(1956 b 129')
Based on the novel by William March and the play by Maxwell Anderson, a little girl commits a murder, and her mother tries to figure out why.
A sergeant arrives with a car to pick up Col. Kenneth Penmark (William Hopper), who says goodbye to his daughter Rhoda (Patty McCormack), Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden), and his wife Christine (Nancy Kelly). Rhoda tries on dark glasses that Monica gave her. Monica also gives her a locket, and Rhoda asks for the garnet and the turquoise. Leroy Jessup (Henry Jones) comes in, and Monica tells him to knock first. Leroy calls Rhoda “Miss Uppity.” Rhoda has steel on her shoes, and she tap dances. Rhoda says she should have won the penmanship medal. Christine tries to console her, and Rhoda screams and runs outside. Monica goes outside and tells Leroy he is psychopathic. Rhoda scolds Leroy too. Christine and Rhoda leave, walking on the street. Leroy says Rhoda is smart.
Christine and Rhoda arrive at a picnic. Christine gives Claudia Fern (Joan Croydon) a check and asks her if Rhoda fits in at the school. Christine asks if Rhoda is popular with the other children, and Claudia says she is.
At dinner Monica says she met Dr. Freud, but she was treated by Dr. Kettlebaum. She says analysis broke up her marriage. Reggie Tasker (Gage Clarke) says he has studied the nurse who killed nine patients. Christine says she does not like violence. Monica asks Christine to say the first thing that comes into her mind while Reggie tells his story. Emory Wages (Jesse White) talks to the bird in a cage. Christine says she is proud of her father, but she feels like she was an adopted child. Christine says she dreams about it. Reggie tells about a woman who committed homicides that he wrote about. Christine recognizes her name. Emory asks Reggie if he wants to go fishing. They turn on the radio and hear a report that a student at the picnic was accidentally drowned. Monica tells Christine it was not Rhoda. They give the name of the boy who died after playing on the pier, where the children were forbidden to go. Christine does not know what to say to Rhoda about death.
Rhoda comes in and says Claude Daigle was drowned. Christine asks her if she saw him taken from the water. She says they could not revive him. Christine tells her to expect such things, and Rhoda says it was exciting. She asks for a sandwich and gets her roller skates out. Christine brings her a sandwich and milk. Christine says it must have been terrible, but Rhoda says she does not feel that. Rhoda goes out to skate. Outside Leroy asks Rhoda why she is skating when she should feel sorry. He plans to scare her.
Later Rhoda is in bed, and Christine reads to her. Rhoda takes her vitamins. Rhoda falls asleep.
Christine lets in Miss Fern, who asks her where the penmanship medal is. She says that Rhoda was the last person to see the boy alive. She says Rhoda kept snatching at the boy to get his medal and was told to leave him alone. She says that a guard saw someone like Rhoda with the boy. Miss Fern speculates that the boy may have fallen into the water. She thinks Rhoda is not admitting something. Christine asks about the floral tribute and says she would like to contribute. Miss Fern says she might want to send flowers individually. Christine does not feel that and criticizes Miss Fern. Christine says she does not want to live under a shadow over Rhoda. Miss Fern says they are not inviting her back. Christina asks if she thinks Rhoda had something to do with the boy’s death, and Miss Fern says no.
Hortense Daigle (Eileen Heckart) comes in with Henry Daigle (Frank Cady). She is drunk and admits she is a lush. Hortense asks what happened to the medal. She says Henry is older, and they won’t have any more children. Hortense asks Christine to find out from Rhoda about the last minutes with her son. Hortense says Miss Fern dyes her hair. Hortense says he was a dear little boy. Christine tries to embrace her, but Hortense gets up and moves away. She asks who took the medal. She says her son was better and won the medal. Hortense lays on the couch. Henry suggests they go home, and they leave. Miss Fern thanks Christine for bearing with them and says goodbye. They embrace, and she leaves.
Christine calls Rhoda to come in. Christine answers the phone, and Kenneth asks if the accident has affected Rhoda. He says it will be four weeks. He says the general buzzed him and hangs up. Monica comes in, and Christine gives her the locket. Monica leaves. In the drawer Christine finds the medal. Rhoda comes in, and Christine shows her the medal. She asks Rhoda why the medal was there. Rhoda says she does not know. Christine questions her why she went on the wharf. Rhoda says she was not bothering Claude. Christine asks if she tried to snatch the medal off the boy. Rhoda says it was a game. Christine asks how she got the medal. Rhoda says Claude let her wear it all day because she gave him fifty cents. Christine asks Rhoda why she did not give the medal to Mrs. Daigle. Rhoda says Claude was dead and would not know whether he had the medal. She suggests Mrs. Daigle get a boy from the orphan home. Christine asks Rhoda about a lady who had a crystal ball that Rhoda wanted, and this lady fell and broke her neck. Christine asks if Rhoda had anything to do with that. Christine calls Miss Fern, but she is not home. Rhoda asks what she is going to do with the medal. Christine says it can’t be true.
