Every mother wants to believe her child is an angel, no matter how badly behaved they are. Such is the premise of The Bad Seed, a pseudo-camp horror classic that went a long way in convincing that cute, little blonde kids are evil.

The Bad SeedWritten by novelist William March in 1954, Maxwell Anderson (What Price Glory, Key Largo) successfully adapted The Bad Seed for the stage in 1955. Warner Bros. hired noted screenwriter John Lee Mahin (Red Dust, Treasure Island, Quo Vadis) to do the script and celebrated director Mervyn LeRoy (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Little Women, “Quo Vadis,” Gypsy) to helm the project.

Eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) loves her parents but rages with jealousy inside. With her pigtails, bright smile and pinafore skirts, she appears to be the perfect child. Things begin to take a darker turn when Rhoda fails to win a penmanship medal. Young Rhoda takes a lot of pride in her writing, and she is very upset when her teacher gives the medal to a little boy in the class. She is consoled by both her emotionally fragile mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly), who worries about her daughter’s antisocial behavior, and an older family friend, whom Rhoda calls Aunt Monica (Evelyn Varden).Subsequently, on a school picnic, that little boy’s lifeless body is discovered bobbing around in the water. Witnesses claim Rhoda was the last one to see him alive, and suspicion begins to swirl around her. Rhoda strongly denies any involvement in the tragedy, and has a logical answer for every pointed question.

Despite Rhoda’s denials, Christine and others aren’t convinced of her daughter’s innocence. As things proceed, we learn that a year earlier an old lady who lived above the Penmarks fell down the stairs and broke her neck. Coincidence? Caught between her unconditional love for her daughter and the horror of the murder she may have committed, Christine looks inward and begins to blame herself for bringing such a monstrous child into the world.

Nearly the entire original Broadway cast reprised their roles in the film, and while all the acting is first rate (Kelly was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and both McCormack and Eileen Heckart nabbed Best Supporting Actress nods), there’s a theatricality to it that gives The Bad Seed an over-the-top quality that makes it slightly campy. Actors chew scenery nearly every scene, which tends to dilute several dramatic situations. Even so, more than fifty years after its release, Patty McCormack’s performance remains riveting.

Sadly, censorship forced the novel’s heartbreaking ending to be changed. The new denouement is more predictable, and, sadly, difficult to swallow. Both the novel and the play allowed evil to triumph over good, but Hollywood’s production code wouldn’t allow that in the film. While entertaining, the new ending weakens the material. Nonetheless, The Bad Seed is well worth checking out.

Presented in a theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this 1080p transfer is a very solid one. There are no noticeable lines, scratches, specks, or fades, and the video engineers retain a light veneer of inherent film grain. The black and white contrast is good, with solid detail and object definition.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, composed of dialogue and Alex North’s background score, doesn’t need to be particularly dynamic and it’s not. The midrange is natural and very clear, with little evidence of hiss or noise. Nothing special, but it serves the film well.

The track includes English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

The special features have been ported over from the 2004 DVD.

  • Commentary with Actress Patty McCormack and Interviewer Charles Busch: Busch is an actor (primarily in theater) and playwright whose love of films from this era is legendary and has inspired much of his own work. He interviews McCormack in depth about her work on the film.
  • Enfant Terrible: A Conversation with Patty McCormack (SD, 15:10): In an engaging interview, McCormack covers many of the highlights of the commentary, beginning with getting the role in the play through making the film and her subsequent career.