Saturday Nite Sublime: The Baby (1973)

THE BABY 1973

The Baby film poster

The poster for The Baby alone is disturbing in it’s ability to create an instant queasy feeling and queer flutter that hits your senses due to the inappropriate visual environment. A crib with a large pair of legs hanging over the edge. The hands holding an axe and a sexualized young female holding a teddy bear. So let’s just get these words out of the way for starters…

DISTURBING, repulsive, odd, subversive PERVERSE, TRANSGRESSIVE, unnatural, deviant provocative DEGENERATE immoral warped twisted wicked KINKY inflammatory abhorrent, repugnant offensive objectionable, vile, NASTY, sickening stomach turning, detestable, abominable, monstrous horrendous awful dreadful unsavory unpleasant, GROTESQUE ghastly horrid flagrant audacious unpalatable unwholesome baleful, improper immoral indecent DEPRAVED salacious iniquitous criminal nefarious REPREHENSIBLE scandalous disgraceful deplorable shameful morally corrupt, obscene unsettling disquieting dismaying alarming frightful sinister WEIRD menacing threatening freakish sensationalist, violating breach of decency straying from the norm, awkward unethical reactionary QUEASY inappropriate improper unorthodox taboo malapropos unseemly strange tawdry psycho-sexual lunatic madness sleazy bizarre peculiar, curious queer controversial offbeat outre abnormal outlandish shocking and sick…..?

Touching on so many taboos and cultural deviance is director Ted Post’s shocker The Baby 1973. starring the mighty Ruth Roman.

Ruth Roman
Look at that sensual face… what a beauty Ruth Roman
Strangers on a Train
Still of Ruth Roman and Robert Walker in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951)

Day of the Animals 1977, Look in Any Window 1961, Bitter Victory 1957, Strangers on a Train noir thrillers Down Three Dark Streets 1954, The Window 1949, various television performances The Naked City’s ‘The Human Trap’ Climax!, Dr Kildare, The Outer Limits, Burke’s Law, The Name of the Game, I Spy, Marcus Welby M.D, Mannix, Ironside, Gunsmoke, The Sixth Sense, Mod Squad and more!

And I’ve got to mention that Anjanette Comer is an excellent rival to play the ‘outsider’ antagonist against Ruth Roman in this battle of wills.

Anjanette Comer Five Desperate Women
Anjanette Comer stars in the ABC movie of the week’s Women -in -Peril feature film FIVE DESPERATE WOMEN 1971…

Directed by Ted Post who gave us Beneath the Planet of the Apes 1970, perhaps my favorite of the ‘ape’ films after the original. Saw each of the series during their theatrical release. Sadly Ted Post passed away just this past August 2013.

beneath the planet of the apes
James Franciscus in Ted Post’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes 1970
Ted Post and Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood & Ted Post collaborating on the set of Magnum Force
He directed television for years beginning in the 50s.  I love the TV movie also starring Beneath the Planet of the Apes blond hunk James Franciscus… who co-starred with the fabulous Lee Grant in Night Slaves (1970) and Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971 with a murderous Bing Crosby. And hey while I”m touting made for TV movies how bout Five Desperate Women 1971 where he most likely met Anjanette Comer. He’s also responsible for several episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), including “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” and “The Fear.”  Post also directed two episodes of the Boris Karloff horror anthology show that you know I truly love, Thriller (1961-1962), The Specialists & Papa Benjamin. And geez Columbo ’75-’76, A Matter of Honor and A Case of Immunity. Most people probably cite him for Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry vehicle Magnum Force 1973 or Good Guys Wear Black 1978. Ted Post knows how to put together a thriller!

The Baby’s screenplay was penned by Abe Polsky  (The Rebel Rousers 1970, The Gay Deceivers 1969)According to IMDb trivia, it took almost a year for Polsky to convince Post to direct the film because Post found the topic too ‘dark.’ While in retrospect the film must have ruffled many feathers, and the themes are truly disturbing, there isn’t anything in there that hasn’t been done in a contemporary film in some way, and ideas that force us to think are a good thing. Especially when it’s wearing 70s clothes, and showcasing groovy genre character actors.

