Director – Sidney Lumet, Screenplay – Leon Prochnik, Based on the Play by Robert Marasco, Producer – David Merrick, Photography – Gerald Hirschfeld, Music – Michael Small, Production Design – Philip Rosenberg. Production Company – Paramount.
Beau Bridges (Paul Reece), James Mason (Jerome Mallory), Robert Preston (Dobbs)
Paul Reece takes up a position as the new gym teacher at a Catholic boys’ boarding school that he used to attend. There he observes meaningless acts of violence between the pupils – attempts to break one boy’s arm, another having his eye torn out. The victims always sit passively throughout and afterwards refuse to name those responsible. One of the teachers, Dobbs, blames the Latin master, Mallory’s, authoritarian teaching methods. Mallory however claims that Dobbs is trying to force him out of his job by sending him pornographic magazines in the mail and making obscene phone calls to his elderly mother. The school is closed after a boy is crucified in the chapel. Mallory then kills himself when one phone-call causes his mother to have a heart attack, and he is found with the magazines and fired.
Child’s Play is an interestingly obscure film from Sidney Lumet, the acclaimed director of the acclaimed likes of 12 Angry Men (1957), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), and occasional genre forays such as Fail-Safe (1964), The Wiz (1978) and Deathtrap (1982). The film was little seen when it came out and remains obscure today.
The film digs deeply into the venerated psyche of the boy’s boarding school and its inevitable homoerotic associations, not to mention that the writer is exorcising a good deal of clearly personal venom about Catholicism. The film never quite leaves the staginess of its play origins however and the middle drags somewhat. Sidney Lumet directs with occasionally subtle facial closeups, although his set-ups are often choppily edited. That said, the story twists and turns through all types of interesting Sadean diversions and is rather captivating. James Mason’s pathetic tortured performance, fighting for his meagre standing, is particularly standout.
The Catholic boys’ boarding school psycho-thriller was later dealt with in the also interesting Absolution (1981), while also of interest are the boys boarding school psycho-thrillers Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) and Like Minds (2006).
The script is based on a 1970 Tony Award-winning play by playwright and occasional horror writer Robert Marasco. Marasco is best known as the author of the book that became the film Burnt Offerings (1976).
This Child’s Play is unrelated and should not be confused with the later horror film of the same title, Child’s Play (1988) and sequels, about a possessed doll.