THE BAD SEED, 1956
Christine Penmark seems to have it all: a lovely home, a loving husband and the most "perfect" daughter in the world. But since childhood, Christine has suffered from the most terrible recurring nightmare. And her "perfect" daughter's accomplishments include lying, theft and possibly much, much worse. Only Christine knows the truth about her daughter and only Christine's father knows the truth about her nightmare.
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The Bad Seed is a 1956 Academy Award-nominated film that is based on William March's 1954 novel The Bad Seed. The book achieved great success, selling over a million copies and became a Broadway play (by Maxwell Anderson) and eventually a feature film. Most of the cast from the play were asked to recreate their parts in the film.
The Bad Seed is an entertaining masterpiece that tells the story of Rhoda Penmark, (Patty McCormack) a sweet looking young girl with pigtails that murders. At the same time Rhoda’s emotional mother, Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) finds out she is adopted and her biological mother was a serial killer, Bessie Denker. The Bad Seed seeks to answer the question; can a child inherit murderous tendencies from their parents? Mrs. Penmark shows concern throughout the film about her daughter’s exceedingly mature behavior. While Rhoda curtsies, smiles and exhibits exquisite manners, she also shows signs of being a sociopath.
While Rhoda is at a school picnic, one of her classmates drowns. The classmate, Claude Daigle won the penmanship medal that Rhoda wanted to win. It seems any child would be upset over the death of a classmate, but not Rhoda who ignores her mother’s worry and asks her to fix her a peanut butter sandwich when she comes home from the picnic.
The original ending in the book and play, was that the mother dies and the child survives. The ending was changed three times because of the standards (Motion Picture Production Code) back in the 1950s stated that people must “pay” for their crimes. Mrs. Penmark survives after shooting herself in the head. Rhoda dies from being struck by a bolt of lightning while trying to find the penmanship medal from the lake in a thunderstorm. If Rhoda were left alive it would have appeared that she could kill again. In today’s films that would be considered a setup for a sequel. At the end of The Bad Seed, the cast is introduced one by one and Nancy Kelly pretends to “spank” Patty McCormack. A graphic of words appeals to the audience not to “divulge the unusual climax of this story,” reminding them it was only a film.
The Bad Seed was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Heckart and Patty McCormack) who lost to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Nancy Kelly) who lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia. Nancy Kelly did win the 1955 Tony Award for Actress in a Drama for "The Bad Seed." There is just something about the character Rhoda that is mesmerizing, unforgettable and at the same time chilling. The Bad Seed is similar to a “Leave It To Beaver world” that slowly turns out to be a nightmare.