Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Baby

You know how I like my movies - sick and twisted and from the seventies. Even better if it stars Ruth Roman as a sadistic-as-fuck cross between Joan Crawford and Ernest Borgnine. Even better still if it's got a full grown man who has been conditioned to think he's still a baby. And eeeeeven better still, if there's some icky incestuous sexual situations. 1973's The Baby directed by Ted Post is an answer to all that I deem grand in a 'sploitation film. But just what kind of 'sploitation is The Baby? Babysploitation? Fullgrownmanwhothinkshe'sababysploitation? Well, let's decide together, shall we?

Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer), a social worker with some severely skinny eyebrows and a cold sore on her lip, has taken a special interest in the Wadsworth baby. And what a special interest it is! The Wadsworth baby isn't a baby, but a full-grown man in his late 20's who behaves like an infant. He lives with his mother, Mama Wadsworth, the aforementioned battle axe, who is the kind of woman you would classify as a 'broad.' 

She chain smokes, swills whiskey, wears red go-go boots and lots of denim - they just don't make 'em like her any more. See the stunning visage above. (I swear it - but I thought Ruth Roman was also in William Girdler's 1976 epic, Grizzly. But it's been many a year and hangover since I've watched Grizzy, so I might be thinking of another similar 'broad.' Or I'm confusing Grizzly with Day of the Animals, also epic.) Mama Wadsworth's two daughters by two different men, Germaine (Marianna Hill), a frizzy haired tart who wears silver high heels to clean the woodwork in the house, and Alba (Suzanne Zenor), a young blond thing with a sadistic streak just like her mommy and some serious age play going on herself (think pig tails and lollipops), live with Mama and Baby (yes, they just call him Baby, he doesn't have a Christian name or anything) and take care of him as they see fit. Baby's father is a different dude from Alba and Germaine's daddies, who also ran off long ago. Besides Baby, men are completely absent in this movie. It makes for an interesting study, but as usual, I'm way ahead of myself. I can't help it with this movie - it is so fucking insane and functions across levels of perversion and utter fucked-up-ed-ness that make me giddy with pleasure. I can't help but get carried away. Anyway.....

No one, besides Alba turning the occasional trick or Germaine starring in the occasional commercial (ha! I hope it's not for hair care products!), works, so the only income the family receives is from Baby's welfare checks and disability. So the Wadsworth women have financial interests to protect here, so they're pretty wary of Ann. They don't want to loose their meal ticket. And interestingly, as it is mentioned off the cuff, the last case worker for the Wadsworths mysteriously disappeared. Hmm....

However, Ann doesn't care about what happened to the last worker and decides to really put her all into saving Baby from his mother and sisters. She sees great potential in Baby; that he could likely walk and talk if he wanted to. All this is fine and good, altruistic really, of Ann,  but come on. Doesn't she find this the least bit disturbing? She doesn't seem to, she's quite taken with Baby actually, from the very start. How about these visuals? Even the most hardened of social workers would likely cringe at some of this shit. A full grown man wearing a diaper and a bib, sits in a oversized high chair and gets fed pudding out of a cup. He whines and cries and throws hissy fits just like a baby. David Manzy, who plays Baby, is outta this world in the role; if you can actually get over that he's a full grown man, he's actually a damn effective baby, baby noises and all, which is even more unsettling. I heard somewhere all the cries and noises he makes are actually him, not an overdub. If that's true, he's dead on and so freakin' creepy. He could probably still get roles as an old man baby for all those old man baby movies that get made every year. But I don't think Manzy was ever in another substantial movie after this one, at least not according to his Internet Movie Database profile. 

So it's clear that the Wadsworth ladies don't want Ann nosing around. They prefer Baby just as he is. Germaine cuts her eyes at Ann when Ann asks to get involved with feeding Baby. Alba and Mama dispute the fact that Baby is capable of development. When Ann asks Germaine when the last time Baby had a psychiatric evaluation, she responds, When he was a baby. Like no one ever thought to give this person another evaluation, after years and years of case workers coming to the house? Doesn't this strike anyone as odd? Well, maybe that last case worker thought it strange, and now she's nowhere to be found, recall? Ann leaves after this disconcerting convo with Germaine and goes home to watch some slides of her husband Roger on a boat and starts to feel wistful.  Apparently he suffered some sort of accident....

