ⓘ Child's Play (1972 film)

Child's Play (1972 film)

ⓘ Childs Play (1972 film)

Childs Play is a 1972 American drama-mystery film directed by Sidney Lumet. It stars James Mason, Robert Preston and Beau Bridges. The screenplay by Leon Prochnik is based on the 1970 play of the same title by Robert Marasco.


1. Plot synopsis

The film centers on the rivalry between two faculty members at St. Charles, an exclusive Catholic boarding school for boys. Joe Dobbs is an easy-going, well-liked English teacher, while Latin and Greek instructor Jerome Malley is feared and hated by his students. Malley is caring for his dying mother, and his stress is exacerbated by a series of threatening phone calls and written notes he receives. Hes certain Dobbs is the source, but his caustic personality prevents him from winning any sympathy or support. Into the fray comes Paul Reis, a former student who has been hired to teach physical education, and he soon finds his loyalty torn between Dobbs and Malley, as he becomes increasingly aware of the latters personal torments. Compounding his situation is the realization that the unbridled violence practiced by the students may be the result of demonic possession.


2. Production notes

Marlon Brando originally signed for the role of Joseph Dobbs, but dropped out of the film when he realized James Mason had the better role. He was replaced by Robert Preston, and first-time film producer David Merrick sued Brando for breach of contract.

The Paramount Pictures release was filmed at Marymount Secondary School in Tarrytown, New York. Students from Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York served as extras on the film.


3. Cast

  • Tom Leopold as Shea
  • Julius Lo Iacono as McArdle
  • Kate Harrington as Mrs Carter
  • Christopher Man as Travis
  • Brian Chapin as ODonnell
  • Robert D. Randall as Medley
  • Mark Hall Haefeli as Wilson
  • Robert Preston as Joseph Dobbs
  • Paul OKeefe as Freddie Banks
  • David Rounds as Father George Penny
  • James Mason as Jerome Malley
  • Beau Bridges as Paul Reis
  • Bryant Fraser as Jennings
  • Jamie Alexander as Sheppard− incorrect
  • Charles White as Father William Griffin
  • Ron Weyand as Father Frank Mozian

4. Principal production credits

  • Costume Design. Ruth Morley
  • Original Music. Michael Small
  • Director. Sidney Lumet
  • