Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday's Film Adaption: The Bad Seed by William March

Now reissued – William March's 1954 classic thriller that's as chilling, intelligent and timely as ever before. This paperback reissue includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested reading and more.

What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William march's classic thriller. After its initial publication in 1954, the book went on to become a million–copy bestseller, a wildly successful Broadway show, and a Warner Brothers film. The spine–tingling tale of little Rhoda Penmark had a tremendous impact on the thriller genre and generated a whole perdurable crop of creepy kids. Today, The Bad Seed remains a masterpiece of suspense that's as chilling, intelligent, and timely as ever before.

LATER THAT SUMMER, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep that she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June seventh, the day of the Fern Grammar School picnic, was the day of her last happiness, for never since then had she known contentment or felt peace.

The picnic was an annual, traditional affair held on the beach and among the oaks of Benedict, the old Fern summer place at Pelican Bay. It was here that the impeccable Fern sisters had been born and had lived through their languid, eventless summers. They had refused to sell the old place, and had kept it up faithfully as a gesture of love even when necessity made them turn their town house into a school for the children of their friends. The picnic was always held on the first Saturday of June since the eldest of the three sisters, Miss Octavia, was convinced, despite the occasions on which it had rained that particular day, and the picnic had to be held inside after all, that the first Saturday of June was invariably a fine one.

“When I was a little girl, as young as many of you are today,” she would say each season to her pupils, “we always planned a picnic at Benedict for the first Saturday of June. All our relatives and friends came—some of whom we’d not seen for months. It was a sort of reunion, really, with laughter and surprises and gentle, excited voices everywhere. Everyone had a happy, beautiful day. There was no dissension in those days; a quarrel was unknown in the society of the well-bred, a cross word never exchanged between ladies and gentlemen. My sisters and I remember those days with love and great longing.”

At this point Miss Burgess Fern, the middle sister, the practical one who handled the business affairs of the school, said, “It was so much easier in those days, with a houseful of servants and everybody helpful and anxious to please. Mother and some of the servants would drive down to Benedict a few days in advance of the picnic, sometimes as early as the first of June, when the season was officially open, although the established residents of the coast didn’t consider the season really in swing until the day of our picnic.”

“Benedict is such a beautiful spot,” said Miss Claudia Fern.

“Little Lost River bounds our property on the Gulf side, and flows into the bay there.” Miss Claudia taught art in the school, and automatically she added, “The landscape at that point reminds one so much of those charming river scenes by Bombois.” Then, feeling that some of her pupils might not know who Bombois was, she went on. “For the sake of some of the younger groups, Bombois is a modern French primitive. Oh, he is so cunning in his artlessness! So right in his composition, and in the handling of green! You’ll learn much about Bombois later on.”

It was from the Fern town house, the school itself, that the picnickers were to begin their long day of pleasure; and the parents of each pupil had been asked to have their particular child on the school lawn not later than eight o’clock, when the chartered busses were scheduled to leave. Thus it was that Mrs. Christine Penmark, who disliked being late or keeping others waiting, set her clock for six, which, she felt, would allow time for her ordinary tasks of the morning and for the remembrance of those last-minute, hurried things which are so easily overlooked.

She had impressed the hour on her mind, saying to herself as she fell asleep, “You will awake precisely at six o’clock, even if something happens to the alarm”; but the alarm went off promptly, and, yawning a little, she sat up in bed. It was, she saw instantly, to be a beautiful day—the day Miss Octavia had promised. She pushed back her blond, almost flaxen, hair and went at once to the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror for a long moment, her toothbrush held languidly in her hand, as though she were not quite decided what to do with it. Her eyes were gray, wide-set, and serene; her skin tanned and firm. She drew back her lips in that first tentative, trial smile of the day; and standing thus in front of her mirror, she listened absently to the sounds outside her window: an automobile starting in the distance, the twittering of sparrows in the live oaks that lined the quiet street, the sound of a child’s voice raised suddenly and then hushed. Then, coming awake quickly, in possession once more of her usual energy, she bathed and dressed and went to her kitchen to begin breakfast.

