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On her piano, Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) plays the French song "Au clair de la lune", while her father (William Hopper) says his goodbyes to her and his wife, Christine (Nancy Kelly), as he goes away on military duty. Their neighbor and landlord, Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden), comes in with a present for Rhoda (a locket). Rhoda, looking pristine and proper in her perfect dress and pigtails, thanks Monica for the gift. She then tap dances on the hard floor. Monica notices the tap shoes, and Rhoda says the shoes were her own idea. They then discuss a penmanship medal that Rhoda lost to her schoolmate, Claude Daigle, and how infuriating it was for her to lose. Christine and Rhoda leave for the school picnic at a nearby lake.

Later, Christine is having lunch with Monica and friends when they learn on the radio that a child has drowned in the lake where Rhoda's school was having their picnic. Christine worries that it could be Rhoda, but a follow-up report indicates that it was Rhoda's schoolmate, Claude Daigle. Relieved that her daughter is alive, Christine worries that her daughter might be traumatized by seeing the boy’s corpse. When Rhoda returns, however, she is unfazed by the incident and goes about her daily duties.

Rhoda's teacher later visits Christine, revealing that Rhoda was the last person seen with Claude that day on the wharf and was seen grabbing at Claude's penmanship medal. The two women are visited by Mrs. Daigle (Eileen Heckart), who drunkenly accuses Rhoda of knowing something that she is telling no one. Later that night, Christine finds the penmanship medal in Rhoda's room and orders an explanation. Rhoda lies that Claude let her have the medal after winning a bet. Later, however, Christine catches Rhoda trying to dispose of her tap shoes and Christine figures out that Rhoda must have hit Claude with the shoes, which explains the half-moon shaped bruises on his forehead and hands. A tearful Rhoda admits that she killed the boy and reveals that she murdered a neighbor lady when they lived in Wichita. Christine orders Rhoda to burn the shoes in the incinerator. A subplot reveals that Christine was the natural daughter of a well-known serial killer, Bessie Denker, and was adopted as a baby by her current father. Christine then worries that she, Bessie, is to blame for Rhoda's sociopathy, and that her bad behavior is genetic, not influenced by parenting.

The next day, when Rhoda is playing in the garden, the janitor, LeRoy (Henry Jones) heckles her that she killed Claude with her shoes and that he took the burnt shoes as evidence. In a panic, Rhoda sets LeRoy afire to keep her secret concealed. Christine and Monica watch from the apartment as LeRoy is burned alive. That night, Christine tells Rhoda that she dropped the medal into the lake and gives her a lethal dose of sleeping pills. She attempts to kill herself with a gunshot to the head (in the book and play she does kill herself). Instead of killing them both, however, Rhoda and Christine survive in a hospital. In the middle of the night, during a storm, Rhoda sneaks out in a rain slicker and goes to the lake to try to find the medal out on the wharf. Lightning strikes her, killing her instantly, unlike in the novel and play.

Following the end of the movie, the cast is introduced during a theatrical-style curtain call. After her credit is read, Nancy Kelly delivers a spanking to Patty McCormack. The spanking continues as the film fades out; a screen card then requests that the audience not divulge the ending.

Film Info

(2013)
3 min 22 sec Duration
22,617 views
  • Posted: November 20, 2010
  • Director: Mervyn LeRoy
  • Writer: John Lee Mahin
  • Studio: Warner Bros Pictures
  • Release: September 12, 1956
  • Cast: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormac, Henry Jones

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