Tuesday Editor’s Pick: The Baby (1973)

by on July 10, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Tues July 12 at 7:00 and Fri July 15 at 1:00am at reRun Gastropub Theater [Program & Tix]

 

Angela Ashman on reRun’s series, for The Village Voice:

We know there are few things that shock you, dear Voice readers. But we think we may have found a film series worthy of your deepest admiration. Cheerfully Perverse: Five Years of Severin Films is a tribute to the fine restoration work going on at the indie company Severin Films, where they focus on reviving only the most controversial, bizarre films (for instance, have you ever heard of The Sinful Dwarf ? Its ads exclaimed: “A young bride left alone to the lewd passions of an evil dwarf!”). On Friday (July 8), the series kicks off with a two-for-one double feature of Roman Polanski’s 1972 film What? (which features an appearance by Marcello Mastroianni as a syphilitic pimp and is currently unavailable in the U.S.) and Richard Rush’s 1980 movie The Stunt Man (starring Peter O’Toole as a “megalomaniacal madman commanding a film-set circus”). On Tuesday (July 12) at 7, check out Ted Post’s disturbing 1973 film The Baby, about a mentally disabled man who is still treated as an infant by his mother (it’s a two-for-one double feature with The Sinful Dwarf at 10).

 

And Christopher Null on The Baby for AMC:

Horror at its most bizarre, and PG rated, to boot! The Baby stands as one of the genre’s most perverse pictures, a simple tale about a social worker who becomes obsessed with her new case: a 21-year-old boy being raised as a baby, complete with crib and diapers…The ending is widely heralded as one of the most surprising in cinema history…and while I was sure I had it figured out, even I — cynical film critic that I am — nearly fell off the couch.

 

 

Scott Tobias for The A.V. Club:

Like a sleazy drive-in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?—albeit PG-rated, in spite of “adult situations” so adult that today’s ratings board would surely stamp it an R—The Baby sustains a high dramatic pitch while following the residents of an old two-story that looks like it hasn’t been updated in decades. And much like Joan Crawford in Baby Jane, the matriarch taps into the camp quality of a Hollywood starlet gone to seed—in this case, Ruth Roman, who starred two decades earlier in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. Anjanette Comer co-stars as a go-getting L.A. County social worker assigned to look after “Baby,” a mentally disabled man (David Manzy) whose infancy Comer suspects Roman and her nasty sexpot daughters (Marianna Hill and Suzanne Zenor) have artificially prolonged. As Comer persists in lobbying for Baby’s development, his keepers grow far less hospitable.

 

Though The Baby’s shock value sometimes seems overly calculated, writer Abe Polsky and director Ted Post (Magnum Force, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes) commit to their demented vision as fervently as they can, right up to a twist ending that attaches an exclamation point to a mass of sick psychology. Beyond the startling scenes of Baby getting disciplined with a cattle prod or having an adult encounter with the sitter, the film does well to make such an outlandish situation dramatically credible, at least on its own terms. By the end, the sum of all its twisted developments begs for a therapist, not a critic, to sort out.

 

Brett G. for Oh, The Horror!:

Babies are pretty terrifying, perhaps even more so when they’re really a grown man with the mental age of a newborn. At least, that’s what the deranged minds behind The Baby must have been thinking when they concocted their bait-and-switch poster art. Featuring an oversized infant brandishing a hatchet in a crib, the poster would lead you to believe this to be a precursor to the “killer baby” genre that’s filled with mutants and other assorted basket cases. However, it’s really about something a little more familiar to horror fans: psychotic, over-bearing mommies.

 

[…]One of the most shocking things about it is that it managed to nab mainstream director Ted Post to helm it. At this point, he had directed some episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” Hang ‘Em High, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes; he would also direct Magnum Force, the first sequel to Dirty Harry in 1973. As such, The Baby is a competent production with fairly strong performances. Comer especially shows a lot of range, as she starts as a wide-eyed, good-intentioned social worker before she also gets rounded up in all of the hysteria. David Mooney’s performance as Baby is quite creepy–he actually resembles a vacant and confused infant, and the dubbed crying makes him even more pitiful. Once a fairly well-known actress in the 50s, Roman still feels right at home on the exploitation circuit playing a wickedly over-the-top matriarch.

 

 

Eric Cotenas for DVD Beaver:

Inexplicably rated PG, The Baby is quite a unique seventies film. The melodramatic plot seems destined for a TV movie of the week, but director Ted Post and writer Abe Polsky take it into disturbing territory. Ann’s connection to Baby is ambiguous but the viewer is suitably intrigued throughout, while Germaine and Alba use Baby to work out their respectively sexual and sadistic frustrations. Serious performances keep the film from edging over into camp despite a “birthday party of the damned” lit in gels like Visconti’s The Damned, but the film edges into slasher territory late in the film and then finishes off with a truly loopy ending. Former starlet [Ruth] Roman is not so much dignified as ballsy in her performance (compared to the exploitation work of Hollywood actors of an earlier era). Hill, so effectively numb as the protagonist of Messiah of Evil, is wonderfully demented here (in the birthday party scene, she looks like a refugee from a Fellini film).

Zach Clark for Green Cine:

You can’t un-see Ted Post’s 1973 feature The Baby. What begins as a quasi soap opera for infantilists uses seemingly non-tongue-in-cheek camp and slasher tropes to mutate into an anti-morality play about families and normalcy. What’s right is wrong. What’s wrong is wrong, too. There are no answers, only questions. Hope is non-existent. You could call it misanthropic, or you could call it honest. Baby doesn’t walk and Baby doesn’t talk and there isn’t really anything anyone can do about it.  Duality abounds. Everyone lies, deceives. Things are presented matter-of-factly most of the time, but every now and then, outright strangeness calls everything we’ve watched into question.

 

There is a strange, murky line between what is normal and abnormal in The Baby. The Wadsworth family is extreme, violent, camp. They are unapologetic and unashamed of their eccentricities. Their wardrobes match their personalities. They dress Baby in a caricatured fashion, Little Lord Fauntleroy chic. Performance is everything to them, and through which they show the world who they are.

 

When the end credits roll, it’s unclear how to feel. Do we sympathize with the openly fucked-up Wadsworths or for the closeted deviant Ann? Whose crimes are worse? How far can too far go? And what was the point? The lack of a clear moral stance may be equal parts oversight and sign-of-the-Seventies, but intentionality be damned, The Baby‘s ambiguities are more subversive than its salacious subject matter.

 

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