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Over the past few decades, there have been so many killer children on screen that it may be hard to believe such a character was ever initially controversial. In 1956, however, Warner Bros. could only release Maxwell Anderson’s Broadway play about eight-year-old serial killer, Rhoda Penmark, by slapping an “Adults Only” tag on it and altering the original ending. Although the studio reportedly wanted Rosalind Russell to play Rhoda’s mother and Bette Davis campaigned for the role, producer-director Mervyn LeRoy chose to go with most of the original Broadway cast, including Nancy Kelly as the mother, Patty McCormack as Rhoda and Eileen Heckart as the mother of one of Rhoda’s victims. All three would earn Oscar nominations. LeRoy also decided to stick closely to the original play and worked with cinematographer Harold Rosson to keep the camera moving around the primary set of an apartment. Released in the midst of 1950s epics and melodramas, this film was one of Warner Bros. top box-office hits of the year. Its powerful story and intense performances (often labeled as campy) have also made it a cult favorite inspiring two TV remakes, the off-Broadway musical Ruthless, the Macaulay Culkin film The Good Son (1993) and the drag parody Varla Jean Merman is the Bad Seedling. (d. Mervyn LeRoy, 129m, Digital)

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