The seventies was rife with psycho-sexual theatre that showcased really uncomfortable themes, but somehow managed to create an atmosphere of low-budget art. Consider this, haven’t you seen episodes of Law & Order SVU, Criminal Minds, & CSI where some of the most brutal acts of inhumanity and grotesque forms of torture and abuse are highlighted in graphic detail.  In the 70s it was more nuanced, bathed in muted lighting gels amidst experimental cinematic framing and absolutely moving musical scores.

So on one level refer to the litany of words above and assign your favorite one to The Baby, yet on another level, let’s look at this film and ‘react’ to it and recognize its power.

Baby's photo anthropological in the way it shows his captivity bars of crib
Baby’s photograph is lensed in an ‘anthropological’ way as it shows him in captivity-the bars of his crib symbolically like the bars of a prison

The effectively taut cinematography and the bold use of color is by Michael Margulies. (The Questor Tapes, tv movie Live Again, Die Again, Minnie & Moskowitz 1971 with Gena (love her!!!) Rowlands, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1974, My Bodyguard 1980 which I adore, The Haunted 1991 which is still one of THE best based on true ghost stories with Sally Kirkland.)Film editing by Dick Wormell who worked in television.

The wonderful music is by the prolific film and television composer who worked on Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. & Mission:Impossible to name a few – Gerald Fried (Killers Kiss ’55, The Killing ’56, Paths of Glory ’57, The Killing of Sister George (1968).

The film credits list costumes by Diana Jewett. I cannot find a trace of her on the internet, and IMDb only lists the funky wardrobe by Shirley Brewton (By Love Possessed 1961) and Frances Dennis (Below the Belt 1980 a slick female wrestler film) which is far out and just the way I like my 70s films to ramble around in. The outfits Baby wears works well in adding to the queasiness of seeing the full grown Manzy crawling around on all fours.

Set director Michael Devine -Nursery Paintings by Stanley Dyrector. Byrd Holland  (Rabid ’77, and the brilliant special effects make up for Lemora ’73) is responsible for the make-up especially Germaine’s wildly imposing big hair just fabulous…..

Lemora
Leslie Taplin as Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural directed by Richard Blackburn-make-up by Byrd Holland

The Cast-Anjanette Comer  plays Ann Gentry- Ruth Roman is Mrs Wadsworth, Marianna Hill (High Plains Drifter, Messiah of Evil ’73, The Godfather Part II), is the complexly guarded Germaine- Suzanne Zenor is the wild and aggressive bombshell Alba-

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Michael Pataki as the salacious Dennis is on the prowl and loves Anjanette Comer’s skin…

Michael Pataki is the licentious Dennis- who turns up at Baby’s birthday party and comes onto Ann “I’d like to pay you a sincere compliment. You’ve got beautiful skin.” Ann-“ Don’t tell me you’re a dermatologist?” Dennis- “ No, just a skin freak” Dennis also tells Ann that he sees a hunger in those big beautiful cat eyes. She rebuffs the creep, “there’s a big difference between hunger and starvation”

Beatrice Manley Blau is the stoic faced Judith, and David Manzy (Moony) is the man-boy ‘Baby’ who shaved his body for the role, and actually studied developmentally disabled children to get into character. Apparently, the revised copy of the film has inserted overdubbed baby noises, whereas Manzy had used his own child like vocalizations to bring the character’s frustrated development to life. I would like to have seen the original version of the film, for this reason and to see it in it’s original format, having learned that the colors are more drab in the newer version and parts of the frames have been cut off.

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The film opens with Ann (Anjanette Comer) looking through Baby’s case file and photographs of the beautiful boy. The camera lenses this act in somewhat anthropological way as to create the aura of ‘object’ research. From small boy, the photos progress as he has aged into a full grown male, who crawls on all fours like an infant, and sleeps in a large crib and plays outside in a playpen on the lawn out in front of the enormous Gothic ‘old dark’ house. It’s a startling sight to see a grown man diapered, drinking a bottle, making vocal sounds like an infant, when it’s not a fetishistic porn film, yet it was the 70s after all.

And yet perhaps we feel like we’re watching something unnatural and sleazy on the part of the Ted Post and screenwriter Polsky and the invented Wadsworth clan of twisted women. But if that’s your decision then turn away and don’t investigate this film as part of the 70s genre that contributed so many intriguing psycho-sexual narratives. This one is truly original.

