The Bad Seed (1956)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
Classics , Drama , Horror , Mystery & Suspense
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Patty McCormack
as Rhoda Penmark
Nancy Kelly
as Mrs. Christine Penmark
Eileen Heckart
as Mrs. Daigle
Henry Jones
as LeRoy, Handyman,, Radio Voice
William Hopper
as Col. Kenneth Penmark
Evelyn Varden
as Monica Breedlove
Paul Fix
as Bravo
Jesse White
as Emory
Gage Clarke
as Tasker
Joan Croydon
as Miss Fern
Frank Cady
as Mr. Daigle
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Critic Reviews for The Bad Seed

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (5)

Director LeRoy has been overly faithful to the play script.

Full Review… | July 18, 2011
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

This melodrama about a child with an inbred talent for homicide is pretty unpleasant stuff on its own.

Full Review… | October 22, 2008
Top Critic

Mervyn LeRoy, who produced and directed, has lost a great deal of the bite of the play.

Full Review… | March 24, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

1956 was way too soon for an unfettered treatment of the central premise.

Full Review… | January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Overlong, stiff, and about as suspenseful as a detergent commercial.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A near perfect thriller...

Full Review… | July 12, 2012
Cinema Crazed

Audience Reviews for The Bad Seed

Originally a play, written by Maxwell Anderson, director Mervyn LeRoy stays virtually faithful in his adaptation. He even cast original actors Patty McCormack, as the careworn little girl named Rhoda, and Nancy Kelly as her inundated mother. The dialogue feels staged, as do the ellipses scenes, because it tries to look and feel like a play. This tone is substantiated by the ending, which is quick to show the link to the original play, and shush naysayers by attempting to show that its dark subject matter was based in fiction and not the real world, probably the only way the censors would let this film exist. Even today stories about little children as murderers just aren't broached unless there's a catch: they're possessed by demons, they're actually a middle aged woman, or they were brought back from the dead. Here the story is very straight forward: little girl kills, and then covers it up by killing some more. Instead of showing the gruesome nature of her crimes, the film builds up the backstory, and shows how she's capable of killing. Though it's a bit outdated in its concept, and wasn't as horrific as a modern interpretation might be, it's a creepy look at the inner workings of a so-called "bad seed" and based on that structure alone, this is a pretty interesting classic. LeRoy may not have been able to push the envelope as far as he wanted, but there's a dark subtlety to McCormack's performance that remains unmatched, even by today's standards.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


"Now there's a little ray of sunshine, that one." An occasionally riveting movie from the 50's about a sunny, charming, sociopathic little girl and her mother's desperate attempts to protect her and hide her nature. The Bad Seed sometimes makes the mistake of focusing too much on the dull adults, but overall, it's a solid movie. Good acting all around, and unlike similar modern movies like Orphan, The Bad Seed gets better as it goes along instead of imploding into an absurd mess. It feels a lot like a play, which is natural due to its evolution from novel to stage-play to film. I thought The Bad Seed was a sinister (and relatively timeless) gem of the 50's, and I'm sure it was quite controversial in its time. The ending was changed because of the Hays Code, in fact, and feels a bit like a cop-out as a result, but not to the extent of ruining what came before. Check it out if you're interested.

Lewis C.
Lewis C.

Super Reviewer


The Bad Seed is second to only The Omen when it comes to evil child horror films. Patty McCormack is amazing as the evil but deceptively sweet little girl Rhoda. But my favorite performance of the movie came from Henry Jones as the janitor who sees through Rhoda's sweet demeanor. A great movie that deserves more exposure than it has. Don't stop watching when the movie is over. There is a very humorous scene during the cast of characters.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

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