The Bad Seed (1956)
Today, a kid acts out or comes on all alienated and we figure, hey, it's just a question of straightening out the old brain chemicals with a dab of Ritalin, a touch of Paxil. But back in the heyday of psychological drama, when Freud was still a god to creative types and not merely an obsessive Viennese M.D., there had to be dark, compelling reasons for a little kid to act vile. Playwright Maxwell Anderson plumbed both Freud and Darwin to create The Bad Seed, which was just as much a shocker when Anderson and director Mervyn LeRoy brought it to the screen in 1956 as it had been on the New York stage. Patty McCormack, who had a brief bout with stardom because of this role, is Rhoda Penmark, a pre-teen kid who is Little Miss Perfect--unless she doesn't get her way. Mom Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) is forced to confront her own past because of Rhoda's nasty (and worse) behavior, leading her to discover she's harboring a hereditary sociopath. And yes, that's William "Paul Drake" Hopper (from TV's Perry Mason) as the beleaguered dad. Don't be fooled by the 1985 TV-movie version starring Blair Brown as the mom; it's OK, but not nearly as flat-out creepy as the black-and-white original.