The Bad Seed (1956)

Article #763 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-17-2003
Date Posted: 9-14-2003
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Featuring Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones

When a little boy drowns at a school picnic, the mother of one of his classmates discovers that her daughter is in possession of a medal that belonged to the boy. She begins to suspect her daughter of murder.

I’m not going to mince words here; I loathe this movie. These are the reasons why.

1) The script is overwritten. The movie is crowded with lines that sound more like they came off of a typewriter than out of a person’s mouth.

2) The little girl’s performance is problematic (and I’m being nice in using that word). She’s so obviously a manipulative psychopath that I find it impossible to believe that anybody would fall for her manipulative schemes, particularly anyone who knew her well.

3) The movie is enamored with its own themes. The basic theme that murderous personalities may be (in some cases) the result of heredity rather than environment is dwelled on endlessly and repeatedly, almost as if the writer felt it was the most brilliant theme ever devised and wanted to make sure nobody missed the message.

4) The deus ex machina ending is one of the most stupidly convenient in cinema history.

5) Practically everyone in the cast is acting way over the top; however, this may not be their fault. The movie was obviously shot to emulate the stage version of the story as much as possible, and I’ve once heard stage acting described as having to be loud enough to project subtlety to the back seats of the balcony. In a movie, this is not necessary; the camera renders this type of acting not only unnecessary, but annoying. As it is, this movie has people shouting at me almost nonstop for more than two hours.

…and finally,

6) It didn’t need to be this way. The story is a very good one at heart, and the actors are a very talented bunch. Had they been allowed to play it like a movie, and to tone down their performances to a level where they could express themselves in more conversational tones and more endurable volumes so we could appreciate the subtleties of the situations, this could have been a real humdinger of a movie. It would have worked; the actors were highly capable of pulling this off. I would have actually believed that these characters were real people; as it is, I’m constantly taken out of the moment by the fact that I’m watching “actors” in the process of “acting”, and this ruins the movie for me. In a sense, I can appreciate the audaciousness of trying to emulate a stage performance, but the end result is (IMHO) a disaster. Since the movie is sitting with a 7.2 rating on IMDB, I am fully aware that I am in the minority as far as this movie goes, and it always feels a little lonely to disagree with so many people, but to me, the movie is a botched affair.


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