The Baby (Ted Post, 1973)
Veteran TV director Ted Post (Hang ’em High, Good Guys Wear Black) and screenwriter Abe Polsky (The Rebel Rousers) turned in this 1973 gem, one of the few movies I have ever seen that I can truly say defies description. IMDB lists it as a horror/thriller; it is that, but only for about ten minutes of its length. Pieces of it are melodrama, absurdist comedy, even a minor dose of courtroom thriller. But the one overarching genre that defines the whole film, were such a genre to exist, would simply be “weird”. This is an unforgettable, if low-budget and amateurish, movie.
Plot: the Wadsworth family—mom (Strangers on a Train‘s Ruth Roman), sisters Germaine and Alba (High Plains Drifter‘s Marianna Hill and The Way We Were‘s Susanne Zenor, respectively), and Baby (Chaplin‘s David Mooney), are recipients of social assistance because Baby is, in some way, mentally defective. Their old social worker leaves the case, for reasons we are never given, and Ann Gentry (The Loved One‘s Anjanette Comer) takes over. She immediately takes a liking to Baby—who’s actually twenty-one years old, though does not walk or talk, sleeps in an adult-sized crib, and wears diapers—and quickly becomes convinced that, far from being a medical problem, Baby is being kept in this state through the family’s negative reinforcement. She beings to wage a war against them to get custody of Baby, but soon finds out the Wadsworths are very accustomed to playing dirty when it comes to fighting the state…
The movie, which has faded into obscurity over the decades, is mostly remembered now for its twist ending; in fact, when we got to it (while it’s perfectly set up, I gotta say I never saw it coming despite the rest of this sentence), I got the feeling I’d seen the movie before, despite being almost positive I haven’t; either it’s been copied somewhere or I’ve read about it in the past. I’d read online about the movie’s big twist ending while watching it, and so I knew something was coming, but… wow. That was perfect. One of the best Big Twist endings of all time, right up there with The Usual Suspects and the original Ocean’s Eleven.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the film doesn’t match it. There are a number of times during the film, most notably during Baby’s birthday party, where Polsky seemed content to go for shock-for-shock’s-sake. (Consider the character of Dennis, who spends the entire party sniffing after Alba like a hound in heat—even after she, oh, requests he hold his finger over an open flame for a full minute in exchange for sex.) The acting, in general is wooden, this despite Post having landed some of Hollywood’s solid B-list talent. Having recently seen Good Guys Wear Black, though, I feel quite comfortable putting the crappy acting down to Post’s directorial (lack of) skill. The outdoor lighting is washy, though that could easily be a problem with the DVD transfer, and the indoor lighting is often murky. The pacing of the first seventy minutes of this eighty-nine minute movie are confusing at best. In other words, there are a whole lotta problems with this movie…and I’m going to tell you to ignore every last one of them and watch it, because that ending is such a killer. Trust me on this. ***
The long-form trailer.