Later she went to her daughter’s room to waken her. The room was empty, and it was so tidy that it gave the impression of not having been used for a long time. The bed was neatly remade, the dressing-table immaculate, with each object in its accustomed place, turned at its usual angle. On a table near the window was one of the jigsaw puzzles that her daughter delighted in, a puzzle only half completed. Mrs. Penmark smiled to herself and went into the child’s bathroom. The bathroom was as orderly as the bedroom had been, with the bath towel spread out precisely to dry; and Christine, seeing these things, laughed softly, thinking: I never deserved such a capable child. When I was eight years old, I doubt if I could do anything. She went into the wide, elaborate hall with its elegant, old-fashioned parquetry floors of contrasting woods, and called gaily, “Rhoda! Rhoda!… Where are you, darling? Are you up and dressed so soon?”

The child answered in her slow, cautious voice, as though the speaking of words were a perilous thing to be debated. “Here I am,” she said. “Here, in the living-room.”

When speaking of her daughter, the adjectives that others most often used were “quaint,” or “modest,” or “old-fashioned”; and Mrs. Penmark, standing in the doorway. smiled in agreement and wondered from what source the child had inherited her repose, her neatness, her cool self-sufficiency. She said, coming into the room, “Were you really able to comb and plait your hair without my helping you?”

The child half turned, so that her mother could inspect her hair, which was straight, finespun, and of a dark, dull brown: her hair was plaited precisely in two narrow braids which were looped back into two thin hangman-nooses, and were secured, in turn, with two small bows of ribbon. Mrs. Penmark examined the bows, but seeing they were compact and firmly tied, she brushed her lips over the child’s brown bangs, and said, “Breakfast will be ready in a moment. I think you’d better eat a good breakfast today as there’s nothing more uncertain about a picnic than the arrival of lunch.”

Rhoda sat down at the table, her face fixed in an expression of solemn innocence; then she smiled at some secret thought of her own, and at once there was a shallow dimple in her left cheek. She lowered her chin and raised it thoughtfully; she smiled again, but very softly, an odd, hesitant smile that parted her lips this time and showed the small, natural gap between her front teeth.

“I adore that little gap between dear Rhoda’s teeth,” Mrs. Monica Breedlove, who lived on the floor above, had said only the day before. “You know, Rhoda’s such an outmoded little girl with her bangs and pigtails and that single dimple. She reminds me of the way children looked when my grandmother was young. Now there was a colored print in my grandmother’s house that I’ve always remembered; it was a little girl skating—oh, such an immaculate, self-possessed little girl with flowing hair, striped stockings, laced boots, and a fur toque that matched a little fur muff. She was smiling as she skated, and there was a darling gap between her teeth, too. The more I think of it, the more that child reminds me of Rhoda.”

A woman suspects that her perfect little girl is a ruthless killer.
Release Date: September 12, 1956
Release Time: 129 minutes

Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark
Henry Jones as Leroy Jessup
Eileen Heckart as Hortense Daigle
Evelyn Varden as Monica Breedlove
William Hopper as Col. Kenneth Penmark
Paul Fix as Richard Bravo
Jesse White as Emory Wages
Gage Clarke as Reginald 'Reggie' Tasker
Joan Croydon as Claudia Fern (as Joan Croyden)
Frank Cady as Henry Daigle

Academy Awards(Nominations):
Best Actress: Nancy Kelly
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Eileen Heckart
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Patty McCormack
Best Cinematography (Black-and-White): Hal Rosson

Author Bio:
William March (born William Edward Campbell) was an American author and a highly decorated US Marine. The author of six novels and four short-story collections, March was a critical success and heralded as "the unrecognized genius of our time", without attaining popular appeal until after his death. His novels intertwine his own personal torment with the conflicts spawned by unresolved class, family, sexual, and racial matters. March often presents characters who, through no fault of their own, are victims of chance, and writes that freedom can only be obtained by being true to one's nature and humanity.




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