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The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed(1956)

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As noted in a May 20, 1956 Los Angeles Times article, an epilogue in which cast members are identified appears immediately following "The End" title card. The voice-over announcer, producer-director Mervyn LeRoy, begins the epilogue by saying, "One moment, please.... and now, ladies and gentlemen, our wonderful cast." All actors who were listed in the opening onscreen credits, except Frank Cady, who played "Mr. Daigle," appear individually in a doorway of the Penmarks' apartment to take a stage bow, beginning with "Mr. Gage Clark as `Tasker.'" Each actor is introduced formally with his repective name as character. Actor William Hopper, whose first name is written as "William" in the opening title cards, is introduced as "Mr. Bill Hopper" during the epilogue. "Miss Patty McCormack" curtsies in the same exaggerated style as her character, followed by "Miss Nancy Kelly as `Christine Penmark'" who is introduced last. Kelly then enters the living room set, points to McCormack, and says, "As for you...," then pulls the child over her knees to spank her. According to the Los Angeles Times article, which also provides a brief history of screen credits, the epilogue was added to "remove some of the bad taste... left by this horrific shocker."
       Possibly, to further mollify the audience, screenwriter John Lee Mahin assured potential viewers in a November 1955 Los Angeles Times article that the "bad seed" theory was "specious," and only important to the film because of its effect on Christine, "who is upset enough to believe anything when she discovers her daughter is a murderess." Although several of the characters, among them, "Rhoda Penmark," spoke with a slight southern accent, the location of the story was not made clear in the film. According to a plot synopsis found in the copyright record, the story is set in the "deep South" and Maxwell Anderson's play states that the Penmarks live in "a suburb of a southern city." The piano piece that "Rhoda" plays and sings and is heard as a theme throughout the film is the traditional French children's song Au Claire de la Lune. The book Rhoda claims to have won in Sunday School, Elsie Dinsmore, was a story with religious themes about a pious eight-year-old; it was written by Martha Finley in 1867.
       A November 6, 1955 Los Angeles Times article erroneously states that Rhoda's father was said to be dead in William March's original novel; however, in the novel it was Christine's father, "Richard Bravo," who was dead. The character of Bravo was added to the stage play and the film, which, in general, remained very similar until the story's conclusion. In the play, Christine succeeds in killing herself, leaving her husband and "Monica Breedlove" confused about Christine's motive and unaware of the danger posed by Rhoda. The cloying endearment, "What will you give me for a basket of hugs? I will give you a basket of kisses," that is heard throughout the film, is spoken by Kenneth and Rhoda at the end of the play and the novel. Bravo does not appear at the end of the play, as he did in the film. In the play, during the lunch scene, the psychology fanatic Monica mentions that she believes her brother is a "larvated homosexual" and that she has a "subconscious incestuous fixation" on him. These lines do not appear in the film.
       March's novel was published in 1954. As early as December 14, 1954, the date of a letter to Jack L. Warner which was found in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Geoffrey M. Shurlock of the PCA stated that "the property violated the spirit and letter of the Code." Another letter in the collection, dated December 30, 1954, stated that director Billy Wilder was interested in producing the story as an independent film. According to a January 15, 1955 memo in the PCA file, Shurlock's office sent letters to several studios, among them, Paramount, Columbia and Universal, even though they had not inquired about the property, to caution them against it. Despite the PCA's objections to the film, the files indicate that Buddy Adler, Frank McCarthy and Dore Schary had expressed interest in producing the film and, according to a January 28, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, several companies bid for the property, which Warners bought for $300,000.
       An April 8, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the "deal" agreed upon was in abeyance pending the approval of the PCA and that Milton Sperling and his United States Pictures would produce the work for Warner Bros. only if the code problems were worked out. In a letter from Adler to Shurlock dated October 17, 1955, Adler demanded to know why another company was given approval to make the film, as he believed that he had had "the inside track" in January 1955, but was told in a meeting that a film about a child murderer would never receive sanction. A week letter, Shurlock wrote a response to Adler stating that, at the time, "in good faith," the office "could not envision any treatment" that would make the property acceptable, but had retracted when signed director Mervyn LeRoy came up with a treatment that seemed to do what the office thought was impossible.
       Warner Bros. production notes for the film reported that three endings were shot. According to a November 1955 Los Angeles Times, the end of the film was kept secret and the last five pages of the script were not distributed until ready to shoot. In addition to Kelly, who won a Tony award for her performance, Evelyn Varden, Henry Jones, Joan Croyden and Eileen Heckart and ten-year-old McCormack also reprised their Broadway roles for the film. The film marked the motion picture debut of Croydon. Although Broadway actress Croydon also appeared on television, The Bad Seed May have marked her only feature film appearance.
       Although onscreen credits read "and introducing Patty McCormack," McCormack had previously appeared in the 1951 film Two Gals and a Guy (see below), as well as various roles on stage and on television. A November 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Robert Alderett to the cast, but his appearance in the film has not been confirmed. Kelly was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, but lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia. Nominees McCormack and Heckart lost the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind. Hal Rosson was also nominated for an Oscar for Achievement in Cinematography (Black and White).
       A television adaptation of the story, also titled The Bad Seed, aired in 1985. That version starred Blair Brown, Lynn Redgrave and Christa Denton as Christine, Monica and Rhoda, respectively, and was directed by Paul Wendkos.