The Bad Seed (LeRoy, 1956)

I watched Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed last night for the first time.  Maybe it’s unfair, but I always associate LeRoy with The Golddiggers of 1933.  It’s pretty easy to forget that he’s the director behind early gangster/noir films I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Little Caesar.

Great turns from Eileen Heckart and Henry Jones are all that keep this film from really feeling its age.  Eileen Heckart plays her grieving, alcoholic mother with all the energy of the popular method technique of the time, but the stilted performance by Nancy Kelly really pulls her down.

There’s a climactic scene where Rhoda (Patty McCormack) – the bad seed – alternates screaming and talking sweetly as she recounts some of the crimes she’s committed to her shocked mother.  I can feel the direction here.  Not a good thing.  Her high-low-high-low speech pattern feels so practiced that you can’t help but imagine LeRoy right off-camera motioning with his hands for her to “get bigger” and “get smaller.”

Regardless, LeRoy shows some of the directorial flair that’s made him an icon, particularly in the sequence where Rhoda incinerates a critical clue.  His camera cranes down as the girl approaches in the foreground to burn the evidence, leaving her shocked mother soft in the background.  Once the crime is complete his camera cranes back up, finding the mother, now completely alone and framed through multiple doorways.  It’s a nicely tense and dramatic moment.

No ratings in this blog, and most thoughts will likely be shorter than this one.  But here’s the start.  Anyone else ever see The Bad Seed?


About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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