As the Hays Code receded and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating system too over, Western cinema took a drastic turn into the experimental in the late 60s and 1970s. Briefly, this was an era that saw a rise in more risky story-telling. Art-house sensibilities mixed with box office mainstream in movies like The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, and Eraserhead. It was also around the time where exploitation cinema produced a number of car crash cult classics. One of the lesser known movies of the Grindhouse era release was the Ted Post-directed, The Baby. Though his filmography includes Magnum Force and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Baby represented an odd entry that defines exploitation.
Social worker Anne Gentry volunteers for a particularly odd case. She takes on the Wadsworth’s, an eccentric family whose 21-year-old son, Baby, remains in an infantile state. Despite his age, Baby cannot walk, talk, or feed himself. With no other source of income, Mrs Wadsworth and her two adult daughters rely on the government disability payments for Baby. As Anne spends more time with Baby, she suspects the Wadsworth’s have intentionally forced Baby into his helpless state. What she doesn’t realize is how far the family will go to make sure they don’t lose Baby.
The Baby Shifts From Unintentional Comedy to Uncomfortable Grindhouse
Yes, The Baby is about exactly what is described. And no, it’s not a comedy. In fact, you may find yourself laughing at points, but the laughter will be more uncomfortable than anything else. When director Ted Post gives audiences his first shot of the 21-year-old ‘Baby’ in his infantile state, the likely first reaction is laughter. But as the movie progresses that laughter will slowly grow more uncomfortable. At its heart, The Baby is a pure exploitation movie. As a psychological thriller, The Baby isn’t a really well-paced movie even at a trim 85 minutes. Most of what unfolds fits a pretty predictable thriller template. Most of the movie’s violence occurs in the final act and it happens offscreen.
At its heart, The Baby is a pure exploitation movie.
But if The Baby’s basic approach to its thriller formula is somewhat generic, its central subject is the very essence of exploitation. Every scene with an adult ‘Baby’ crawling, bottle-feeding, or crying elicits discomfort. In particular two scenes in particular should have most viewers squirming in their seats. Both scenes – a babysitter ‘breastfeeding’ the adult ‘Baby’ and one of the sister disrobing to join her brother in his crib – are disturbing. Though Post doesn’t technically put anything overly explicit on screen, these scenes will likely burn images into your brain you’ll want to purge.
The Baby …
Nothing about The Baby is satirical or parody. And the cast plays it straight, albeit with mixed results. By and large, the cast feels like what you would find in a made-for-television movie. As social worker Anne Gentry, Anjanette Comer is perfectly adequate as the desperately concerned social worker. That is, Comer doesn’t turn in Oscar-worthy work, but she convinces without giving away why she cares. Both of the Wadsworth daughters give varying degrees of stiff work. But Ruth Roman gives a relatively restrained imitation of Bette Davis. Poor David Mooney is tasked with believably playing an adult man who behaves like a baby. To put it bluntly, it’s a demeaning role.
Instead, The Baby’s twist will likely be what likely haunts you.
As hard as it is to believe, what audiences will likely remember about The Baby is not the myriad of scenes of Mooney crawling or drooling. Instead, The Baby’s final twist will be what likely haunts you. Throughout the movie, Post only offers hints about Anne Gentry’s absent husband. Is he dead? Did he leave Anne? All of this plays in the movie’s background. But when The Baby finally reveals what happened to Anne’s husband – and her true interests in protecting Baby – it’s an ending that feels like a punch to the gut.
The Baby a Bizzaro Example of Early 70s Exploitation
You probably won’t be five minutes into The Baby before you’re wondering just what the fuck you’re watching. From that point onward, you’ll teeter on that fine line between exploitation movie and just pure sleaze. Regardless The Baby functions like a highway car crash – no matter how hard you try you won’t be able to look away. And that ending is not just unexpected; it’s the kind of conclusion that lingers with you. Regardless of whether you like it or not, The Baby is the kind of movie that probably could have only been made in the 1970s.