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The Baby
(1973)

Director: Ted Post  
Cast:
Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, David Manzy


Although I consider myself to be a professional movie critic, at least when it comes to the world of unknown movies, that doesn't mean I seek out every unknown movie that is out there. Whether I choose to watch an unknown movie during my private time, there has to be something about the movie that interests me. And when I decide to watch an unknown movie to later review on my web site, I have chosen the movie because it not only interests me, I feel it would interest a sizable number of readers. In either case, quite often what gets me to watch a movie is that is appeals to my base desires -which I think applies to you too when it comes to selecting a movie. I'm not that far removed from you, dear reader. In fact, as I go through the aisles of thrift shops and discount stores looking for new material, I strut around and sing out loud (much to the consternation of other customers around me) what Henry Higgins declared in the movie My Fair Lady: "I'm an ordinary man / Who desires nothing more than an ordinary chance / To live exactly as he likes / And do precisely what he wants!" Like the average movie watcher, I want to see movies that deliver the goods. When I sit down to watch an action movie, I want to see bullets flying, people getting beat up, and things blowing up real good. When I sit down to watch a comedy, I want to see that absurd side of life in a way that makes me laugh out loud. When I sit down to watch a horror movie, I want to be creeped out, or at least get to see a lot of blood and gore slide down the camera lens. When I sit down to watch a science fiction movie, I want... well, uh... to see things "sci-fied" in a way that will hold my interest.

In other words, when I sit down to watch a movie, more often than not I have the simple demand of being entertained. So it probably comes as no surprise that upon looking at the "genre" index of this web site, you will see that most of the movies I have watched for this web site could be classified as simply exercises in basic entertainment. However, if you look closely at that genre index, you will also see that not all of the movies listed match that criteria. Take a look at the "drama" section, and you will see that I have watched and reviewed a number of dramas that are serious in nature. You might be wondering why, when I show a love for B-movies, I have spent a significant amount of time showing the serious side of film. Several reasons, actually. First, I realize that while B-movies can be great entertainment, a total diet of them is unhealthy. You get numbed after a while watching B-movies, so spending some time watching serious filmmaking adds variety and makes you exercise your brain. Another reason why I go look at serious movies occasionally is to challenge myself as a critic. It can be easy writing about the typical things found in a B-movie, so watching something that requires you to use a little more brain power forces me to observe and think much more deeply. It's good exercise that helps me to maintain and improve my writing skills for future reviews, B-movie or not. The third reason why I review the occasional serious movie is to attract as wide an audience as possible. If there's something for every kind of moviegoer, there's an increased chance of more moviegoers finding and subsequently returning to my web site.

It's not just with serious dramas that I challenge myself with. I also on occasion challenge myself with certain kinds of B-movies, movies that while they may be considered "B" in nature, are made in an unconventional manner to make them a much different moviegoing experience than The Babyusual. Some examples of this include Sonny Boy, Men Cry Bullets, Let My Puppets Come, Shanks, Dragon Against Vampire, and 99 And 44/100% Dead. While I didn't enjoy all of those movies, I was glad to a degree to have seen each one because writing about them challenged me. As you have probably guessed, the movie I'm about to talk about - The Baby - falls in that unconventional B-movie category. What you may not have guessed is just how unconventional and different this movie gets. Let me start with a plot description: The events of the movie center around the Wadsworth family, which consists of Mrs. Wadsworth (Roman, Strangers On A Train) and her two grown daughters Germaine (Marianna Hill, High Plains Drifter) and Alba (Susanne Zenor, The Way We Were). Oh, and there is also "Baby" (Manzy), who like his sisters is grown up... physically, that is. Mentally, he is still a baby, acting like an infant in any way you can think of. The city's social service agencies know about Baby, but in the past they've done little about it - that is, until the Wadsworth's new social worker Ann Gentry (Comer, Fire Sale) enters their lives. She is fascinated by this man-child, and makes repeated visits to the Wadsworth home, eventually concluding that Baby has the potential to mentally grow if given the proper environment and treatment. But the Wadsworth women refuse the offer for Baby to be treated, and the question eventually comes up as to if they really feel Baby is a hopeless case... or if they are stunting his growth for their own selfish interests.

