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Bad Seed

The Bad Seed

4.3 13
Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Cast: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones


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Can evil be inherited? That's the question posed by Maxwell Anderson in his stage play The Bad Seed. This 1956 film adaptation stars many actors from the Broadway version, including Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones and Eileen Heckart. Young McCormack plays Rhoda, a too-good-to-be-true grade schooler who occasionally exhibits a vicious streak whenever


Can evil be inherited? That's the question posed by Maxwell Anderson in his stage play The Bad Seed. This 1956 film adaptation stars many actors from the Broadway version, including Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones and Eileen Heckart. Young McCormack plays Rhoda, a too-good-to-be-true grade schooler who occasionally exhibits a vicious streak whenever things don't turn out her way. During a picnic, one of Rhoda's schoolmates is drowned; the victim is a boy who'd won a penmanship medal that Rhoda had coveted. Nancy Kelly, the girl's mother, slowly comes to the horrible conclusion that Rhoda was responsible for the boy's death--a suspicion fueled by the discovery that Kelly, who was adopted as an infant, is the daughter of a convicted murderess. Meanwhile, a moronic handyman (Henry Jones) accidentally tumbles to Rhoda's secret, whereupon he is "accidentally" burned to death. Realizing that Rhoda must be stopped before she can kill again, and reasoning that the authorities would never believe the truth, Kelly tries to put the girl to sleep permanently with barbituates, then shoots herself. The play's ironic ending--the mother dies, while the unsuspected Rhoda lives on--is sacrificed for a "divine retribution" finale in the film, with Rhoda being punished by a convenient bolt of lightning. This alteration is acceptable, but director Mervin LeRoy further gilds the lily with an asinine closing-credits sequence wherein Nancy Kelly throws Patty McCormack over her knee and administers a spanking! The 1985 TV movie remake of The Bad Seed retains the play's original ending, but all in all is not half as entertaining as the 1956 version (its hokey denouement notwithstanding). McCormack later starred in Max Allan Collins' unofficial 1995 sequel Mommy.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Often imitated but never really equaled, this chilling 1956 melodrama adapted from Maxwell Anderson's stage play (which in turn was taken from a novel by William March) boldly and unapologetically depicts an angelic-looking girl with homicidal instincts. Patty McCormack stills sends shivers up and down viewers' spines with her portrayal of the innocent-looking grade school student Rhoda Penmark, who deliberately murders a classmate because he won the penmanship medal she coveted. Nancy Kelly does well with the difficult role of the mother who gradually discovers that her precious baby is a killer, and William Hopper is equally good as the adoring father who fails to grasp the truth. John Lee Mahin's screenplay hews closely to Anderson's play, and as a result the film bears many hallmarks of a theatrical production. But director Mervyn LeRoy builds steadily to a crescendo of horror that is all the more frightening because it plays out in a "normal" setting. His handling of the material leaves nothing to be desired, and from Nancy Kelly -- a pleasant but minor actress who'd already been in films for 20 years when The Bad Seed was produced -- he elicits the performance of a lifetime, one that earned her an Oscar nomination. While not as coarse or graphic as today's thrillers, The Bad Seed remains a daring and impressive movie that lingers in the memories of all who have seen it.
All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
The Bad Seed, the film version of Maxwell Anderson's Broadway play, was especially topical in the 1950s, when Americans were dealing with a rising tide of juvenile delinquency. While Seed can't really be taken seriously as sociology, it's tremendous fun as film. Director Mervyn LeRoy keeps things moving at a steady clip, stressing the thriller aspects of the story. Although he has only a few opportunities to physically "open up" the play from its one-set origins, this doesn't harm the film -- and sometimes helps it, by emphasizing the Mother's feeling that she is trapped (by both her situation and her true heritage). Nancy Kelly's performance is rather odd at times and overly stagy, but overall is quite effective. Her vocal delivery, bizarre at first, somehow seems organic and eventually grows on the viewer. Patty McCormack gives one of the better children's performances in film and really makes one's blood run cold, and Henry Jones is appropriately disturbing as the peculiar handyman. The best performance, however, is Eileen Heckart's turn as the mother of the little boy killed by Rhoda. Her two scenes are a tour de force, and she creates a character that is at one time pathetic, repulsive, embarrassing, sympathetic, and pitiable. While the tacked-on "justice must be served" ending is unnecessary, it fortunately doesn't actively detract from one's enjoyment of this film.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Home Video
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Special Features

Commentary by Patty McCormack and Charles Busch; ; Featurette Enlant Terrible: A Conversation with Patty McCormack; Theatrical Trailer

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Nancy Kelly Mrs. Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack Rhoda Penmark
Henry Jones LeRoy, Handyman,Radio Voice
Eileen Heckart Mrs. Daigle
Evelyn Varden Monica Breedlove
William Hopper Col. Kenneth Penmark
Paul Fix Richard Bravo
Jesse White Emory
Gage Clarke Reginald Tasker
Joan Croydon Miss Fern
Frank Cady Mr. Daigle

Technical Credits
Mervyn LeRoy Director,Producer
John Beckman Art Director
Ralph S. Hurst Set Decoration/Design
Warren Low Editor
Moss Mabry Costumes/Costume Designer
John Lee Mahin Screenwriter
Alex North Score Composer
Harold Hal Rosson Cinematographer


