BR: Baby, The (1973)

December 13, 2014 | By

 

Baby1973_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Severin

Region: All

Released:  July 8, 2014

Genre:  Suspense / Horror

Synopsis: A social worker is charged with examining and monitoring the care of a grown man raised in a crib by his oppressive mother and sisters with the mental aptitude of an infant.

Special Features:  “Tales from the Crib” – Audio Interview with director Ted Post (19:57) / Audio Interview with star David Mooney (11:44) / Theatrical Trailer.

 


 

Review:

In a phone interview archived on Severin’s disc, director Ted Post describes the reactions of colleagues who were utterly baffled by his choice to make an indie film about a social worker who chooses her latest client – a man whose mental capacity never developed beyond a baby, and continues to live in a crib, coddled by his overbearing mother and two provocative sisters.

Abe Polsky’s script is kind of nuts, but as a tale of repressed rage and sexual tension, it’s a strange and compelling story that works largely because it’s so well directed by Post, and performed by a solid character actors.

Anjanette Comer (The AppaloosaThe Underneath) plays social worker Ann Gentry, a woman with a secret life who gets too close to her client (only named Baby, and nothing else), and ultimately seeks to liberate him from his oppressive family, headed by Mrs. Wadsworth (Strangers on a Train’s Ruth Roman, a friend of Post, sporting a giant balloon of hair).

Why would a man be raised to remain an infant? If Polsky’s script is read carefully, from the rage of being rejected by another husband, and with much loathing in her heart, Wadsworth makes sure the one male in her life can never leave because he’s mentally and physically stunted, and wholly dependent on her care. As for the two adult sisters, Germaine (poodle-haired Marianna Hill) uses Baby for late night lovemaking (or perhaps breastfeeding, as happens one night with a startled babysitter), and Alba (Susanne Zenor) keeps her brother in line with a cattle prod.

Ann’s efforts to expose and free Baby, seems to make sense, but she too harbors a secret that’s warped and bizarre, and is kept muddy until the finale where blood is spilled.

Part puzzle film and pitch black comedy, The Baby makes great use of real locations, and Comer gives an energized performance of a woman fascinated by her unusual client, and developing a powerful mothering urge as her own life is in shambles. David Mooney (aka David Manzy) is wholly convincing as Baby, with his voice apparently dubbed by (mixed with?) real infant sounds. It’s a great physical performance that could easily transform a sympathetic oddity into a joke, but there are mechanisms in Mooney’s performance, the script’s plotting, and Post’s direction that ensure Baby is played as a developmentally stunted man in need of real help – making Ann a character audiences will support, no matter what she does.

There’s only two flaws in the film (or three, if you include the ugliest hairdos committed to film, after Gone in 60 Seconds): a sudden peacemaking deal between Ann and Wadsworth; and Ann’s finale act, in its particular location and illumination, could never happen without alerting others. Low key with just the right dramatic spikes, The Baby lives up to its reputation as a cult film, and although it didn’t boost Post’s profile, sending him mostly to TV instead of bigger budget productions like Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), it’s a skillfully made film with a decisive tone.

Gerald Fried’s somewhat elliptical lullaby theme is effective in giving a voice to the essentially wordless Baby, and Michael Margulies’ cinematography has a docu-drama quality that adds to the film’s tone. There’s one jarring music edit in the finale, suggesting a longer sequence in an earlier version, but the finale doesn’t have a disjointed flow, and Fried’s music (shame it couldn’t be isolated on a separate track) acts as a grounding agent when Post gives us the big reveal.

Severin’s crisp Blu-ray ports over the same extras from its prior DVD edition, including the lengthy audio interview with Post on the making of the film, and actor Mooney, who eventually moved to teaching. (The BR menu erroneously reverses the order of whichever interview is selected.)

Like Post, writer and occasional producer Polsky came from TV, but his output is much smaller, with film credits isolated to The Gay Deceivers (1969), The Rebel Rousers (1970), Brute Corps / Combat Corps (1971), and The Baby (1973).

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of The Baby is that while a horror film, it’s mostly emotional, very character-driven, and isn’t about a mutant child wreaking havoc on a community, like Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (1974), nor a twisted effort in sadism and black comedy like  Sonny Boy (1989). It’s closest emotional cousin may be Grace (2009), Paul Solet’s excellent psychological shocker in which a mother refuses to let go of her stillborn infant, leading to murderous acts of self-preservation.

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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