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We get the feeling that Ann has a fixation on him for a particular reason, though we don’t get all the pieces of the puzzle yet. There is an atmosphere of preoccupation with her past, something tragic that has left her seemingly vulnerable to fits of grief and sorrow. She watches slides of she and her husband Roger in her mind while she’s driving away from the Wadsworth’s house and when she’s at home, quietly as if analyzing them for some relief.

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Ann-“He was so beautiful… we were so beautiful together.{…} Why did it have to happen…I can’t accept it, I won’t let it be this way!… your son is very faint to me…”

We are not given any details about the accident but we suspect her grief is over his untimely tragic death. We know she blames herself because she shares that sentiment with her mother in law Judith. We get the impression that he has died from some sort of accident that she feels responsible for. She lives with her mother in law Judith. Judith (Beatrice Manley Blau) is lensed in a menacing way, at times framed in austere angles as if something is askew with her as well.

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Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is a social worker for the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services. She’s been assigned to a very peculiar case concerning the Wadsworth family who receive assistance for caring for their fully grown adult male of twenty one years old only known as ‘Baby.’

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Ann-“I don’t mind telling you Mrs Wadsworth I made a special effort to get this assignment”
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Germaine floats into the room like a wraith- And I don’t care what Peter Shelley says, Ruth Roman’s Kaftan, not to mention her slick red leather boots, are fab
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If you’re a fan of the 70s horror/fantasy masterpiece -Richard Blackburn’s uniquely dark fairy tale Lemora- you can see that make up artist Byrd Holland has an eye for making women appear outre phantasmagorical in a sensual kind of way!

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From the first meeting, Ann hears from both Mrs. Wadsworth and Germaine, that her last husband was a “very weak man” Germaine chimes in “No character” Ann tells her she understands. Mrs. Wadsworth gives a very telling response… “Something good came out of it… we got used to being without a man.”

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once again Byrd Holland’s make up reminiscent of his work on Lemora
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The conflict begins between both Ann Gentry and the Mrs. Wadsworth and her two strange daughters
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Ruth Roman is superb as the husky voiced matriarch who is in total control over the family… at least til Ann shows up

Ruth Roman plays Baby’s mother, the indomitable and cynical matriarch Mrs. Wadsworth, who rules the house with a acerbic mood and dare ye, let no one enter this closed universe, for what ever dysfunction exists, this is her family and she’ll control it her way. She’ll allow no intrusions, no upheavals, no questions, no changes nothing must alter the way things are. In particular, no one must interfere with her ‘Baby.’

Ann asks to see Baby, hesitant Mrs Wadsworth tells her he’s taking a nap but brings her up to his nursery.

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Framed in by the two Wadsworth women who gaze at Baby all smiles… Ann is dour and mystified by what she sees… the camera creates the visual conflict beautifully.

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The looming question is, is he developmentally disabled or has his mother and two sisters of equally arrested social development themselves been torturing him into this submissive behavior out of hatred of men? Do they have some sick agenda for infantilizing “Baby”?

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Marianna Hill as Germaine the queen of the vacant stare is fascinated by Ann

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CapturFiles_38 You never know what you're missing until you try it
Germaine-“You never know what you’re missing until you try it”
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After Ann responds by telling Germaine that she’s a Scorpio and they’re cautious, Germaine tells her, “You know Scorpios really aren’t cautious just dangerous”

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The strangely beautiful Germaine, is oddly introspective with lesbian tendencies as she shows an interest in Ann’s private life and asks her to go on an outing in the mountains but is turned down.”You never know what you’re missing until you try it” ” Well, I”m a Scorpio.. we’re cautious” “You know Scorpios aren’t cautious… just dangerous.”

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She also slips off her night clothes and gets into the crib with her brother. The scene cuts away, so the rest you can imagine off screen. And the other sister Alba, is wildly promiscuous as she is belligerent and down right violent at times. All three women have murderous tendencies as it comes out later that another social worker who pried too much into the Wadsworth’s lives disappeared, though deemed by the police as no fowl play involved.

Baby cannot walk or talk and acts as if he is a toddler. Even if the potential were there, his mother and sisters discourage his evolving at every turn. Not allowing him to stand up or show more cognitive signs of awareness beyond an infant, at least not in front of strangers.

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Ann tries to get Baby to stand up… Mrs Wadsworth comes home and sees this.

