Bill's Bizarre Bijou -- THE BABY
This week’s feature presentation:
THE BABY (1973)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
Don’t you miss the Seventies? Movies were made and distributed to theaters and drive-ins all over the country that were shocking, icky, monstrous, fun, and morally ambiguous, usually all in the same film. You couldn’t make a movie like these today, let alone find a way to get them shown to people in real cinemas. At least, not without being arrested. And we’re only talking about the PG rated ones! Such a film is 1973’s THE BABY, a psycho drama / black comedy / social issues film / horror / slasher / camp-fest. Let’s face it; the damn thing’s not going to fit into one labeled box. And that’s part of what makes me love it so much!
Anjanette Comer (THE LOVED ONE-1965, FIVE DESPERATE WOMEN-1971, DEAD OF NIGHT-1977) stars as Ann Gentry, a fresh-faced, enthusiastic welfare case worker who has begged to be put on the ‘Baby’ case. When she goes to the run-down house to investigate for the state, she finds a young man simply called Baby who has, in his twenties, gone far beyond being mentally challenged,. He can’t talk, can’t walk, can’t feed himself, and Ann believes he is being kept in this advanced stage of retardation by negative reinforcement doled out by his mother, Mrs. Wadsworth (the great Ruth Roman of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN-1951, THE WINDOW-1949, THE FAR COUNTRY-1954, and numerous television credits.) Mrs. Wadsworth is an odd duck, all right. Boozily flouncing around, she proudly informs Ann that the whole family lives on the welfare checks Baby earns for them. If you think the mother is a nut-job, wait till you meet the two adult daughters. Marianna Hill (Cleo Patrick on the 1966 BATMAN series, MESSIAH OF EVIL-1973, and BLOOD BEACH-1980) is a statuesque gal with crazy piled up hair that makes her look as though she’s on her way to a midnight meeting of the local coven. She also has Sapphic tendencies toward Ann and likes to sneak into Baby’s room to breast feed him at night. Ewww! The other daughter, Alba, is played by Suzanne Zenor, who had small roles in films as varied as PLAY IT AGAIN SAM-1972, THE WAY WE WERE-1973, and the Joan Rivers/Billy Crystal fiasco RABBIT TEST-1978. She always has an odd facial expression, as though she smells something rotten in the room, and she likes to “discipline” Baby with a cattle prod. Yes, there’s definitely something nasty going on in the Wadsworth domicile.
Ann is determined to get Baby out of the hands of these three clearly insane women. First, she attempts to prove that Baby has normal musculature and tries to get him to walk. She then attempts to get Mrs. Wadsworth to take Baby to a psychiatrist or a group home. “It’s not like an asylum,” she chirps. “It’s more like a spa.” Mrs. Wadsworth stands firm, finally tiring of Ann’s snooping around. So, she reports Ann to her boss, claiming some horrible action that gets Ann thrown off the case. By now, our chipper little case worker is completely obsessed with Baby, to a point where you begin to wonder who the craziest person in the room is. After all, Ann is living in a huge mansion with her manly mother-in-law and she claims that her husband has had a terrible accident. Where’s the husband? What happened to him? And why does the mother-in-law look and dress like a prison matron?
Mrs. Wadsworth invites Ann to Baby’s birthday party, so she can see for herself how the family interacts in a typical social environment. Well, if this is typical, I was brought up all wrong! Everyone is smoking doobies, everyone is disco dancing to wild wah-wah guitar music, everyone is collapsing onto sofas in groups of two or three and kissing, all while Baby crawls around their gyrating legs with cake icing on his face. At one point, Germaine is hit on by Dennis, a party guest, who then switches his fixations on Alba.
Dennis-“You have beautiful skin.”
Germaine-“Are you a dermatologist?”
Dennis-“No, just a skin freak.”
Dennis is played by the wonderfully sleazy character actor Michael Pataki, who graced such films as THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA-1971, THE BAT PEOPLE-1974, DRACULA’S DOG-1978, THE ONION FIELD-1979, and ROCKY IV-1985. He’s hilarious in this scene. All the time he’s flirting shameless, Mrs. Wadsworth and her girls drug Ann and drag her into another room, where they tie her up and plot how to kill her. Dennis remains oblivious.
Ann escapes, and she takes Baby with her, kidnapping the young man, taking pictures of him standing on his own, and sending the photos to the Wadsworths. The women are infuriated, and they arm up and head off to Ann’s mansion where the final showdown – and the final secrets of the plot – will all unravel. Will Baby end up with Ann or the Wadsworths? Why has Ann been so obsessed with this case? And what’s up with the weird masculine mother-in-law? The ending is shocking and horrifying in a way the rest of the movie isn’t. In the final scenes, when we discover exactly what is really going on, we are forced to question everything we’ve seen thus far, and the final shot is one haunting freeze frame.
Yes, THE BABY is a freaky movie that will simultaneously delight and disturb you. On one hand, the movie is campy as all get-out, filled with great one-liners you want to immediately repeat. But no one can say these lines like Ruth Roman. Rolling her eyes, gnashing her teeth, her cigarette always in the corner of her white-trash cussing mouth, and her hair always getting higher and higher, she is the poster child for Munchhausen Syndrome. Or Joan Crawford Acting School Syndrome. She gives it her all, growling, barking, screaming, and petting Baby in an entirely inappropriate manner. She really makes the movie horribly hilarious. But, on the disturbing side, we can’t forget Anjanette Comer, who creates a very disturbing character, one who has her own set of issues and a horrifying agenda, all masked by a beautiful face and a great set of gams. The battle over Baby between these two formidable women makes the movie fun in a way that may make you want to take a shower later. You won’t easily get the movie out of your head.
The director, Ted Post, made a name for himself in television, directing episodes of GUNSMOKE, COMBAT, RAWHIDE, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He also made great creepy TV movies like DO NOT FOLD, SPINDKLE, OR MUTIALTE (1971) and Dr. COOK’S GARDEN (1971). He also directed the very good BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES in 1970. THE BABY relies on his television roots. It looks flat and the color palette pretty much seems like sun-washed California, all quite serviceable if a bit pedestrian. It has the subdued look of an ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK. It’s the script by Abe Polsky (REBEL ROUSERS-1970) that brings this one to life. You have to wonder what kind of crazed mind came up with this sick plot.
Despite the obvious budgetary constrictions, THE BABY emerges as a taut thriller, a campy twisted comedy, a horror film, and a disturbing look at what people will do when they are desperate. God, I do miss the Seventies!
THE BABY gets three and a half giant hair-dos out of four.