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Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992)

I recently read a pretty rotten review for Rebecca DeMornay's most recent 'leading' role in a would-be horror flick called "Mother's Day", and it got me to thinking how short-lived many film careers are.  Any number of promising stars come to brief prominence due to a showy role (or even a run of good roles) and then slide into some kind of oblivion; they may carry on working, but never seem to shine so brightly again.  One was first aware of DeMornay as the streetwise prositute in Tom Cruise's breakthrough movie "Risky Business" in 1983, and she subsequently appeared in a number of featured parts, but it was as the lead in the above film that she peaked.   Unfortunately it did sans-fairy-bubbletop for her career.

The nominal lead in the movie is Annabella Sciorra, another actress with a good run of movies who continues to work, but whose career faltered in the late 90s.  She plays the mother of a young daughter, pregnant with her second child, who accuses her new paediatrican of inappropriate behaviour.  Other patients support her accusations and, his reputation in tatters, the doctor commits suicide, leaving behind his own pregnant wife (DeMornay) who promptly loses her baby.  In her mind Sciorra is the cause of all of her misfortunes and she sets out to extract her revenge by becoming the nanny for Sciorra's new-born son.  Insinutating herself into the household as a loyal, friendly, and indispensible worker, she strives to alienate the children from their parents, seduce the husband (Matt McCoy, nowadays a stalwart of TV Movie dads), and generally destroy asthmatic Sciorra both mentally and physically.  The other household worker is a mentally-challenged handyman played by Ernie Hudson, a great pal of the family's young daughter, whom DeMornay addresses as "retard" and whom she contrives to discredit as a paedophile after he inadvertently sees her breast-feeding Sciorra's son --an activity she has taken up with gusto, causing the over-full babe to seemingly reject his real mother's milk.

If the truth be told this is really a highly implausible and far-fetched B movie which just happened to find its audience through the combination of a thoroughly evil yet fascinating turn by DeMornay and sure-fired, confident direction by Curtis (L.A. Confidential) Hanson. The viewer is unsettled by and caught up in the nanny's easy malevolence; we can so clearly see her dirty work afoot, but we are unable to scream at the screen to warn the trusting family.  Only the third or fourth female lead (if one allows that child actress Madeline Zima had the larger part), Julianne Moore playing a family friend sees something fishy in the 'perfect' nanny who is actually the nanny from hell; and only she of the entire cast went on from strength to strength for a longlasting career. Mind you, when I first saw this film -- in the cinema as it happens, I thought that Hudson was the best thing in it -- a far cry from his turn as one of the original Ghostbusters in 1984.  He gives a thoroughly likeable performance as the handicapped simple soul, a role that is normally guaranteed Oscar bait, but his performance was totally overlooked.  Watching this film again, I still think it's a bit of bravura acting from the under-rated Hudson.
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