he realized that James Mason had the better role, and that his flagging career would soon be revitalized by the The Godfather (1972). Preston, a fine actor, received poor reviews for his performance from Pauline Kael, among others. Brando subsequently was sued by producer David Merrick. See more »


Joseph Dobbs: [to his juniors] If you don't trust kids, don't become teachers. If you're afraid of kids, get out of the business of running schools!
See more »


Referenced in By Sidney Lumet (2015) See more »

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User Reviews

There's Always Been a Demon in the Box
2 May 2019 | by TheFearmakersSee all my reviews

In CHILD'S PLAY, from way back in 1972 and not involving a red-haired serial killer doll named Chucky, the development of the characters drives the suspense, and for today's standards, this could seem like a slow-moving, over-brooding, thrilless arthouse thriller, or a stage play adapted to the big screen. But what's really intriguing are the similarities with THE EXORCIST, which was being filmed when this hit theaters, but the book had been on the stands for several years...

So for anyone who hasn't seen or doesn't want to see William Friedkin's brilliant and timeless GODFATHER of horror flicks, that opened the door for a number of slowburn Catholic-centered horror-thrillers, there are three particular characters: an old priest, a younger priest, and a possessed young girl. Replace the girl with an entire Catholic School of mostly bullying boys who, as we witness their odd behavior, are in some sort of... spell, or something... adding Mystery to the myriad of genres...

We learn of everything through token white rabbit Beau Bridges, a former student who had returned as a teacher and greatly admired Robert Preston's vivacious, progressive English teaching priest, Joseph Dobbs, while immensely fearing a bitter old coot - Jerome Malley played by James Mason - who seems to be our primary antagonist, but as "the case" unfolds he could very well be a temperamental red herring...

Leading to the best scenes involving conversations between Beau's pivotal and, for the most part, eventually ambiguous Paul Reis with the polar opposite instructors while the kids are but a sporadic break that really need no escaping from...

For CHILD'S PLAY is more of a "Courtroom Drama" without a court and gavel. Bridges proceeds over the "testimonies" of both men although one is sold as being far more likable from the onset; yet this opinion remains more decided by the students than we, the hyper-alert audience, anticipating a twist to occur, especially with a character (Preston) so flawless.

Meanwhile, we're (through Bridges) the Jury being swayed, maneuvered from one side to the other: Preston is charming and understandable on a universal level as Mason has a tortuous life that can be pitied, even beyond the death of his mother. And the characters develop from there.

Director Sidney Lumet channels his signature New York gritty realism into the Gothic school where statues and cold walls keep that heated far-off reality as distant from the lens as it is the students, inhibiting a power, or perhaps merely channeling a hypnotic strength that needs no real explanations like, say, a ROSEMARY'S BABY.

Leading to a conclusion with so much buildup it begs for palpable closure. And yet, CHILD'S PLAY clings to words beyond action and an enigmatic dark aura over nail-biting suspense. In some strange way, there doesn't need to be any end at all. You can hear these two men speaking for days.

Sure there could have been scarier moments here and there, or even a dugout of fellow priest/teachers introduced to individually buy the farm when they wander off alone through the spooky campus. (Alright, that's very 1980's, but there are pockets of downtime when a few deaths would have livened the picture.) Hell, even THE EXORCIST had palpable "gotcha!" moments: cinematic caffeine never hurts.

But CHILD'S PLAY centers more on the dark hypnosis than what derives from it. Adding to one of several films using THREE main male leads to override a more conventional formula, intriguing enough to keep the viewer tuned in even after the purpose becomes all too clear.

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