Arrow Video Blu-ray Release: The Baby (1973)
Watching The Baby (1973) has left me in a rare state: I don't know what to say. If I thought there was a real condition in which an adult could be locked into the developmental stage of an infant, I would be offended. (Mentally, I suppose it's possible, but I've never heard of a 21-year old man that crawls, goo-goos and ga-gas, and sleeps in a crib.) If I thought this was supposed to be offensive, I would be disappointed. (Baby drinks from a bottle and goes after the breast only once, which tiptoes around a truly upsetting idea rather than embraces it.) If I thought this was supposed to be a dark comedy, I would be appalled. (I find the "Office Boss Baby" on Saturday Night Live to be hilarious; however, the treatment of Baby as "retarded" is not amusing.)
I could overlook a lot of this if the film were scary and suspenseful, but it's not. There have been plenty of distasteful movie monsters and bad guys. The difference here is that Baby (David Mooney) is not the antagonist; he's the victim. He's been raised by a family of monsters: his mother, Mrs. Wadsworth (the wonderful Ruth Roman) and his two sisters, Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Alba (Susanne Zenor). The idea that they would purposely deter Baby's development is simply bizarre. It may sound innocent compared to the Sawyers (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or the Davies (It's Alive), but those families were merely protecting their children instead of torturing them.
The best thing going for The Baby is that it has a twist ending. Writer Abe Polsky and director Ted Post don't telegraph what's coming, so it's a surprise. However, the specifics of this twist are just as hard to believe as is the rest of the story. It's preceded by what could have/should have been a tense game of cat and mouse in the home of Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer), the social worker that removes Baby from the Wadsworth home because she's convinced he's capable of being a functional adult. In a movie during which you watch mostly dumbfounded, a little fast-paced action might have been a welcome jolt of energy. Instead, the scene is long and slow, actually bringing you down, if that's even possible.
Since I can't find a lot to say (after writing three paragraphs of comments), I watched the 12-minute bonus feature on the new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video called, Down Will Come Baby to generate some additional thoughts. (I couldn't muster the strength so soon to watch it again with the audio commentary.) Rebekah McKendry actually echoes some of my conclusions about the film; however, she thinks the movie does a good job setting up the tension and that The Baby is "a tight little thriller." She also references "biting social commentary," but doesn't do a very good job of explaining what it is; I still don't recognize any of it in the movie.
The Baby was first released on Blu-ray by Severin only a couple years ago. Therefore, the Arrow Video package includes a couple repurposed bonus materials. When the menu appeared, though, I noticed two new bonus materials not included on the sell sheet for the release. There are interviews with Marianna Hill, who played Germaine, and Stanley Dyrector, who created the nursery paintings in Baby's room. Both were filmed in July of 2018. 45 years after the movie's release, both of these interview subjects have become interesting characters; it's not hard to imagine they felt perfectly comfortable making the movie.
Overall, I won't say I didn't like The Baby. I'm just puzzled by it. Did it intend to be offensive? Was it supposed to be funny? Should I have been shocked? I know it's the responsibility of the viewers to decide what it means to them, but I didn't get enough of one element or the other to make that decision. I guess what I wanted from it was to be all of the above. Go all out and really assault our ideas about what's "normal." I know it's a cult film and I know some people who are fans, but they must be getting something subversive out of it that I'm not. Then again, maybe it's me and I can't admit that I've finally watched so many shocking movies that one about an adult baby just doesn't do if for me anymore.
1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions of the feature
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
A Family Affair - a new interview with actor Marianna Hill
Nursery Crimes - a new interview with Stanley Dyrector
Down Will Come Baby - a new retrospective with film professor Rebekah McKendry
Tales from the Crib - archival audio Interview with director Ted Post
Baby Talk - archival audio Interview with Star David Mooney
Brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger