My current Top 5

My current Top 5

1/01/2010

Best Actress 1956: Nancy Kelly in "The Bad Seed"

Like Patty McCormack and Eileen Heckart, Nancy Kelly reprised her (Tony-award winning) stage-role in The Bad Seed in this film version and received an Oscar nomination for it.

In the past, I have given praise to actresses who reprised a stage role and adjusted their performances to the need of this different medium. The Bad Seed shows you that something like that was not given.

A lot of times the movie feels like a taped stage play with performances that are made for the last row in the second balcony but not the movie cameras. Especially the scenes with Eileen Heckart are obviously born on the stage.

Anyway, Nancy Kelly plays the part of Christine Penmark, the mother of little Rhoda who turns out to be…quite a girl…

Nancy Kelly establishes Christine as a loving mother and devoted wife but the way she says a shocked “Rhoda” whenever her daughter doesn’t behave the way she wants already shows that she has certain suspicions about her daughter. Later, we see that she asks a teacher of Rhoda’s school about Rhoda’s behavior. Nancy Kelly demonstrates a loving, but also worried mother who only wants the best for her child.

Christine is mostly an observing character. Things just happen to her, she barely takes initiative or becomes active, she mostly reacts. It's a character who wants a normal, quiet life.

Compared to the other characters in this movie, she could be called the straight character. She doesn’t get a juicy part like Patty or Eileen. Even though Christine is the central character who is onscreen almost every moment and who is our guide through the story, the character barely stays in ones mind and is forgotten much sooner than the supporting players. The Bad Seed never feels like Nancy Kelly’s movie.

Still, Miss Kelly gets some touching moments as a mother whose complete world falls apart. Her guilt in her scenes opposite Eileen Heckart is very touching.

Unfortunately, Miss Kelly depends a lot on theatrical stage-acting. Especially in the scenes with her father, when she finds out the truth about her ancestors are both bad and good. Good because of some very dramatic impressive moments, bad because of some other, overacted and overdone moments that show that Miss Kelly relies too heavily on her stage experience instead of acting for the camera.

During the course of the movie Miss Kelly’s acting becomes sort of winy and she starts to act like a zombie, but it all makes sense because Christine Penmark is caught in the most extreme situation imaginable and there is no rational reaction to it. Nancy Kelly shows all the horror and stress that suddenly entered her life on her face that always shows a mixture of unbelieving shock and fearful tension.

Christine is a mostly confused character. All the terrible news about her and her daughter that she learns mostly evoke wonderment in her. What can she do? Nancy Kelly’s shows us that confused, fearful face for almost the whole movie. We see how she slowly starts to get into a state of hysterics. Her quiet suspicion slowly turns into fear, into affirmation, into disbelief and into a complete breakdown.

While one can understand all these feelings, Miss Kelly unfortunately delivers them in a mixture of honest expression and fake overacting. Her performance never becomes real – like the story itself, it is constructed and over-the-top and never becomes as memorable and demanding as the work of the Supporting players.

An uneven performance with enough good moments to get

6 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

Yeah, I think she had some good moments as well, but it's the supporting players who steal the movie, right? lol

joe burns said...

Was she better then Bergman though? And Sage, do you have the link to Baby Doll?

Sage Slowdive said...

I'm pretty sure it's on Youtube.

Baby Clyde said...

One of the worst performances ever nominated!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow. You really know nothing about real acting. Are you joking? This IS Nancy Kelly's movie. And she nails every moment.

Anonymous said...

Nancy Kelly does a good job because she knows that her role is to be reactive. She allows Patty McCormick and Eileen Heckert to steal the picture. I admit that she is over the top toward the end and convulses into hysterics. The audience, at this point, becomes disinterested in her character because she has clearly gone over the edge. As Joan Crawford said in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", "It's still a good picture.