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Ann encourages Baby to catch the ball and throw it back to her

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The sadistic Alba will make him pay for this…
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Does Baby know more than he is showing of himself?
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Ann consults the specialist (Tod Andrews) about Baby’s condition

When Ann comes to visit the family for the first time, she sees a spark of understanding in “Baby” and comes to consider him having been “buried alive” by his mother and sisters. – The camera also focuses close up on Ann to suggest that she has somehow found what she’s been searching for… She describes her impression to the doctor (Tod Andrews)“Can you think of anything more horrible than being buried alive. Well that’s what’s happened with this client… he’ s been imprisoned by a kind of sick love. He’s a normal full grown man, trapped with no way out.”

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“Well they’re a pretty strange family. Especially the mother. Each child is by a different man, and all of them abandoned her. the last one she was married to, Baby’s father now I think we he left she just never got over it so she’s taking revenge on the only male member of the family.”

The doctor asks her how she can account for his lack of walking and talking- She tells him “Negative reinforcement. Some kind of consistent punishment to discourage him from normal learning.” He tells her that’s a pretty serious charge and that she should turn it over to the Public Guardian’s office, that it might only be half of the story, missing the rest of the working strange pathology.

Ann responds-“Well they’re a pretty strange family. Especially the mother. Each child is by a different man, and all of them abandoned her. the last one she was married to, Baby’s father now I think we he left she just never got over it so she’s taking revenge on the only male member of the family.”

As he does live an imprisoned life, surrounded by a sick, abusive love that discourages any kind of development by reinforcing his behavior with torturous punishment such as cattle prod that Alba wields sadistically and being locked in a closet.

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“Baby doesn’t walk…. (zap sizzle)… and baby doesn’t talk… (zap sizzle) and Baby doesn’t stand… (zap sizzle)”

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“Hes your brother not an animal” Mama jabs Alba with the cattle prod.

Once again it’s Germaine who stops Alba from hurting Baby, that it’s not the way to punish him by using that thing. But Alba enjoys inflicting pain too much. Alba grinds her teeth “When he’s naughty its the best way to teach him obedience…You know mama doesn’t want him to stand up in front of strangers” But even Mama comes in and yells at Alba.

Ann begins a desperate campaign to save him while Mrs. Wadsworth refuses to have Baby assessed by any specials, or clinics.

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One of the more obvious theories as to the misandry on the part of Mrs Wadsworth (great creepy last name because it is so old fashioned) is that she had been abandoned by three separate men. Each child born from a different father. Ann believes that she is taking her sadistic revenge on them through the abuse and sublimation of her son Baby.

All three women are odd and angry and sad in some way. There is no formal or intimate kindness ordered within the structure of the family dynamic. Even as Baby is abused and imprisoned, the women are not socially adequate to integrate ‘normally.’They all seem to have been deprived of nurturing and empathy, something ‘women’ are supposed to possess innately right? wrong…

That’s the same mentally that assumes women are incapable of violence, that they only poison their ‘subjects’ or push the cars filled with their children into the river. As if both were not violent enough. The female psycho or cinematic monster has been a little more rare than the male specie, usually women are in peril, they are the ‘object’, they are the victim. Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond changed that a bit in Sunset Boulevard 1950 as her delusions drive her deeper into madness, her own psychological entrapment creates a murderous ‘monstrous feminine.’ Tallulah Bankhead as Mrs Trafoil torturing and imprisoning the beautiful Stephanie Powers plays like a Grimm’s Fairytale. She is horrifying and formidable in Die! Die! My Darling! and of course I’ve written here at The Last Drive In extensively about Robert Aldrich’s two sensational Grande Dame Guignol masterworks, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte, bringing the monstrous feminine or female monster to it’s crowning point. They set the tone for the 70s and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford lit the way for other fine actresses to delve into subversive transgressive cinema. I applaud these women for taking a risk and helping to create a fabulous sub-genre of films that might cause laughs in some, but for me … I admire their Chutzpah!

Mrs Trafoil Tallulah Die Die My Darling
Tallulah Bankhead as the deranged Mrs Trefoile tormenting poor Stephanie Powers in Die! Die! My Darling! 1965
Shelley Winters What's the Matter with Helen
Shelley Winters in Curtis Harrington’s psycho-thriller What’s the Matter With Helen?(1971)

In actuality, The Baby... is more about the four women that satellite around poor Baby than it is about the reality of his condition or ultimately his journey.

