What is it?
A 1950’s pop-psychology thriller about a naughty little girl.
Who’s it for?
Classic movie buffs, fans of melodrama and deviant psychology aficionados.
The Bad Seed (1956) is melodramatic thriller with an uncharacteristic honesty for its time. There’s a modernity of thinking on display in this tale about a precocious little girl and the doting mother who suspects her of nefarious deeds. Director, Mervyn LeRoy clearly made a different sort of picture and it’s a wonder it was produced at all under the Hays Code. It features lengthy discussions of psychology and criminal behavior and serves as the first entry in the murderous youth milieu.
The film was heavily influenced by a preceding play as well the original novel. It showcases a repetition of sets and talking heads and even a final “curtain call” for the actors. However, the subject matter, acting and cinematography are all standouts that make up for the lack of kinetic action.
While the performances are mannered, they lack the cadence you’re used to hearing in older films. The actors speak with heavy emotion that cements the piece in melodrama. Eileen Heckart stands out in particular, as the alcoholic mother of a boy who’s recently passed. She won the Golden Globe for her performance and she overpowers everyone when she’s on screen. Harold Rosson’s cinematography provides realistic exteriors that keep the film engaging despite the lack of locales. He creates more than a few sexually suggestive and moody images to add flavor to the narrative.
Due to a Hays rule stating “no picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it,” the novel’s ending was altered. Nonetheless, the film still challenged cultural conventions. A sincere thematic direction pervades this picture. It adds up to something seldom found in older films. This is an art piece, not a studio picture. Don’t let the release date deter you. It’s a fun ride.