Kenneth sends a gift in the mail. Rhoda opens a box and is glad to get a tea set. Monica says Rhoda is having dinner with her. Christine says she has invited guests. Monica wishes she had such a little girl. Outside Leroy says Rhoda does not fool him. She says he sleeps by the furnace where no one sees him. Leroy says he heard she beat up the Daigle boy. Rhoda pretends to pour tea. Leroy says he knows what she did to the boy. He says she hit him with a stick. He says he knows she is mean because he is mean and smart too. He says she rolled him off the pier. He says she washed blood off the stick and threw it in the woods. He says you can’t wash blood off, and he will call the police to bring bloodhounds. From a window Christine calls Rhoda to come in. Christine tells Leroy not to talk to Rhoda. He takes the straw in the cellar and puts it on his bed.
Rhoda asks Christine if the police can test to see if there was blood. Christine says she could ask Miss Fern, and Rhoda says no. Reggie Tasker comes in and meets Rhoda, who goes upstairs. Christine says her father is coming that night. Reggie says Richard Bravo is a great writer. Christine asks him if children ever commit murder. He says children can be clever murderers. Christine says they must have come from a criminal environment. Her father, Richard Bravo (Paul Fix), comes in and meets the writer Reginald Tasker. Richard says he does not write anymore, and he asks for a drink. Reggie asks him to come back into the criminology racket. Reggie says Christine is going to write. Reggie asks if criminal children are the product of their environment. Richard agrees, but Reggie says heredity is also important. Reginald says criminality is not inherited. Christine asks Reggie about such children, and Reggie says some children are bad seeds. She asks about Bessie Danker, and he says she started at age ten. Reggie asks Richard about her, but he has forgotten what he wrote. Christine asks if she used violence. Reggie says she disappeared and may have turned up in Australia with another name. Christine asks if she was ever convicted, and Reggie says she was acquitted three times. He says she was doomed to commit murder until she was found out. Richard calls it tommyrot, and Reggie says goodnight and leaves.
Richard asks Christine if she plans to write something. He asks if something heavy is on her mind. She says he makes her feel safe. Christine says her landlady is a Freudian. She is worried that she was adopted. She is afraid for her daughter Rhoda and what she may have inherited from her. She asks him if she is his child. He asks what Rhoda has done. He says the inheritance stuff is rubbish. She says she won’t ask any more questions. Christine says she knows the answer now. He says the best luck he had was her. She says he found her in a strange place. She says she dreamed about a bedroom in a farmhouse with her brother. Then she is terrified and alone, and she hides and eats pippins from a tree. She says she is afraid of her mother. She remembers being called Ingo Danker. She realizes she came out of that terrible household. He says he was covering the case for a newspaper, and he could not resist her. He says the neighbors found her and saved her. She says her mother was evil. She wishes she had died. He says she gave him more than he could repay. He says she has made Kenneth happy. She says Rhoda has been born blind.
Monica comes in and greets Richard. Rhoda runs in and kisses Richard. He looks at her. Monica says how much she liked reading his book. Richard shakes his head at Christine and goes upstairs. Christine is alone. She sees Rhoda and asks her what she is taking to the incinerator. She grabs them and finds the shoes. Christine says she hit him with her shoes. Christine says she murdered him, and Rhoda says it was his fault. Christine asks her to tell her the truth, and she shakes her. Rhoda says he would not give her the medal. He hid on the wharf, and she threatened to hit him with her shoe. Then he gave her the medal. He tried to run away, and she hit him again and kept on hitting him. She says he fell in the water. Christine asks what are they going to do. Christine asks how he got marks on his hands. Rhoda says he tried to get out of the water. Christine says no one will hurt her, and she embraces her. Christine tells her not to tell anyone else. Christine asks her about the elderly lady. Rhoda says she slipped on purpose. Christine tells her to burn the shoes. Rhoda asks what she will do with the medal, and Christine promises she will not give it to Miss Fern. Rhoda throws the shoes in the incinerator.