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Mother in Law Judith listens in on the extension while the Wadsworths invite Ann to Baby’s birthday party

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Alba- “When you decided to do something mama you really don’t screw around.”

There is a perceived deviance with each girl. Germaine a classic case of repressed desire, is sexually inappropriate with her brother and yet doesn’t seem to be capable of expressing any kind of natural emotion, either too severely pleased or inwardly riled the extremes of facial expressions run the gambit. Alba is too volatile and is almost dangerously lustful. Consider how she burns Michael Pataki who plays the salacious Dennis. While attempting to get in Alba’s pants, she makes him burn his hand first. Then frustrates him. She is a true sadist. Dennis tells her “I’ll do anything to get to paradise. But does it have to be in an ambulance?”

Living in a sprawling Gothic house, while they have no visible means of support creates an air of grifter as they take money from the county for “Baby” which is perhaps another reason to keep him incapable of caring for himself. Alba gives tennis lessons and once in a while Germaine does a tv commercial.

When Ann becomes too involved coming to the house several times a week, trying to get Baby to throw a ball, stand and walk, the Wadsworths start to feel threatened. Mrs. Wadsworth complains to her supervisor but Ann doesn’t back down and threatens to report them to the Public Guardian Officials, claiming that they would find her an unfit mother and take Baby out of the house.

Though the women have an agenda, Mrs Wadsworth calls and apologizes to Ann inviting her to Baby’s birthday party so she can see how happy their lives are and how they celebrate Baby’s good life. So Ann can see him in a ‘real family situation’

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The lighting and hairstyle for Germaine in this scene is OUTRAGEOUS

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They plan to spike her drink, which they do and then kill her. Which they try to do, but Baby finds his way down to the cellar, knocks over a jar of preserves and licks his fingers like a happy idiot while Ann resourcefully manages to untie herself with a the jagged teeth of a saw and Ann spirits Baby away in the car, before the women find out she’s escaped. When they try to pursue, they find that Ann has slashed their tires. Mrs Wadsworth validates Ann’s resilience by saying, “she thinks of everything.”

Ann takes Baby to the large house where she lives with her Mother-In Law Judith (Beatrice Manly Blau) She writes a letter to Mrs. Wadsworth taunting her that she is going to help Baby grow into the man he should have been. The women go looking for Ann, seeing her car parked in front of the large house, they plan on killing Ann and taking Baby back with them.

I won’t give away the ending- it’s worth watching to see if you can figure out the plot twists and hints along the way. If you’re like me and love 70s canon of suspenseful psycho thrillers, then try to put your repulsion meter on the shelf and look beyond the ‘inappropriately’ diapered man.

The Baby is a disturbing, campy transgressive object/conflict obscure horror film of the 70s. It could almost be an absurdist stage play. It also makes ambiguous the idea of who the protagonist is in the story. As all the women in the narrative have a certain personal agenda or strange pathology at work. Is perhaps Ann as equally cunning and threatening as the matriarch of this dysfunctional and dangerous female clan with Baby the only male as their pet. Mama Wadsworth asks Ann directly in regards to wanting to help him with his potential.. “Are you sure that’s all you want?”

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And any other men that come their way are either in some way reviled by them and leave or to be discarded or scorned for their maleness. Alba seeks to control them using her sexuality, and Germaine seems to have no use for men at all. Her slipping into the crib with Baby naked could suggest that she only feels safe with a male who cannot dominate her.

This delves into the monstrous feminine. The perversion of motherhood and the so called maternal instinct. Deviance and the question of nature vs nurture, the myth of ‘family’ and or an exercise in hatred toward men.

