The Bad Seed (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 129 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Review Date: October 11, 2011
Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is on the surface a perfect little girl: impeccable manners, impossibly clean clothes, and possessed with a willingness to please that seems unreal. Her mother (Nancy Kelly) and father (William Hopper) dote on her unashamedly and so does upstairs neighbor Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden). When a young boy in her class wins the penmanship medal that Rhoda thought should have been hers and he later turns up drowned and with signs of being beaten beforehand, the boy’s grieving mother (Eileen Heckart) and the head mistress of the school (Joan Croyden) both suspect Rhoda might know more than she’s telling. When Mrs. Penmark discovers the medal tucked away in her daughter’s treasure drawer, she demands to know the truth. What follows are revelations that shake Mrs. Penmark to her very core: the realization that her angelic-looking child is a remorseless killer who’ll do whatever it takes to get what she wants. But one person isn’t fooled by her perfect looks and placid manner: the caretaker (Henry Jones) of the apartment where they live takes delight in needling Rhoda about her activities, suggestions that may have Rhoda seriously thinking about who her next target will be.
Six of the actors in the film are repeating their stage performances for the movie, and their over-emotional acting, along with director Mervyn LeRoy’s long takes and rather static camera moves, give the sense that we’re seeing a play which has been slightly opened up for the screen but not in any significant way. Admittedly, the material is hotly melodramatic, and as the intensity builds when Mrs. Penmark is faced with more and more proof as to her daughter’s monstrous acts, one must refrain from laughing at the lack of some emotional restraint in playing these revelatory scenes. John Lee Mahin’s adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s Tony-nominated play places action in different settings from the stage play’s one set (the living room), but apart from the completely new (and much less effective and true) ending (required due to Production Code restrictions of the time which required murderers not to get away with their crimes), the play and film aren’t much different from one another. LeRoy has also added a bothersome (and in the end too cute) curtain call for the actors which negates any sense of tragedy from what we’ve just watched.
Nancy Kelly repeats her Tony Award-winning stage performance as Christine Penmark, and she was Oscar-nominated here, too, but it’s a very measured and calculated performance that doesn’t play quite as impressively now as it likely did then though the role is a marathon one that requires a gradual emotional breakdown that would have been easier to navigate on stage each night than over a six-week film shoot. Patty McCormack (who shows some real depth in a difficult role) as the vicious Rhoda and Eileen Heckart as the heartbreaking and heartbroken Mrs. Daigle were also both Oscar-nominated, each giving broad and slightly stagy performances with their hothouse material. Evelyn Varden as the naïve upstairs neighbor who’s completely taken in by Rhoda’s deceptively sweet appearance gives the most natural performance of the actors who did their roles originally on the stage. Also scoring in understated and effective roles are Frank Cady as the murdered boy’s father, and William Hopper as the deluded father of the monster child. Henry Jones as the taunting caretaker who doesn’t realize the depths of malevolence he’s dealing with veers toward the overacting side of the ledger in a nevertheless enjoyable performance.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 (the liner notes claim 1.85:1) and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is the variable quality in this transfer with shots alternately razor sharp and then softer and less distinct looking for no good reason. Grayscale is admirable throughout with rich blacks and true whites, and there are no age-related artifacts that mar the visual presentation. The film has been divided into 36 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is very typical for its day with the dialogue beautifully recorded and mixed well with the occasional sound effects and Alex North’s sparse but scintillating score. There are no age-related aural artifacts like hiss or pops that intrude on the sound design of the film.
The audio commentary is a conversation between actor-writer Charles Busch and co-star Patty McCormack. Though she seems to remember more specifics about the play rather than the making of the film (and all of her reminiscences are interesting), Busch asks her enough questions about both experiences to make the commentary one worth listening to even if they tend to run out of things to talk about before the lengthy film concludes.
“Enfant Terrible: A Conversation with Patty McCormack” repeats many of the anecdotes from the commentary in this video interview where she discusses the making of the play and the movie and has specific comments to make about her relationships with various cast members. This runs 15 ¼ minutes in 480i.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 480i and runs for 3 ¼ minutes.
3.5/5 (not an average)
The Bad Seed isn’t one of the great dramas from the 1950s, but as a screen adaptation of a hit play of the period, it makes a good representation of what New York audiences saw during its limited period of popularity. A couple of welcome bonus features complete a decent high definition representation of the movie.