Outside Leroy talks to Rhoda, who says he told a lie about bloodhounds. He says they are going to fry her in the electric chair. She says they don’t put little girls in the electric chair. He asks why she does not wear her tap shoes anymore. She says they hurt her feet, and she gave them away. He says she hit him with the shoes. She says he lies. He says he got her shoes, and she says she burned them. He says they were not all burned up. He says there is enough blood on them. She tells him to give them back, and he says he is keeping them. She keeps demanding them. She shouts, and Christine hears her. She tells Leroy to go. Monica says she is coming down. Leroy looks at a burned shoe in the incinerator.
Monica gives the locket to Rhoda and puts it around her neck. Rhoda asks her mother for a popsicle. She gets money from her purse and takes some matches. Christine makes her put them back, but she keeps three. Christine says it is so hot, and Monica says something is wrong. Monica asks if she takes vitamins and offers her some. She asks if she is parting from Kenneth. Christine says no; she is sure of Kenneth. Monica suggests sleeping pills, and she says she loves her. Christine cries, and Monica embraces her. The doorbell rings, and drunk Hortense comes in. She wants to talk with Rhoda to see what she remembers. Christine says she is not there. Hortense asks for a drink. Christine wheels in a liquor cart, and Hortense pours herself a drink. Rhoda comes in, and Hortense says she was Claude’s dear friend. She asks for a kiss from Rhoda and hugs her. She asks if Claude won the medal fair and square. Monica takes Rhoda out. Christine says they have an appointment. Hortense apologizes. Christine answers the phone and tells Mr. Daigle that she is there. Christine tells her another time would be better. Hortense is suspicious. Christine says she should not come there anymore. Hortense says she is going home. She offers Christine a free beauty treatment at her house. Mr. Daigle comes in to take his wife home, and they leave.
Christine calls Washington, cries, and cancels the call. Monica comes back and says she let Rhoda go out for another popsicle. Monica gives her sleeping pills and vitamins. Monica admits she bullies her and promises not to. Rhoda comes in and denies there was shouting. They see smoke coming from the cellar, and two men try to break in. A man is screaming, and Christine watches. Someone says to call an ambulance, but Christine and Monica talk to each other. They hear piano playing while he is dying. Emory comes in and says he fell asleep, and he supposes a cigarette started the fire on his bed. Christine shouts to have Rhoda stop the music. Rhoda comes in, and Monica says it is done. Monica takes Rhoda upstairs, and upset Christine says it will be all right. She cries for her baby.
Christine reads a book to Rhoda, and she offers her some new vitamins to take that Monica sent. Rhoda asks her mother if she loves him. She asks if she knows about Leroy. She asks Christine what she did with the medal. Christine says she dropped it in the water by the pilings. Rhoda takes vitamins. Rhoda says she lit the excelsior and locked the door. She says Leroy should not have told the police about her. Rhoda asks her not to let them hurt her. They go back to the reading a Christmas story, and Rhoda falls asleep on the couch. Christine says she can’t let them take her away. Christina picks her up and carries her to her room. Christine goes to her room, and a shot is heard.
Kenneth asks a nurse if her condition has changed. He says it has been two days. Richard, Emory, and Monica are also there. Kenneth says he does not understand why she did it. He says they were in love. Kenneth asks Richard, but he says he can’t help. Monica says Christine gave Rhoda a lethal dose of sleeping pills and then did it. Kenneth is not sure he can go on. Monica says he still has Rhoda, who comes in. She tells her daddy that she loves him. The doctor says she is still in a coma, and he suggests they go home. They start to leave, and Richard goes back and asks the doctor if she said anything. He says she muttered about a bad seed. Richard asks about criminal heredity, and the doctor does not believe in it either.
Kenneth says goodnight to Rhoda and kisses her. Rhoda asks how long love-birds live, and she says she will find out tomorrow on the roof when Monica takes her for a sun bath. Rhoda hears thunder and gets up. She looks at her sleeping father and dresses in a rain coat and hat. She goes outside with a flash light and walks down the street.
Kenneth answers the phone, and the doctor has the phone held by Christine, who talks to him. She says she committed a dreadful sin she will have to pay for, and she asks for his forgiveness. He tells her not to talk now, and they will solve it together.
Rhoda walks out on the pier and looks in the water. She uses a net and is destroyed by a bolt of lightning.
This movie was given a different ending from the play because of Hollywood censorship rules about criminals not going unpunished. Thus in this era movies are still very much controlled by social norms. Yet the theme of this strange drama is beginning to challenge traditional ideas. The argument for heredity over environment affecting criminality can be challenged even in this story because the Christina does not like violence, and her mother and daughter are quite different from her. Certainly heredity affects many things; but poverty and the psychological environment surely may be stronger determining factors when it comes to violating social laws. Christina was better because a loving man adopted and raised her.