The Baby Blu-ray Review
Directed by Ted Post
Written by Abe Polsky
1973, Region A, 84 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on July 8th, 2014
David Mooney (as David Manzy) as Baby
Anjanette Comer as Ann Gentry
Ruth Roman as Mrs. Wadsworth
Marianna Hill as Germaine Wadsworth
Suzanne Zenor as Alba Wadsworth
Beatrice Manly Blau as Judith
Mrs. Wadsworth is a single mother of three, doing her best to provide for her family and all she asks in return is for a bit of privacy. Her adult daughters Germaine and Alba live at home and help out as best they can with Baby, their younger brother. He has some developmental issues and requires additional assistance which is provided by the state, a necessity that the Wadsworths reluctantly endure. Ann Gentry is the latest in a long line of social workers to care for Baby, and unlike previous attendants, she volunteered for the position. Ann tends to do what she feels is in the best interest of those in her charge and quickly finds herself at odds with the family. While not exactly a spoiler, the film's biggest hook is that Baby is actually an adult male, living in an oversized crib, usually wearing only a diaper and cooing like an infant. He does not stand, he does not speak.
The film takes a dark turn from simply being a bizarre feminist tale as the plot shifts to include elements of child abuse, forced submission, incest, sexual assault, kidnapping and murder. I won't give away anything specifically, but let's say that the second half of the picture is where things jump to a whole new level of strange. While the image of an adult living in a crib may be familiar to fans of John Waters (Pink Flamingos) or Jack Hill (Spider Baby), filmmakers Ted Post and Abe Polsky work the idea from every angle and place this character at the center of the action. Some of the strongest sequences include the idea of how Baby is disciplined and what happens when an outsider is brought in to babysit. The inevitable violence of the final act arrives with an unexpected twist that is immediately followed by a last-minute revelation that is both surprising and satisfying.
Audiences willing to accept the central premise of the film will have to further suspend disbelief, as some of Polsky's script is hard to swallow. While the main conceit is uncomfortable but possible, it is hard to believe the child welfare system would be so amenable for decades. Also unaffected by the family lifestyle are the countless party guests that arrive to celebrate Baby's birthday. Setting aside the nitpicking of the plot, more problematic for the film is that the pacing is a bit slower than contemporary audiences are accustomed to. Though it can be defended as deliberate, ultimately the movie is dull at times, while some of the more salacious elements are hurried past. The highlights include a “child”-molesting babysitter, an abusive sister armed with an electric cattle prod and another sister paying late night visits to the crib, sans panties. For all the fun exploitation elements on display, the low point involves a field trip to an actual school for children with special needs.
Ted Post (Magnum Force) directs the majority of the picture without much flourish, saving the shocks for the finale. Once the mayhem begins, it is all the more effective for the previous restraint. Everyone involved plays it straight and the actors approach the material with a seriousness that keeps things interesting. Ruth Roman (Strangers on a Train) owns every minute of her screen time as the domineering Mrs. Wadsworth, whom she plays as a put-upon protagonist dealing with the weakness of others who surround her. Mariana Hill (The Godfather Part II) and Suzanne Zenor (Lucky Lady) are entertaining as Germaine and Alba, and David Mooney is fearlessly committed in the title role. Anjanette Comer (Lepke) is a terrific foil as Ann Gentry, whose scenes with Roman are the strongest dynamic in the picture. She manages the transition from concerned professional to obsessed fanatic with surprising ease.
The Baby is not a bad film, but it pulls a few punches when it really needs to blow it out. Not everything works, but there are enough oddball ideas running through this flick to keep viewers interested. This is probably one of the more surprising films to receive a PG rating from the MPAA, and I would have loved to have been in a cinema opening night to watch audience reactions. Contemporary crowds will have to settle for the home theatre experience, but with the right circle of friends and beverages this is not a difficult movie to recommend.
Video and Audio:
An impressive video transfer that while not perfect, leaves the earlier DVD counterpart in the dust. Presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, The Baby receives an HD upgrade that improves the level of overall image clarity with stronger colors and greater detail that will likely serve as the final word for this title.
The only audio option is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that is more than sufficient. Dialogue is clear and free from distortion and music cues are never too intrusive.
A pair of audio interviews with recently deceased director Ted Post (20 minutes) and star David Mooney (15 minutes) offer insight on their positive memories of the project. Both are interesting and worth a listen.
The original trailer is also included, but I discourage watching this until after seeing the feature, as no surprise remains unspoiled in this lengthy promo.