The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed (1956)

Tagline – For little Rhoda, murder is child’s play.

Starring – Nancy Kelly (Christine Penmark), Patty McCormack (Rhoda Penmark), Henry Jones (Leroy Jessup), Eileen Heckart (Hortense Daigle), Evelyn Varden (Monica Breedlove), William Hopper (Col. Kenneth Penmark).

Released – September, 1956

Directed By – Mervyn LeRoy

Produced By – Warner Brothers

Distributed By – Warner Brothers

Description – On the surface, life seems almost too perfect for Christine Penmark. A loving husband, a beautiful home, and a lovely daughter who was adopted by her husband. But, today is a day for separation. Col. Kenneth Penmark has said his goodbyes and must leave for military duty.

Neighbor Monica Breedlove stops by and gives a gift to the Penmark’s daughter Rhoda. A beautiful locket for which Rhoda politely thanks Monica and dances away in tap shoes on the wood floor. Monica makes notice of the tap shoes and Rhoda explains that they were her idea.

They also discuss the disappointment Rhoda suffered having lost a school penmanship medal to classmate Claude Daigle. There will be other medals to be won and Rhoda should not be too troubled by not winning this one.

After Monica leaves, Christine and Rhoda head for a school picnic at a nearby lake. Christine drops Rhoda off at the picnic and later meets Monica and other friends for lunch. A disturbing broadcast comes across the radio with a report of a child having drowned at the lake where the picnic is taking place.

Fearful that the child may be Rhoda, Christine intently listens to a follow-up report that identifies the child as Rhoda’s schoolmate Claude Daigle. Relieved that the child was not Rhoda, Christine is concerned about how the death of a classmate may traumatize Rhoda.

There turns out to be nothing to worry about as the death has caused Rhoda no concern at all.

Shortly after the incident, Rhoda’s teacher stops by the house to speak with Christine. She tells Christine that Rhoda was the last child seen with Claude on the dock and that she had been trying to grab the penmanship medal from him. During the visit, Claude’s mother arrives and, seemingly drunk, accuses Rhoda of knowing more about her son’s death than she is saying.

Later that evening, Christine finds the medal in Rhoda’s room and demands an explanation. Rhoda tells her mother that she won the medal after making a bet with Claude. Christine also witnesses Rhoda trying to dispose of her tap shoes.

While wondering why, Christine remembers that Claude Daigle’s drowned body was found to have half-moon shaped bruises on his forehead. Just the kind that would have been made by the striking of a tap shoe.

Fear now turns to terror as Christine puts together the pieces of the puzzle. Rhoda was her husbands adopted daughter, but the natural daughter of a well-known serial killer. Could the bad seed have passed?

NOTABLE: The Bad Seed received Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Nancy Kelly), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Patty McCormack), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Heckart), and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.

The Bad Seed is based on the 1954 novel and play of the same name. However, due to the Hays Code, the ending was required to be changed so as not to give the impression that “crime pays.”

Actress Rosalind Russell was considered for the role of Christine Penmark, but the studio decided to go with Nancy Kelly who played the part on Broadway and won the Tony Award for her performance.


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