Back at the Wadsworth house, the girls have gone out to a sumptuous Chinese meal and left Baby alone with a babysitter. They won't leave Baby alone with a social worker, but a teen babysitter is cool, apparently. We meet her when she's on the phone with her boyfriend, who wants to come over for some hanky panky in the traditional my-girlfriend-is-babysitting, lemme-go-get-some-while-there-are-no-adults-around sort of way, and she tells him about her panties but then has to get off the phone because Baby is crying. She's actually the only person to refer to Baby as a 'freak,' oddly. No one else really bandies the 'F' word about when discussing him. Babysitter girl changes his diaper (remember, full grown man here) and lets him out of his crib to play. He bumps his head on the fireplace and she goes to comfort him. Comfort involves letting full man Baby take her titty out and then she pretends to breast feed him while rocking him back and forth saying, Oh, Baby. Oh, Baby. Well, just as she's starting to get into it, Mama and the girls get home from eating egg rolls and find Baby with the booby in his mouth. Oh, man, does Mama flip out. She gets out the braided belt out of the dresser drawer she keeps just for this sort of occasion and beats this girl's ass 'til she's bloody. Alba and Germaine escort her out instructing her not to tell anybody because the courts would believe them over her, since she was sexually assaulting a mental case. Just another day around the ol' Wadsworth place.

The next day. Ann comes by the Wadworth's and Baby is outside in a crib while Alba is listening to the radio. There's some convo between Ann and Alba and then Alba gets up to answer the phone ringing inside. She was instructed by Mama not to leave Baby alone, but she figures the call might be important. Someone probably calling to off Germaine another shampoo ad or something. I made that up. That woman couldn't work in television for free. Now radio, maybe...

Ann, thinking now that she's got Baby alone she can test his abilities, tries to get him to stand up, but like with the babysitter, just as she's about to succeed, Mama walks up in this great all denim ensemble and intimidates her. Ann pleads her case like a good social worker without a hidden agenda, and says Baby would be better off in a clinic day school type situation that could work with him to better his abilities. Mama wants to know why Ann thinks Baby is capable of development so Ann sets out to do a demonstration where she gets Baby to bring her a ball. Mama gives Baby a wicked side eye so he'll remember his place, and he, fearing Mama's wrath, doesn't comply with Ann's request for the ball. Ann leaves disappointed but not without resolve.

Inside the house my favorite part of the movie to quote is unfolding. Alba shocks Baby with a cattle prod while yelling 'Baby doesn't walk, and Baby doesn't talk, and Baby doesn't stand' with such sadistic glee and fervor that's downright impressive. Then Mama comes in, hits Alba for being too aggressive, and shouts for the girls to get Baby into the closet. Sounds about right. Later that night, once Baby is asleep and sucking his thumb in his crib, Germaine comes into the nursery wearing a slinky white negligee. She removes the nightie and crawls into the crib with Baby. And cut! Damn it. I guess some things are better left to the imagination. It was effective, just the implication that Baby and his sisters have sex with each other is enough to give me an icky feeling. Don't be so shocked, you knew this part was coming. 

Anyway, Ann goes to see some doctor types about Baby and the doctors tell her to basically leave the Wadsworths alone. How can this be? Don't you think doctor types would want to help someone with such an affliction as Baby's? It's weird how totally non-plussed everyone besides Ann is about this unusual case. You would think Social Services would be all over this madness. But whatever. Ann decides to officially take matters into her own hands after her supervisor removes her from the case entirely and goes over to the Wadsworth's house to deliver a 'See You In Court' speech. Mama don't give a shit and basically laughs in her face. She's also wearing Keds and a more denim in this scene and is, as you can imagine, quite fetching.

Back at home, Ann gets a phone call from Mama in which Mama 'apologizes' and invites Ann to Baby's birthday party the following evening. Baby's birthday party is totally just an excuse for the Wadsworth women to have men over to the house to drink, dance, and makeout. They do have a cake for Baby and weird colored lighting and balloons, but seriously, like everything else, this is just for them. Ann reluctantly goes to the party to talk to Mama about actually committing Baby to an institution but everyone's dancing and drunk and Ann's just there so they can drug her, tie her up, and kill her later once the party is over, natch. We also get to see Mama dance at the party, which totally gives me a Divine-and-Tab-Hunter-dancing-in -Polyester-at-the-opening-of-the-independent-movie-theatre vibe. In fact, I get a drag vibe off of Mama W. quite a bit. But anyway, Germaine drugs Ann while Ann is playing darts competitively with Alba and some loser in a fringe jacket named Dennis for a gold angel statue.
They tie her up and put her in the basement. 

Alba then goes off to make out with Dennis in a stairwell and she tells him, 'I bet ya want it don't you. Will you do it the way I want it? Will you get down and beg for it? Will you crawl around on the floor like a little (ah, wait for it..............) puppy dog (sorry, disappointment) for it? He agrees but first he has to hold his hand over a lighter's flame for one minute. He doesn't succeed, but by then it's time to do that killin' of the social worker that helps take care of the full grown man baby that lives here business that concludes most parties at the Wadsworth residence. 

