Each week, I will revisit films I loved as a lad, most of them inappropriate given my age at the time, and decide if they still pass muster.  This special first post is a triple-header, a follow up to last week’s pontification on “crazy bitch” thrillers.




The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (January 10, 1992)

The Joey Gist:  Saw this opening weekend with my father and sister at Clearview Cinema 5 in Bergenfield, NJ.  I was 10 years old.

The Film’s Gist: 
Mom-to-be Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra)’s regular checkup at her gynecologist turns traumatizing when creepy Dr. Mott (creepy John De Lancie whose name I certainly did not remember on my own; thanks imdb) gets a little carried away with the examination (two words: no gloves).  When Claire comes forward, prompting several other women to do also do so, Mott commits suicide rather than face the music. His own pregnant wife (Rebecca DeMornay), shattered by his death and left penniless due to posthumous lawsuit settlements, suffers a terrible miscarriage that leaves her barren.  While she recovers in the hospital, she catches a news report of her husband’s suicide where they flash a shot of Claire and, in that instant, Mrs. Mott plots her revenge: to become the Bartel’s nanny, and slowly but surely steal Claire’s family out from under her.  Oh, and she’ll probably kill Claire while she’s at it.

What I Thought Then:
Beautiful psycho? Check. A violent death or two? Check.  A tense climax that ends with the villain going through a third floor window and landing on a white picket fence? Checcccck. Aside from being captivated by DeMornay’s performance–the cold dead look in her baby blues really did something magical for me–I loved the simplicity of the story.  Like I said in my prior post, back then, I felt like I understood the motivation–maybe since it was at the peak of my days as good practicing Catholic, but “eye for an eye” made complete sense to me, and DeMornay really got the poo end of the stick in this film.  So, as questionable as her behavior was–namely, making it appear that Solomon the mentally challenged handyman (Ernie Hudson) had molested the Bartel’s young daughter so he’d be fired after spotting Peyton breastfeeding the baby (!)–I knew she’d get it in the end, so I just nodded in silent approval for 90 minutes, then rotted for Claire in the final 10.

What’s Still Good: 
Well, DeMornay’s performance is still pretty iconic in my book.  She didn’t get much work after this film, perhaps ironically because of this part, but at least she cemented her place in movie history because, let’s face it, And God Created Woman sure wasn’t gonna do it.  This film also marked the introduction of Julianne Moore into my life, and that’s certainly a good thing.  Moore’s death-by-greenhouse is also memorable, as is DeMornay’s reaction to the scene: simply staring blankly whilst eating an apple slice off the blade of a knife. Chills. Same goes for the moment when Peyton empties out every inhaler asthmatic Claire has in the house to ensure that, when she finds Marlene (Moore)’s body, she’ll pretty much gasp to death.  Sciorra’s pretty able too, but kind of dorky, and it would take another decade before her sheer cougar hotness would be realized on her memorable story arc on The Sopranos.  And, of course, the final 15 minutes of the film are tense and wonderful, and the payoff is pretty glorious. 

What’s Not So Good:  I remember thinking Ernie Hudson did such a fantastic job as Solomon, but on this new viewing–and perhaps influenced Robert Downey Jr.’s sage words in Tropic Thunder–Hudson’s full…throttle approach now seems a bit ridiculous, maybe even offensive.  And the humiliation of his child-molesting framing now makes me more uncomfortable than ever.  The music is also pretty absurd.  The film–helmed by an early career Curtis (LA Confidential, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile) Hanson–seriously abuses the “omgsomethingbadisgoingtohappen” cues, and the chaotic “omgwejustfiguredoutsomethingimportantbettergowarneveryone” headache violins.  Had he been a bit more discerning about it, many of the dramatic scenes would have played with a big more realism and genuine unease.  Case in point: the moment when Peyton all but tells Claire her back story and what she’s planning and utters those famous words “I firmly believe what goes around comes around,” there’s an undercurrent of synthesizer so obnoxious you’re sort of convinced Claire herself can hear it and might even vomit on herself from the awkwardness.  Finally, on this new viewing, I can’t help but wonder how no one in pre-production picked up on the fact that a) it seems unlikely that a news station would chance showing the face of a sexual assault victim, b) the odds were pretty poor that the Bartels would even want a nanny after what they’d been through, and c) Mrs. Mott/Peyton would even have the wherewithal in her condition to make up a fake identity and get herself into a nanny agency system–devil’s advocate might assume she was fibbing, but really, even in 1992, I think you called references before you let some strange woman live with you and take care of your children, even if she does look like Rebecca DeMornay.  And from the woman’s perspective, especially if she looks like Rebecca DeMornay.  Just sayin’.

The Current Gist: In spite of the formula thriller flaws, Cradle is pretty much as I remember it: good story, if a bit holey, with a fantastic villain, some memorable scenes, and Julianne Moore chain smoking in various power suits.  How bad can that be?  7.5/10

Next Up: Single White Female