The Bad Seed DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD released by Warner Brothers

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by John Lee Mahin (screenplay), Maxwell Anderson (play), and William March (book)
1956, Region 1 (NTSC), 129 minutes, Not Rated
DVD Released 10th August 2004

Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark
Henry Jones as LeRoy
Eileen Heckart as Hortense Daigle
Evelyn Varden as Monica Breedlove

The Movie:

The Penmarks are the perfect family. Loving wife, military husband and beautiful daughter Rhoda. Rhoda is the perfect little girl. Well mannered. Smart. Courteous. Mature. Gracious. A well-behaved 9-year-old. A genuine pleasure to be around.

The problem is, people seem to die around Rhoda — particularly when they have something she wants.

Is it her fault little Claude Daigle drowned and she was the last person seen with him? Never mind the fact that the Daigle boy was wearing the medal for best penmanship — the medal Rhoda should have won. And never mind the fact that the medal was missing when his body turned up. All of that is just a terrible coincidence.

And certainly there is nothing wrong with just wanting a peanut butter sandwich after a school chum drowns. Not only do different people handle death in different ways, but as Rhoda herself says, "Why should I feel sorry? It was Claude Daigle got drowned, not me!" She certainly has a point.

However, Christine (Nancy Kelly), Rhoda's mother, starts to think there may be something wrong with the child. And she takes it upon herself to try and find out if Rhoda is a "bad seed."

I don't know, just because it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck doesn't make it a duck.


Maybe it does.


I first saw The Bad Seed more than 20 years ago. I was 10 or 11, over at my grandmother's house, flipping through the three channels she had, bored to tears. At the time, I had two choices of entertainment — sit on the porch and watch the garden grow (literally) or watch TV.

TV it was.

With the choice of a soap opera, the news or this movie just starting, there really was no choice. So I watched The Bad Seed. And enjoyed every minute of it. Even at that young age. At 10, I saw a movie about a little girl, about my age, who acted bad — especially when things did not go her way. At 32, I watched a movie about a sociopath in the making. A young Jeffery Dahlmer. A juvenile Ted Bundy. However, Rhoda is much worse than Dahlmer and Bundy. She's already past killing animals — if she even bothered with them. She has a 15- to 20-year head start on most of those in the field. At 10, I saw a bad little girl. At 32, she is the stuff of nightmares because I have a better understanding of not only of what Rhoda is capable of, but how truly fucked up she is. At 10, I didn't understand the implications of the movie completely, but I knew then, as I know at 32, The Bad Seed is a phenomenal movie.

But what makes it such a great movie? It's so hard, yet so easy, to say.

The acting is top notch. Every actor delivers a stellar performance, in particular Patty McCormack as the little demon, Rhoda. McCormack is downright creepy. If Macauley Culkin had her acting ability, the Pseudo-remake of Seed, The Good Son, would have done much better at the box office. McCormack nailed the role so perfectly, I don't believe there is a young actress even today that could fill her shoes.

Nancy Kelly is also great to watch, as she slowly falls apart realizing the secrets her daughter is hiding. She is amazing as she covers a range of emotions throughout the film, and her stage experience certainly helped. Happiness, denial, anger, rage and acceptance are masks she wears throughout the movie, and she never misses a beat.

Evelyn Varden as the landlady, Monica Breedlove, is a hoot. She has something to say about everything, but is never comes across as an annoying know-it-all. Instead, she comes across as someone who's "been there and done that" and is not afraid to speak her mind about it. Varden plays the character so well, you would think she's not acting, but really is Breedlove.

Rounding out main characters are Henry Jones as the maintenance man, LeRoy, and Eileen Heckart as Hortense Daigle, poor little Claude's mother. Both steal every scene they are in, as their characters are quite memorable.

At times, the actors appear to be a tad melodramatic and over-the-top. However, The Bad Seed was a play before it was a movie, and most of the actors in the film also starred in the stage version. So, the over-the-top performances are not only forgivable, they work. The movie has a "filmed play" vibe to it and the performance style adds to the surrealism.

However, what is interesting is why The Bad Seed holds up so well. The movie is almost 50 years old, but still delivers the creepiness. The topic of a child sociopath is not so taboo anymore — particularly because of incidents such as the Columbine killings, children just aren't as "innocent" anymore — but, somehow, the movie still maintains its shock value. While sometimes the movie borders on black comedy, it always manages to reel the viewer in from an uncomfortable laugh, forcing the viewer to wonder what, exactly, Rhoda is going to do next. Or, rather, who is next on her list. I can only wonder if The Bad Seed was as mind-blowing to the audience in 1956 as Se7en was in 1995. Se7en was cutting edge when it came out, due to its subject matter, style and execution, and I cannot imagine Seed being any different. In the commentary, McCormack explains that such topics such as abnormal psychiatry just weren't explored movies in that era, and Seed was one of the first to do so — remember, Psycho came out four years later. Add to the psychology the overall subject matter and the surprise ending, and Seed, if not shocking in today's times, is at least thought-provoking, at most surprising and unquestionably entertaining.

Audio and Video:

Presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, The Bad Seed looks stunning. Granted, there is some print damage, but what can one expect for a movie that is almost 50 years old? The picture is very sharp and very crisp. In the commentary, McCormack mentions there are "crosses" throughout the movie and, with this transfer, they are hard to miss. Warner did a fantastic job restoring this.

Seed has a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track and it sounds fantastic. This is a dialogue-driven movie, so nothing more is necessary. English, French and Spanish subtitles are offered.

Special Features:

  • Commentary by Patty McCormack and Charles Busch
  • Making-of Documentary "Enfant Terrible: A Conversation With Patty McCormack"
  • Theatrical Trailer

"Enfant Terrible: A Conversation With Patty McCormack" is a 15 minute interview with McCormack as she reminisces about the making of The Bad Seed. She obviously has a lot of love for both the film and her co-stars and it comes through during the interview.

The commentary is okay, but not a necessary listen. Writer Charles Busch acts as a moderator of sorts as he asks McCormack quite a few questions about the filming of Seed and the stars she works with, but a lot of it is just reminiscing about the filming and not a lot is learned. Like the documentary, you can tell McCormack has no regrets being involved with the movie. Both listening to the commentary and watching the interview is not necessary, as most of what's in "Enfant" is covered in the commentary.

The trailer is a blast to watch, if only for the cheese factor. Unlike the movie, the trailer does not age well.


Movie: Grade
Video: Grade
Audio: Grade
Features: Grade
Overall: 4 Star Rating


What can be said about a classic such as The Bad Seed that hasn't already been said? What new can be said about Psycho? Freaks? The only thing that can be said is: If you haven't already, see this movie.

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Steve Pattee
US Editor, Admin
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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