Ruth Roman A Knife for the Ladies

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Ruth Roman and John Savage in Curtis Harrington’s The Killing Kind 1973
Impulse with William Shatner & Ruth Roman
William Shatner & Ruth Roman in the psycho-sexual thriller Impulse 1974

I adore Ruth Roman, and think she is perfect for this role, as long as Nancy Kelly wasn’t available tee hee…. Ruth Roman graced the Grande Dame Guignol cinema four times. In A Knife For the Ladies 1974, The Baby 1973 The Killing Kind 1973 and Impulse 1974 where William Shatner plays one hell of a psychopath. All made around the same time in the 70s. Roman had done a lot of dramatic work on television in the 60s. One episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that left me speechless was ‘What Really Happened’ where Ruth Roman co-stars with Anne Francis. A particularly outstanding episode with Gladys Cooper to boot. Roman gives a stellar performance as a companion living as an aide in Francis’s house where she’s married to a wealthy stick in the mud, sorehead who’s doting mother (Cooper) lives with them. Roman poisons the man for being emotionally abusive to her friend and for threatening to throw her and her little son out of the house. There is an obvious undercurrent of lesbian romance between the two in the vein of The Children’s Hour. It’s stunning and poignant and I plan on doing a post on several of Hitchcock Hours that stand out for me like this one has.

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Ruth Roman & Ann Francis give two outstanding performances in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour “What Really Happened”

What’s interesting is the almost exclusively female landscape with Baby as the central orbit.

It’s also a film where it pits woman against woman for a change. The women in peril film with the protagonist being a bit shaded in areas, as we don’t quite know what Ann’s agenda is. There’s something a little obsessive, fanatical, peculiar and personalized about her fixation on Baby. As she is a social worker with a heavy case load, and only seems to be focusing all her attentions on this one case. Ann’s supervisor even voices his concern that she is “devoting herself exclusively to the case.”

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Ann tells her boss that Baby is a victim of “compromise, indifference and criminal neglect.”

Roman has her usual raspy husky voice that I always found sexy. She’s a sensual earthy woman, with a strong personae. There’s no facade, she’s gritty and sexy but not to be misunderstood as overbearing or Gorgonesque. She’s got a swagger and a depth, a dark sensual earnestness. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bacall and the mystique of Garbo, and the gutsy swank of Tallulah Bankhead. But Ruth Roman has always caught my eye because she’s got that kind of attractive urgency to her like Simone Signoret. They’re not super model skinny, but they’ve got a pout on their lips and an ocean of tidal waves in those deep eyes.

So I read other reviews who say she’s got smokers voice, or she’s dressed ‘mannishly’ like an old butch from the 50s. Citing her Kaftans (surprised he didn’t ridicule her red leather clogs) which was a look in the 70s-It’s funny how women’s wardrobe’s are the focal point and verdict as to an actresses sex appeal, while I don’t read commentary on what actors are wearing. I’ll have to go back and check to see if Pataki is wearing a cliché Nehru jacket at the party, I’ve seen him wear them in other films. Okay checked back. He’s wearing a brown suede fringe jacket, close enough!

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I find the assault on her attire, hair style and mannerisms offensive because she isn’t a sylph like actress who’s as thin as a rail and doesn’t flaunt the Haute Couture of other Hollywood starlets. Peter Shelley actually said that she looked like a drag queen, as if that’s a bad thing (men/ladies in lamé and heavily drawn eyeliner- I shout out for you as well, there’s no shame in being a drag queen). While I enjoy his book immensely because he’s managed to cull a great assortment of Grande Dame Guignol films, punishing the actresses who found these roles because there were no other scripts being foisted on them is no reason to be insulting. And while I recognize the work is a legitimate sub-genre of horror films, I do not like the implication that these actresses are hags, washed up, undesirable grotesque beyond the characters they’re portraying or generally a caricature of womanhood because they’re playing the part of a female predator.

I think to myself that’s your opinion, now shut up and get out of the way for those of us with taste. He says she gets laughs when she reacts so intensely to Ann, with her make-up false eyelashes and eyeliner. Shelley… it was the 70s… a lot of women painted their faces that way fella. I quote from his book- “Roman’s face and wild black tendrils of hair recalls a gorgon and Greek tragedy.”

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As for her performance the part itself is unsavory, there is no good way to play the mother of an abused man-baby in diapers. But calling Roman a gorgon is just plain cruel.

The story does devolve into Grande Guignol, with several killings of a gruesome nature. Gerald Fried’s music manifests an atmosphere of Gothic dread. I always love when there’s the use of music box sparkles and of course the carefully placed use of crying cello, 70s horn sections and gorgeous flutes always works for me as well. Fried’s 70s psychedelic minstrel score is nothing short of poignant brilliance which elevates this shocker to the level of a deeper, richer experience than just sensationalized psycho-drama.

