Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Baby (1973)

Like most off-the-wall movies (Hausu, for one), this gem of modern cinema came to my attention from one of the end-of-year awards posted on Horror Movie a Day--with the ridiculous wealth of dross BC has waded through over the years, I respect his opinion when he calls a movie bananas! But the first thing that struck me about the movie was its PG rating in the face of its disturbing premise: a grown man held captive as a baby in a house with lascivious sisters and a domineering mother. How could this stay within the bounds of PG without being a slapstick comedy? Well, aside from the incredulity one feels when approaching a movie with a plot like this (not to mention the unintended cheesiness of most 70s movies), the movie actually takes itself fairly seriously and delivers an entertaining and somewhat plausible psychological aspect.

I'm a sucker for 70s and 80s movies, if only for the in-your-face credits, copyrights, and disclaimers (the characters and events depicted in this film are fictional) that crowd the screen during the mandatory opening montage (this is a touch that Ti West really charmed me with in The House of the Devil). In this case, we have a beautifully executed montage of baby photos where the baby himself gets older as the beholder sorts through the snaps, but the cribs and blankets and bottles--and, yes, the diapers--don't disappear. All this set to increasingly emphatic and triumphant symphonic music! Oh, what promises this film makes right from the start!

As soon as the writer's (Abe Polsky) and the director's (Ted Post) names appeared, I quickly jotted them down to look them up later. The only additional name I jotted was David Manzy, who plays "Baby." I had to take a look into these fellows who decided to put this movie together; and, more intriguingly, into the grown man who acted like a baby for the entire film. As suspected, none of these gentlemen went on to do anything much. Which, come to think of it, that's probably OK, because, if you're going to have a single blip on your life's work's radar, what better than that bonkers movie you did back in 1973? Sure, David Manzy--whose real first name is Manzy, and who decided to go by David Mooney for everything except for The Baby (I probably would've done likewise)--never did much other than some minor TV roles, but--dude--he played a man-baby back in the 70s.

Honestly, despite the horrendous dubbing of baby/toddler noises (or perhaps because of it?), Manzy's/Mooney's performance of Baby made me very uncomfortable and even a trifle embarrassed. There was something about watching this grown man drivel about that made me want to scream, "Get off the ground, put on some normal clothes, and cut it out now!" Then I began to notice that the cast was predominantly female: the social worker, who lives with her mother-in-law; Baby's mother; and the two sisters. Other than Baby, there are only a couple male characters and they're either given very little screen time or depicted as condescending fools (or babies!). Put these elements into the historical context of the movie--the 70s: the rise of women's liberation and feminism--and you've got a strong case that ole Abe Polsky, of whom I know nothing, wrote a script that reacted to the gender discussions and movements raging at the time. This blog isn't the venue for delving deeper into such criticism, but I guarantee that if you watch the movie with the feminist movement in mind, you will see many subtexts that would otherwise just be chalked up to the movie being a cheap thriller.

In the end, The Baby boasts an original and bizarre plot, follows the conventions of a psychological thriller, down to the twisted reversal at the end, and delivers 90 minutes of pure entertainment. I felt that everyone involved took the movie seriously enough to let themselves go and own their respective roles. Even where the role called for being over-the-top (the mother), it added to the charm of the film rather than diminishing its value (I'm thinking of lines like "She thinks of everything" when the mother and sisters realize that the social worker slashed the tires. I can't help but picture Abe actually penning those lines!). You can catch The Baby, streaming instantly in all of its glory, on Netflix now.

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