Tonight on TCM: Evil Kid Movies
Tonight on Turner Classic Movies — a slate of movies about very, very bad children.
8:oopm (EST) The Nanny (1965)
Who is the one to hate and fear in this Hammer film? The disturbed hellion of a child, or his caring nanny, whom one can’t help noticing is played by renowned psycho-biddy Bette Davis? I look forward to catching this one for the very first time and finding out.
9:45pm (EST) The Bad Seed (1956)
This movie is significant for all sorts of reasons. One, it is based on Maxwell Anderson’s final play, which was itself based on the final novel of William March. What drew Anderson to the material beyond a paycheck is an interesting question; it doesn’t seem to fit in his normal modus operandi of blank verse and historical subjects, although he did write outside those lines from time to time.
But of equal or more interest is that this story is one of the first to present to the public the thesis, which was then still unproven scientifically, that some people are simply born without any capacity for empathy, and that regardless of socioeconomic factors or quality of upbringing they’ll never know right from wrong. The psychological idea of a psychopath is somewhat at odds with religious notions of redemption for everyone, after all. The cold blooded killer is never going to hear some “Word” that will magically alter his behavior. Those of us in the middle, yes. But the psychopath is a special diagnostic category. The idea that the killer might be a child, as in The Bad Seed, is even more shocking. In the film, a little girl drowns a little boy at a school picnic to get his merit badge. And then the fact that no one can face the truth allows her to kill again.
Directed and produced by Mervyn LeRoy it was a pathbreaking exercise in showmanship, four years before Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho. And the gesture at the end of a comical spanking for the little girl is worthy of William Castle.
One unfortunate aspect is that I associate Eileen Heckert, who plays the dead little boy’s grieving, drunken mother, with comedy (she had lots of guest shots on sit-coms in the 70s, where I first knew her from). Her scenes here are duly upsetting, but the moment is alloyed by the fact that I am ready to laugh at her as she plays the emotional drunk.
12:00am (EST) Children of the Damned (1963)
Oddly, TCM is showing the chilling sequel to the NEXT film first. The next film is…
1:45am (EST) Village of the Damned (1961)
H’m…you either get why some of us find little perfect blonde children terrifying or you don’t. This creepy British thriller concerns a rural village that one day suddenly experiences a black out that not only knocks out machinery, but the consciousness of every living person. They wake up a few hours later apparently none the worse for wear until about nine months later when all the village women given birth to perfect little emotionless, genius babies with glowing eyes, who all seem to possess a single consciousness. They are capable of thought control and its quite clear they are of alien origin. What’s more such children have been born all over the world. Can George Sanders defeat them? I would say this movie would keep you awake, but that’s okay because when it airs it’s almost time to get up.
3:15am (EST) Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Val Lewton’s sequel to his already unsatisfying Cat People is a veritable orgy of audience betrayal and false advertising. Lewton wanted to call it Amy and her Friend—and it is clearly a very personal film, having more personal meaning for him than the audience let me make abundantly clear. It has almost nothing to do with the first movie. Except…well. The couple from the first movie are now married and have an imaginative daughter, whom the rather Fascistic parents try to control and convert into something more like themselves, i.e., a boring automaton. She makes friends with an insane next door neighbor, an actress whom, apropos of nothing germane to the film, tells the entire story of The Headless Horseman. And the girl becomes friends with the ghost of the original Cat Woman, who doesn’t really seem to do much, although at one point the girl is lured out into the chill night air. Audiences promised a horror movie would have every legitimate right to consummate riots at their local cinema.