Posted: 08/04/2011

 

The Baby

(1972)

by Jef Burnham



Now available on DVD from Severin Films and MPI Home Video.


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Everyone loves Baby Wadsworth. He’s sweet, he’s helpless, he dribbles his food. But the love borne by Mother Wadworth (Ruth Roman, Strangers on a Train) and her two grown daughters for Baby is a decidedly sick love. He’s a full-grown man forced to live as a toddler, providing these women with an object of affection, an outlet for their frustration, and a release for their unspeakable sexual desires. It’s a social worker’s worst nightmare as the film opens with Ann, the family’s new case worker, arriving at the Wadsworth home, optimistic and totally unaware of the twisted games that persist within.

As one of the weirdest flicks to come out of the 1970’s, The Baby is virtually guaranteed to affect its each and every viewer, being equal parts fascinating and disgusting. The tool primarily employed by screenwriter Abe Polsky (The Gay Deceivers) in this quest to shock and appall the audience is the perversion of conventional social and sexual roles. A grown man becomes a baby; women become the dominating force in their own self-perpetuating matriarchal pocket society; and a peaceable social worker is forced to become a veritable militant. And fascinatingly, the conflict between Ann and the Wadsworths comes not solely out of Ann’s obligations as a social worker to redress the Wadsworths’ abuse of Baby, but out of the four women’s uniquely personal agendas in the domination/control of him. Each of their motivations are linked to their own unique, psychological needs and perversions.

Although this makes for an extremely interesting exploration (thin though it may be) of four very different women, the constant role reversals throughout have the unfortunate side effect of rendering the climax of the film completely devoid of suspense. Typical of the thriller form, the film’s climax finds characters cautiously creeping through a dark, seemingly abandoned house, where the threat of persons emerging from shadows with murderous intent is ever-present. However, rather than Ann, our protagonist, creeping through the Wadsworth home, we find the Wadsworths traversing the darkened corridors of Ann’s. The problem here is that, while it is certainly unusual to place the villains in this situation, these villains aren’t particularly threatening or effective prior to this sequence, and, more importantly, we are not invested in their well-being. Thus, the suspense is suspended, leaving the sequence mildly intellectually stimulating at best.

Special features on The Baby include an audio-only interview with director Ted Post (Magnum Force), an audio-only interview with star David Mooney, and the theatrical trailer.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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