The Bad Seed (1956)

Written by John Chard on November 16, 2013

Sowing the seeds of evil.

The Bad Seed is directed by Mervyn LeRoy and adapted to screenplay by Maxwell Anderson from the novel of the same name written by William March. Anderson had also adapted for the stage play as well. It stars Nancy Kelly, William Hopper, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Eileen Heckart and Evelyn Varden. Music is by Alex North and cinematography by Harold Rossen.

Is there such a thing as Bad Seed? Where I grew up there was a violent family of four brothers, each one would think nothing of doing a Begbie on you. It was the first time I heard the saying Bad Seed, with the conversation basically saying that their father was a psychopath and the four lads just inherited the violent tendencies by way of Pops. It's this theory that drives LeRoy's movie, only here it's a young "butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth" girl who has murderous leanings courtesy of her Nana's iffy genetics.

The theatre origins are very much evident, there is no hiding this fact, with the acting (some of the actors are held over from the play here) very much as if playing to an open auditorium, while at over two hours in length there's an over stretching of the talk heavy material. However, this is a very engrossing piece of horror cinema, pulsing unpleasantness and mood oppressive by way of black and white photography and a musical score that underlines the blending of sweet innocence and sinister evil.

McCormack as the Devil Child is outstanding, likewise Jones as the simpleton handyman who recognises evil when he sees it. Kelly, Heckart, McCormack and Rossen were all Academy Award nominated for their respective work in the film. As for the much discussed finale? Personally I have no problem with what transpires as regards mother and child. Oh for sure the ending to both the novel and play is far darker and dramatic, but there's a campy bizarreness in this Production Code influenced denouement that befits the whole production. Though the end credits curtain calls by the cast members is pushing it too far... 7.5/10