As you can see from that brief plot description, the plot of The Baby is centered on a very weird situation. And there is more strangeness that follows, but I'm kind of getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack so I can continue an examination of the weirdest part of the movie, the character of Baby. When I said that this full grown man acts like a baby, I really meant it. Throughout the movie we are treated to sights such as his napping in his crib, sucking on a bottle of milk, playing on a swing, playing catch, crying, wearing a diaper and being changed, crawling around, clutching stuffed animals, making a mess of his face while feeding himself, and sucking his thumb - among other things. Based on what I've just reported, you might understandably think that the movie and the actor playing Baby would play up all this stuff so that it comes across as high camp, kind of how actor Stephen Furst's grown-up baby was treated in the horror movie The Unseen seven years later. But The Baby never really treats this stuff as laughable. While there may be a giggle or two coming from the audience at first sight of the character, it won't take long for viewers to be transfixed. Most of this is due to David Manzy's performance as the adult baby. He does not play the part for laughs or in a desperate attempt for attention. His baby character is calm for the most part, and when you look at his face you see the mind of someone who is curious, not quite comprehending the adult world he inhabits and that he wants to understand. As a result, I felt great sympathy for his character, and I had no desire to laugh at this strange sight of a grown man acting like an infant. Instead, I felt that the situation was tragic, and as I watched the movie I had a great desire to see at the end a happy fate for this unfortunate character.

If there is any problem with the way The Baby portrays the character of Baby, it is that in the post-production stage the movie dubbed in the coos and cries of real infants in several scenes with Baby. While I think I can understand why the filmmakers did this - it might have seemed silly to see a grown man make baby noises - as it is, this dubbing comes across as false and unconvincing. I would have rather they had spent time figuring what noises Baby could make that would have been accepted by the audience. Fortunately, the other performances in the movie don't suffer from editing interference, and they happen to be very good performances. Like with the character of Baby, the characters of the Wadsworth women could have easily been played as camp. But instead, they are played pretty straight. Because Ruth Roman doesn't gnash her teeth as she plays the matriarch, we don't know for a long time if her character really believes her son is a hopeless case or not. We keep watching her as she appears on screen, trying to get some kind of clue as to what is going on in her character's mind. She creates an intriguing character. The two actresses who play her daughters also refrain from overacting for the most part, and are individually good. However, I did feel that these actresses did not manage to differentiate each other that much. Though this may really be the screenplay fault by not giving each of them enough unique qualities, all the same in the end I wondered why the movie felt that two daughters were necessary when one would have done. As for Anjanette Comer's performance as the nosy social worker, she stands out by giving her character some subtle personality quirks in the first half of the movie that provide some subtle clues for what happens in the movie's surprise ending.

Naturally, I wouldn't dare to reveal what happens in the end, except to say it fits well with a movie that beforehand dares to be equally as strange. The Baby is indeed a bizarre movie, but bizarre in a way that keeps you transfixed to the screen in order to see just how the situation will be wrapped up. Probably the person involved with the movie that deserves the most credit for the movie managing to work in its own strange way is director Ted Post (who earlier directed Dr. Cook's Garden). Reports I've read state that he didn't really want to direct this movie, but despite his reluctance he does a professional job with the material given to him. He obviously gave a lot of thought to the best way to present the movie, in the end treating not just the actors completely straight, but just about all of the rest of the movie. This was probably the wisest move, since deliberate camp is extremely hard to pull off by even the best of directors. Despite what you might be thinking, the movie doesn't contain much in the way of gore or sexual material (it got a PG rating from the MPAA.) Probably Post felt such material might distract audiences from the building tone, which gets stranger and stranger as the minutes unfold. If there's one thing that director Post wasn't able to accomplish, it was to fix some of the inadequacies of the script. The movie is certainly never boring, but when thinking about it, it becomes apparent that a great deal of the screenplay is thin on story. After the characters are introduced and the situation set up in the movie's first few minutes, we have to wait about fifty or so minutes for the next major plot turn to occur. Until then, the movie more often than not seems to be spinning its wheels when it comes to plot. But as I said, there are other things to enjoy even when the plot's at a standstill, and the movie overall is well worth a look, especially if you're a fan of many other unconventional movies that came out of the 1970s.

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See also: Men Cry Bullets, 99 And 44/100% Dead, Sonny Boy

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