"The Bad Seed" received 3 Academy Award Nominations for Best Actress (Nancy Kelly, Eileen Heckart, and Patty McCormack)
"A picture of Emotional Extremes and Sensitive Depths!"
Warner Bros.' original ad copy in the trailer pretty much sums up the surreal nature of "The Bad Seed," adapted from Maxwell Anderson's popular play, which in turn was inspired by William March's novel. Anderson 's work was frequently made into movies by ace scribes and directors - "Key Largo" being one of the best, along with his script for "Death Takes a Holiday" - and the aforementioned certainly reveal Anderson 's work in the taut thriller and frothy fantasy realms.
What makes "The Bad Seed" an enduring classic are its flaws and virtues - nicely dissected in the DVD's conversational commentary track between star Patty McCormack, and actor/writer Charles Busch. Busch's own fascination/obsession with outrageous melodrama resulted in his own play and filmic translation - "Die, Mommie, Die!" - which sends up a style of writing and acting so unnatural to normal humans; deliberately retained by producer/director Mervyn LeRoy from the play, the acting has a genuinely alluring kitsch quality. One can see also elements of David Lynch in the core characters - pretty suburban family rotting from the inside out - and in supporting roles like LeRoy, the idiot groundskeeper, whose verbal tormenting of peroxide child Rhoda elicits some of the film's most memorable (and Lynchian rants).
If you've seen Busch's film, Nancy Kelly's performance seems like a mimic of Busch's own matriarch, Angela/Barbara Arden. That alone reveals Busch as an uber-fan of the film, and he doesn't hold back in his excitement of being able to watch the film with star McCormack.
Busch's film knowledge means he asks the right questions, and though more hard background info on writer Anderson and the original novel are lacking, the discussions are a breezy series of impressions of child actress McCormack doing heavy stage work at age 8, and her graduation to films at 10 as the world's most vile little child. Also of note are vivid impressions of working with most of her illustrious stage companions (William Hopper being one of the few actors not from the original play), and a great Orson Welles anecdote about the aborted "Don Quixote" prologue.
There's some repetition of material between the commentary and featurette with McCormack alone, although seeing a wry and jovial McCormack in 2004 - much like the film's 'Hollywoodized curtain call finale after the film's shock ending - does bring us back to a 'happier place;' where sharp-voiced kiddies don't murder because of a school merit award. With the play rarely revived today, McCormack's description of LeRoy's changes at the end also help preserve some of the play's darker aspects (and original ending) that differ from the film version. (A 1985 TV movie was also produced, with a similarly intriguing cast, and much a shorter running time.)
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan