BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE BABY

By • Jan 25th, 2000 •

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So, you think you’re an expert on film history? Well, I have a two-word challenge for you: The Baby. Don’t be embarrassed if you failed the test. This bizarre little shocker did not make much of a splash when it crawled out into the world in 1973. Now, The Baby has been dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the shadows of b-movie limbo and into the 21st century’s bright shiny DVD universe. Those who caught this twisted flick on its first go-around can rest assured that the movie’s distinctive weirdness remains completely intact, even if the film is not.

The Wadsworth family is your average suburban clan. Blowsy, domineering Mom (Ruth Roman), two crazed and oversexed daughters, and her teenage son, Baby. Abandoned by each of the separate fathers of her children, Mom’s all-consuming hatred of men has made her keep Baby in a totally infantile state. He cannot walk or talk. He sleeps in a crib, drinks from a bottle, wears a diaper, and communicates solely by crying and gurgling incoherently. When social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is assigned to be Baby’s caseworker, she becomes fascinated by him. Her plans to liberate Baby from his debilitating situation bring her into open conflict with the Wadsworths, a clash that eventually leads to bloodshed as the film slides effortlessly into full-blown gothic horror mode. A shocking final twist throws a surprising new light on this strange tale.

In addition to being an enjoyably twisted little movie, The Baby is also an amazing Seventies time capsule. The hideous fashions, casual drug use, talk of astrology, and ideas are all deeply rooted in the moment of the film’s birth. Released during the early days of radical feminism, The Baby can be read as an hysterical male reaction to that movement. Like a demented remake of Johnny Guitar, the movie envisions a woman-dominated world in which all the men are spineless bureaucrats, sex-addicted drooling creeps, or babies. Meanwhile, the women are the insane mothers and castrating bitches of men’s nightmares. All of the movie’s vaguely incestuous male-female relationships have sado-masochistic overtones with S & M’s distinctive ambiguity about who is in charge, master or slave?

Remarkably, considering that this appears to have been a low-budget affair, the producers managed to assemble a fairly impressive ensemble of talent. Hitchcock fans will remember Ruth Roman as the Senator’s chilly daughter in Strangers on a Train. Here, she gives a delightfully unrestrained performance reminiscent of Joan Crawford in the above-mentioned Johnny Guitar. Director Ted Post’s other credits include the Dirty Harry flick Magnum Force, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and the underrated Vietnam movie Go Tell the Spartans. Although the movie does drag in the middle, Post skillfully maintains the film’s effecting moodiness, and delivers a truly slam-bang finale. An evocative music score by film and television veteran Gerald Fried (Paths of Glory, The Killing, Roots, Star Trek) adds immeasurably to the film’s unsettling and entertaining tone.

Image Entertainment’s new DVD presents the film in a full-screen transfer, but it never feels cropped. The transfer has been taken from a good condition positive print with some wear and scratches at each reel change. The disc’s only extras are a full compliment of chapter stops, a Spanish-language track, and the rather pointless option of watching the film with music and effects only. The disc comes in a snapper case with an appropriately lurid cover.

Sadly, Image is presenting The Baby in its edited, PG rated, eighty-five minute form. Much of the missing material evidently focused on the two daughters, featuring nudity and greater detail about their unusual sexual proclivities. Since this footage currently seems to be irretrievably lost, I guess we should just be happy to have this unique film back in circulation and available for strong-minded viewers. Even in this cut version, The Baby is fun, surprisingly gripping, and simply quite odd.

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