The plot of William March's successful novel was tailor made for Hollywood. Combined with beautiful black-and-white photography and fabulous performances, THE BAD SEED is one of the eeriest films of the 20th century. The scientifically dubious theory behind the title is that an evil disposition can be an inherited trait. Patty McCormack plays Rhoda Penmark, a seemingly sweet, beautiful, smart grade school girl who is in attendance at a school picnic in which a classmate dies. No one suspects that the accident was the result of murder except for Rhoda's apartment building janitor, a simpleton named LeRoy (Henry Jones). But when Rhoda's mother, Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly), finds out that her real mother is a cold-blooded killer, she begins to suspect her own daughter. Her fears of what Rhoda might do conflict with her protective instincts as a mother, forcing Christina to make terrible decisions--decisions that themselves might be too late.
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"A basket full of kisses for a basket full of hugs." Those are chilling words, at least when uttered by that ice princess, Patty McCormack. As Rhoda Penmark, she is as pretty as a porcelain doll but drips venom with each curtsey and polite response. Little Rhoda's mother is terrified she has passed on her own mother's corruption. Oops, turns out she's right. This passes the test of time, as it still gets under your skin. The character development is tight and the story very involving. Not even Freddy Krueger had the ability to scare like tiny McCormack, looking just like a little adult while she literally beats out the competition for a penmanship award. However, director Mervyn LeRoy's hands were tied over the ending, which was changed from the source material--Maxwell Anderson's hit Broadway play. A supposedly more appropriate, and moral, ending was demanded by the studio. This was remade (badly) in 1985. --Rochelle O'Gorman
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