So while Alba's been commanding Dennis to do weird stuff in exchange for sexy times, Baby has managed to help Ann free herself. She takes Baby, punctures Mama's tires, and speeds off into the night with Baby in tow. Once she gets him home, she bathes him and puts him in a suit and tie and photographs him leaning on a wicker chair and sends said photograph to Mama to gloat and brag. It's here that you really see Mama long to have Baby back. Yeah, sure, she probably misses the cash he brought her all these years, but as she mournfully looks at the window from his nursery after she receives his photo, I actually shed a tear for the ol' bitch. Well, maybe not. But seriously, it's the only time she really acts like she gives a hot damn about her weirdo son, which she made like that in the first place. Or did she? 

But, wait! There's more! Not to be made fools of, the Wadsworth ladies, classy as ever, decide to hunt down Ann and their Baby and they do so by driving around at night through unlit neighborhoods trying to spot her vehicle, a very effective method for finding out where someone lives when you had no marginal idea at all of where they lived in the first place. They gain entrance to Ann's house easily, although you would think the woman would have locked her damn door, knowing full well that the Wadsworths were pissed as a motherfucker for her stealing their monthly check in the form of a man baby. That's when I'm MOST likely to lock my doors. But Ann's ready for them and dispatches them rather quickly with the help of her mother-in-law. I'll leave out all the details, as this is running really long and I want to get another movie watched before I go to bed. I also really wanted to offer ya'll some more pics from this thing but I'm lazy and I've been working ALL day. I should quit being such a (wait for it) Baby! Ha! 

I REALLY, REALLY want to spoil the ending, but I won't. It's so great! Trust. Best ending a man-baby-sploitation movie from the seventies could ever have. Let's just say, it answers a lot of questions about Ann and her 'agenda.' Oh yeah, so what kind of 'sploitation is this? It's not a horror movie, although the cover art on the DVD would lead you to believe it is. Even the tag line 'Pray you don't learn the secret of...' on the one pictured above and on the copy I have 'Horror is his formula' (my personal favorite). It was likely just billed as a horror flick to put butts in seats when it came out. But I could see this appealing to horror fans and weird cinema fans and all sorts of other obsessives and perverts. It appeals to me, doesn't it? 


  1. Dear Jenn,
    Great article and a great site; keep up the good work!

    Being a fan of The Baby, I’d love to hear your comments about the ending--don’t worry I won’t give it away--but I do think The Baby’s ending is basically perfect: it ties everything up in the second sickest knot possible. (I think the sickest ending would’ve been where You-Know-Who’s desires were more sensual than maternal--but I better not say any more.)

    The Baby is absolutely one of those flicks where it’s better to see it not knowing that much about it. I think it’s almost the epitome of sleaze, like a John Waters movie without the comedy, just creepy madness.

    Another fan of The Baby is artist Mike Kelley. In his collection of essays, Foul Perfection (2003, The MIT Press), he writes, “Ted Post’s The Baby (1973) is a profoundly disturbing, I would even say radical, film largely because it does not allow viewers to immerse themselves in it in any simple sense.”

    The essay’s introduction explained that “Ted Post…revealed that the script of The Baby, based on real-life events, was so shocking that he decided to shoot the film in a ‘flat,’ realistic manner in order to defuse its exploitation qualities.”

    Personally, I think the flat style makes the flick even sleazier--with no cinematic reference points that we could use to distance ourselves (“Oh, this is a handheld shot with a 500mm lens,” or whatnot), we’re flies on the wall, trapped in the scenario.

    Be that as it may, The Baby’s a wild flick that really delivers.


  2. Thanks, Ivan, I agree, the ending is just so perfect and the freeze frame is like the ultimate exclamation point at the very end. It's like you're watching it and it gets to that final scene, and like the freeze frame, the viewer is kinda just frozen as well. It's, like, wow! are you serious? wow!

    As an audience, we don't relate to anyone or anything in the film and this does elevate it to sickness levels we don't normally get taken to in cinema. And I watch a lot of sicko movies.

    It's such a great movie, performances and all. It should definitely receive more attention as a profoundly disturbing masterpiece. Thanks for your awesome comments!

  3. Great, loving review, Jenn, of an excellent little gem.

    The cattle prod scene disturbed me greatly when I first saw this. It's how I learned that cattle prods were not really meant for cattle.

    I originally saw this at the cinema with my mother. I was barely beyond a baby myself

  4. I swear, this is like the unsung hero of exploitation gems. And yes, even though i was in my late twenties when I first saw this, I was like, oh, okay, that's what cattle prods are actually for.

    I can't believe you saw this with your mamma. What did she think?

  5. Oh man, I just saw this for the first time on TCM. Incredible! I couldn't help but think of an alternative Baby where the Wadsworth women are constantly sucking a huge veiny diaper clad cock whilst licking each other's hairy seventies pussies. I'd love to see the family and social worker suck and fuck for the entire movie. Baby blows Peter North sized loads natch. Genius film.