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The Bad Seed 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Bad Seed is a wonderfully thrilling tale of children, murder and the capacity of the human mind. It is exciting and capitivating from beggining to end. The only thing more suprising than a sweet blonde girl murderer is her history. 'What would you give me for a basket of kisses,' Rhoda would say, expecting in reply, 'I would give you a basket of hugs.' Enchanting and exhilerating, a must see for thrill seekers; this movie is absolutely marvelous!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A sweet young girl(patty mcormic)name Rhoda is a girl that acks so nice that something must be wrong and there is something wrong with this child. She has the blood of a famous murderer. And that is exactly what she is. A murderer! I dont want to give anything away to people who have not seen the movie, so I wont go into specifics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nylahtram More than 1 year ago
The scariest film I've ever seen, originally in black and white, and the year was 1965. I was living in Boston at time, alone in my apartment, and late at night, IN THE DARK. Happy Halloween everybody!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even today the mention of the name, Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormick) conjures up disturbing chills. And it¿s no wonder; there is something genuinely unsettling in this ¿The Bad Seed.¿ On the surface Rhoda is a precocious eight year old blonde moppet of considerable charm and alarmingly mature lady-like grace. Under that thin veneer however she is absolute poison, inflicting pain suffering and even death on anything and anyone that gets in the way of her selfish desires. Like Linda Blair¿s Regan from ¿The Exorcist¿, McCormick¿s performance excels at generating mixed feelings of guilt, compassion and reviled disgust for this pint size psychotic masquerading as Doris Day. Nancy Kelly is outstanding as Christine, Rhoda¿s conflicted mother ¿ unable to choose between disciplining her off spring and merely turning a blind eye to her willful deluge of mayhem. Under Mervin LeRoy¿s direction, the story nimbly unleashes its reign of terror, ultimately shocking, confusing and leaving its audience with many nightmares to come. Warner¿s DVD transfer is superb. The image is remarkably clean, with a very solid and beautifully rendered gray scale, deep blacks and excellent contrast levels. Fine details are fully realized. There is a total lack of edge effects and other digital anomalies for an exceptionally smooth visual presentation. The audio is mono but with a considerable punch to it. Extras include a featurette (billed as a documentary) in which present day Patty rambles on about the making of the film and her involvement in the production. Truthfully, McCormick¿s reminiscences boil down to a ¿look at me, wasn¿t I wonderful?¿ diatribe with inserts from the film included as predictable filler. There¿s also an audio commentary with McCormick and Charles Busch that¿s somewhat entertaining to listen to.
writtenonthebody More than 1 year ago
If you love classic horror and creepy little kids, you have to own this movie!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Bad Seed' is an excellent psychological horror film.It goes through the planned pace from beginning to end on how to solve these mysterious killings of the Daigle boy and Leroy. The one place no one would even think of looking is in the face of Rhoda Penmark.It shows that evil has many faces because evil can manifest in different forms where you would least expect to find it.This is an excellent study of how murderers are born. Perhaps if can spot the signs from birth,like Christine spotted Rhoda's menacing ways and acting like it's not a big deal if she kills someone, we can stop them from harming others. We all have a dark side, including Rhoda;It's the enemy within that stays with us all our human lives. Rhoda on the outside shows the sunny side of herself, in which we all do from time to time.However, on the inside, there is pure evil waiting to lurk at any moment.A chilling,outstanding story that could happen to anyone who is about to go postal.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everything about this film--the crazed hysterics of Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark, the elaborate fifties furnishings and trappings, the repressed lesbianism of Joan Croydon as Miss Fern--smacks of my antiquated Fifties childhood. I swear that some of the furniture pieces on the living room set match some that were in my house growing up! As for the story, while I never actually murdered anyone for a penmanship medal or anything else, I won't deny there were not times when I wanted to! The ending has been criticized ad nauseum today it ends an extra degree of camp to what has become a camp classic. Much more detrimental to me is the viewer cheated out of the satisfaction of seeing Rhoda bump off garulous Monica Breedlove, which is exactly what she is planning next, in the dialogue towards the end between she and her father. Camp excess and theatricality aside, the unusual novelty of the story coming at a time when it did, the wonderfully atmospheric lighting, and the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the horrible make "The Bad Seed" still strangely unsettling today--almost half a century later.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Maxwell Anderson's stage play stunned and shocked Broadway audiences with its frighteningly real portrait of an eight-year-old murderess. How many parents took closer looks at their own children and wondered what they might be capable of? So strong was the impact of the play that the making of the screen version was almost devoid of the normal studio publicity and a synopsis of the story omitted the film's conclusion. The filming of "The Bad Seed" retained all the strength and brilliance of the original play and contains an originality in technique an performance that give it true classic stature. Patty McCormack is excellent as the cute but malevolent Rhoda, whose frilly dresses, devious politeness, and adorable blond pigtails mask her inner monstrousness. Henry Jones is also splendid as the slow witted, but fatefully perceptive handyman. As Rhoda's guilt-ridden mother, Nancy Kelly is excessively weepy, but very effective. And as Mrs. Dagle, the alcoholic mother of the drowned little boy, Eileen Heckhart overacts outrageously and is heartbreaking. Kelly, Heckhart (as well as McCormack) got Oscar nominations for their work, though the awards went to others. Alex North's non-nominated music score is also memorable. A sequel to "The Bad Seed" would have seemed a good bet by Hollywood, though in some respects it's already been made in the form of "Pretty Poison" (1968), with Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins, a stunning film whose theme (and title) bares a strong relationship to this classic chiller. [filmfactsman]
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