Another interesting concept is the depersonalization or the ‘objectification’ of Baby by his mother who has chosen not to give him a name. He has been reduced to a thing by calling him what he has either purposefully been constructed to be or is perceived to be– a ‘Baby.’ Ann asks during their first meeting what her son’s name is, and Germaine who has the most interesting vacant stare, comes floating in like one of the Furies… saying “just Baby” as if to confirm his identity right away with this new social worker.

Germaine of the vacant stare
Germaine of the several vacant stares

What makes us feel ambivalent toward Mrs.Wadsworth is that while, she is horrid and murderous and calculating and ruthless, in an odd way, there is a sense that she does love her son on a level we cannot reach, or the film refuses to reveal intelligibly perhaps to keep the mystery and angst of the narrative going.

If we decide to have sympathy for Mrs Wadsworth, the film no longer upholds its utterly horrifying ‘reality.’ Within the bleak and unsavory environment every once in a while it’s suggested that she does in fact love her son and feels a protectiveness over him. But again this becomes a murky question because whenever Ann attempts to show that Baby is capable of development. Ann wants to take Baby to a day clinic, but Mrs Wadsworth is skeptical and says that Baby isn’t going anywhere without her, plus she’s worried about the heartache and disappointment if it doesn’t work.

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Mrs Wadsworth smirks and chides Ann and almost seems way too committed to keeping her son, helpless. She shows a demented glee when he fails to retrieve a ball that Ann has thrown which elicits “You call that progress, even a dog can do a trick like that.” This could also be a competitiveness with Ann not wanting another woman to control her son.

Still there is an ambiguity that surrounds Ruth Roman’s character, as presented at the birthday party when in a moment of seemingly intense self-revelation she acknowledges that Baby will never leave her, it’s a brief yet poignant glimpse into her inner machinations, thought quickly she becomes the unbreakable matriarch of this sick threesome. Also interesting when she claims he gets the best possible care, she does massage his legs each week in order to keep the muscles from atrophying. That seems like a very thoughtful measure to take, though it’s too little amidst all the other craziness.

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CapturFiles_68 He is of special interest to me, but then he's a pretty special baby
“He is of special interest to me, but then he’s a pretty special baby.”

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One of Mama’s men, tells her she’s one hell of a woman… she holds Baby’s face in her hands and gives her momentary maternal soliloquy.
“I’m a mother, a special kind of a mother. sacrifice for all those many years. Most people think it’s pretty sad having a child like Baby. And maybe it is… but it can be a blessing. It gives me something to live for.Now that’s something…everything… You know most children grow up and you know they go off on their own… well that’s life and it’s only natural… But I find real comfort and joy in know that my Baby will never have to face all that hurt and ugliness. Here his life is a perfect.”

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At times like this Baby also exhibits glimpses of genuine love for his mother. Though at times he displays fear, he truly loves the part of her that loves him even if it’s a distorted way of looking at motherhood and love. Within all her belligerence and bluster, she believes that only SHE can properly protect and love Baby the right way.

At this time we do get a glimpse that perhaps Baby does have potential but is afraid to show Ann for fear of retaliation by his violent sisters. Either beatings which Mrs Wadsworth feels is excessive when Alba gets her rocks off by it or being locked away in the closet the more acceptable punishment, he cannot risk showing Ann that he is capable. This might be a clue that he isn’t necessarily limited. But again, the revelations are murky in this film. Perhaps as Alba tells Ann, “Baby was born backwards… he’s been that way all his life. And that’s all there is to it”

Perhaps his mother keeps him in this state either through fear or deprivation so he can’t leave like his father and all the other men in her life have done.

I think the film works so well in it’s oddly enigmatic way due to Ruth Roman’s presence not to mention Anjanette Comer’s excellent performance as Ann. And perhaps for as simple as Baby appears to us in his limited access to an identity other than a helpless infant, the film’s narrative chooses to focus as much on the contrasting complexities of his two strange sisters.

