Synopsis by Hal Erickson
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.
child, evil, psychopath, serial-killer, mother