Hysterical Woman of The Week: Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark, from The Bad Seed (1956)

“For little Rhoda, murder is child’s play.”


The Bad Seed film poster

Mervyn LeRoy’s bold psychological thriller adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s play.

Nancy Kelly confronts her crispy clean dress wearin’ skipping little psychopathic child Rhoda (Patty McCormack) in a scene where both mother and child devolve into the realm of ‘hysterical’ over the truth behind poor Claude Daigle’s brutal death, prompted by his winning the penmanship medal.

Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark

Little Rhoda Penmark

I have the prettiest mother
“I have the prettiest mother in the world”

A basket of evil hugs

I was going to use Eileen Heckert’s compelling performance as the besotted mournful Hortense Daigle, but I couldn’t resist this climactic scene instead…

Eilleen Heckert as Hortense Daigle The Bad Seed

What’ll you give me for a basket of kisses?, I’ll give you a basket of hugs -MonsterGirl

5 thoughts on “Hysterical Woman of The Week: Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark, from The Bad Seed (1956)

  1. Patty McCormack is brilliant as the creepy, evil child. I love how, at the end of the movie, they introduce the actors and have a little horseplay between Nancy Kelly and Patty M., just to show us that she really isn’t a demon seed in real life. (Because we, as the audience, might not realize she’s an actor!!)

    1. Patty so was good as Rhoda, that I can not imagine another child actress playing the part.Picture Margaret O’Brien… She just is such a gentle little soul, that I don’t think she could have manifested that level of mean. I think of Twilight Zone’s- Nightmare as a Child (29 Apr. 1960) with Terry Burnham as Markie might have been able to do it. She was remarkable. I also love Nancy Kelly. Have you seen her in Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode The Storm? I laughed at the thought of the audience thinking that Patty McCormack was in true life a demon seed. That’s probably true.. someone just might-lol

  2. The Bad Seed is such a compelling movie. It was directed by Mervyn Le Roy at Warners in such a retro style as to suggest a WB flick from ten or twenty years earlier, and yet its story and presentation are very 50s.

    I find the mix of the modern and the retro intriguing, making the movie neither fish nor fowl. It’s certainly not at all the kind of movie a Hitchcock or a Lang might have made of the material, yet Le Roy by no means blew it with The Bad Seed.

    There’s an air of unreality as to the setting (where is this all taking place?), the way people behave (over the top theatrical), and of course the evil little girl with the blonde pigtails, The result is a movie like a dream that plays in real time that turns into a nightmare, not because of special effects or weird make-up but due to the kind of person the little girl is, and how people respond to her,

    This was the right way to tell the story, made at Doris Day’s old studio shortly after her departure, it has, on the surface a similar wholesome atmosphere, tells a very non-Doris Day kind of tale. In other words, The Bad Seed works. It works like a Swiss watch. It’s not too big, as in large scale, but not too little (cramped, airless).

    Warners, Le Roy, Nancy Kelly and, especially, Patty McCormick, as little Rhoda, got it right, I don’t see how it could be improved upon.

    Keep up the good work, Joey

    John B.

    1. You’re quite right that LeRoy’s Bad Seed has it’s very own sensibility. That’s what makes it stand out so well. Perhaps it takes it’s essence from having been a stage play. And there’s nothing more chilling than the visage of innocence being the embodiment of pure evil. Patty McCormick did such a wonderful job with Rhoda,playing off Nancy Kelly’s quietly neurotic motherhood. You’re so right about special effects or make-up not being a factor in the film’s atmosphere. It’s the theme that one small little girl could be so inherently dangerous. Thanks as always for your valuable insight…joey

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