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There are some provocative scenes in The Baby. Aside from a grown man forced or misdirected to wear baby clothes and diapers crawling around on the floor with his man sized legs, gurgling and chortling little goo goo phrases and crying like an infant, given no kind of language to communicate wasn’t unsettling enough, one night when the ladies get to go out for a bit of Chinese food they come home early so they won’t have to pay the baby sitter extra, they find her in Baby’s room, with him suckling at her nipple, breast feeding. Initially she had gone up there to quiet him down and change his diaper, but when he gets unruly she allows him some teddy bear time. While playing he accidentally bangs his head, crying she holds him to comfort his pain. He grabs for her breast, she tries to push him away at first then finds the sensation arousing. The Wadsworths find the babysitter and Baby in this indelicate posture, as Mrs W gets a belt and begins whipping and slapping the young girl brutally til her face is bloody.. “You want kicks; well I’ll give you kicks.” It’s Germaine who actually stops her mother from bashing the babysitter’s brains in. Afterwards, Mrs Wadsworth goes to baby who has witnessed the beating and is disturbed. A look of maternal care comes over her as she gazes at her son. She was being protective of the sitter taking advantage of Baby’s emotional & mental state. Again, a shred of light is shown on some ‘mothering’ instincts as she kisses and caresses Baby telling him not to cry in a soft voice.

CapturFiles_90 coming home from Chinese Food struttin into the darkness-like a female gang
coming home from Chinese Food strutting into the darkness-like a female gang

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Another scene that is flagrantly unnerving is Baby’s birthday party that is obviously festooned for hypersexual 70s adults, littered with alcohol, drugs and mod dancing. As a party for a young infant It borders on the grotesque but that’s the point. And it’s a way to lure Ann to the house so they can dispose of her nuisancy intrusion into their lives.

Throughout The Baby, we feel sympathy and angst for poor ‘Baby’ as we want him to escape this prison and break the silence, become an articulate person who can catch up with all the arrested development he’s suffered by negation and attrition. You’ll have to see the shock ending to truly feel the gist of the madness.

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The Taglines when released in March 1973 was “Horror is his formula” “Pray you don’t learn the secret of… The Baby” “Nothing in his nursery rhymes” “Three Four Close the Door!” and “There shall be mayhem wherever he goes”

Some reviews-listed in Peter Shelley’s Grande Dame Guignol Cinema

“Unpleasant low-budget shocker, with over the top performances and general grotesqueness” David Gritten from Halliwell’s Film Guide

“Roman delivers a more than effective barnstormer of a performance, showing a real malicious flintiness as the matriarch of the show… The film leaves you sitting there doing a double take at the spectacular tackiness that the filmmakers throw at you… a combination of lunatic dementia and the downright tawdry” –Richard Schleib, The Science Fiction Horror and Fantasy Movie Review

“…The kind of queasy thriller that could only have been born in the psychosexually sick ‘70s… an engaging sleaze flick that retains its power to disturb… Roman is in rare form… A truly unique entry into the horror canon. “ – Fred Beldin, AllMovies.com

“Horror at its most bizarre… one of the genre’s most perverse pictures… The ending is heralded as one of the most surprising in cinema history”- Christopher Null, Filmcritic.com

5 thoughts on “Saturday Nite Sublime: The Baby (1973)

  1. Joey, we’ve seen THE BABY, and it’s one truly disturbing little horror flick! I must agree with you that Ruth Roman is a facinating and queasy, yet strange heartbreaking. She actually looked pretty darn good! I won’t spoil the ending, but it was devilishly clever. I’ll only say, a la SUNSET BLVD, at least they got a pool! BRAVA to you for your tour-de-force blog post, my friend!

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    1. haha… I wouldn’t have thought that you watched this flick kiddoe. But I have to say that it’s not nearly as subversive as people would imagine. And yes because I adore Ruth Roman, I found her performance as Mrs W very nuances and oddly sympathetic. I giggled about the pool. But sshhh we’ll let everyone else figure out the sensational twist ending…. You have to catch the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Hour with Ann Frances and Ruth Roman called What Really Happened. It’s a tour-de force that you’ll just love… Your Pal Joey

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  2. Excellent review of this messed up but funky and fun to watch flick. I finally caught it on TCM last year at around 4am and man, that was some weird sleep I had afterwards. Ruth Roman was definitely still attractive in this film – I’d also read reviews that bash her around and find that sort of stuff silly.

    Anyway, that ending is a TOTAL corker. I kind of saw it coming as I put pieces together… but it still got me. I was laughing and cringing at the same time (which is good).

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