FEBRUARY 18, 2011
Why are movies based on plays always so damn lazy with regards to actually transferring it to the big screen? Even if The Bad Seed's opening credits didn't point out that it was adapted from a play (which was adapted from a book), it would have been pretty obvious, since 90% of the movie takes place in a parlor at the house where the titular character lives. I think A Few Good Men is one of the only movies based on a play that doesn't FEEL like that; even though there's a lot of courtroom, the characters travel around DC quite frequently (and even go to Cuba at one point). Everyone follow their lead, please!
Anyway, the movie is a bit too long, but it's a fun killer kid movie. I knew that the Hayes Code would keep it from being too explicit, so the fact that everything happens off-screen (quite awkwardly so in the case of the gardener) didn't bother me, and I liked that it didn't waste much time getting to the point where the mother begins to suspect her child is a murderer. Also, since I had Orphan on the brain (I watched the movie in honor of Orphan director Jaume Collet-Serra's new film Unknown hitting theaters today - which I'll be seeing as soon as I have a car!), I was happy to see how twist-free it was. It's not a misunderstanding, she's not just a jerk like Mac in The Good Son (total body count: 0), and she's not actually a midget - little Rhoda is legitimately a murderous eight year old child. Hurrah!
Back to the Code, it's a wonderful reminder of how ridiculous their guidelines were (spoilers for 55 year old movie ahead!). Since one of the things was "Crime cannot pay", the movie couldn't retain the book's ending, where Rhoda lived and her mother died of suicide. No, the Code thought it would be better if a little girl was zapped and fried by a bolt of lightning at the end of the film. Why couldn't they just send her to juvie or something? How is quite violently killing a child somehow more acceptable than her getting away with it? And since it's the only bit of "violence" that we see in the entire movie, it makes it even sillier.
Well, there's one other bit of violence, also against the child. Instead of the usual cast card at the end of the film, a voiceover announces each actor, who comes out and takes a bow (likely inspired from the play - most of the actors in the film were reprising their stage roles). And then when it comes to announcing Nancy Kelly, who played the mother, she suddenly looks off to the side after her bow and goes "And as for you!", then walks over to the couch, where young Patty McCormack is sitting, and proceeds to playfully spank her bottom. It's almost like they wanted to make sure no one was too offended by the on-screen crisping of a little girl and threw this in so that everyone could be reminded it was just a movie. The silliness continues immediately after that, with a card asking folks not to "divulge" the ending. Was it commonplace for endings to be spoiled back in the day? Did people just walk out of the theater and go "So Rosebud was the name of his sled!" or "A shame Rick and Ilsa didn't end up together..."?
At least it's intentionally funny, however. Kelly was nominated for an Oscar for her role, which I guess is just another example of how much things have changed over the years, because she borders on "Faye Dunaway as Mommie Dearest" level hysterics at times. The scene where her father visits and reveals to her that she was adopted (her birth mother was a serial killer, a plot point that is largely glossed over) is supposed to be upsetting and dramatic, but I was chuckling at her over-the-top theatrics for most of the scene's duration. It doesn't help that the guy playing her dad is a straight up no bullshit "I'm going to just frown and say my lines in an authoritative tone" type of actor, making her outbursts look all the more melodramatic.
Also, not for nothing, but for a 2 hour movie, was it necessary to awkwardly foreshadow the existence of a revolver in the house in the first 10 minutes? As soon as it was mentioned I knew it would come into play later, but you have to wait 100 minutes or so for it to come back. And then of course you don't even SEE the damn thing. Again: this isn't a play anymore! You're not limited to one set, props that can be hidden until needed, etc! Apparently there was a 1980s TV movie remake that wasn't well received, but I am curious if it was at least more visually creative. Eli Roth was supposedly going to do a remake at one point as well, but I think it would cut into the time he spends talking about how he's friends with Tarantino, so I wouldn't expect it any time soon. Plus, why bother when Orphan just came along? Not like anything's going to top that.
But even with some concerns, I still dug the movie, and respected it even more. I looked, but couldn't find an older killer kid movie, so even if it wasn't perfect, it still spawned a sub-genre that I very much love. Plus, I'm always amused by movies that were affected by the Code, and this is definitely a pretty hilarious example. If you got the time, recommended!
What say you?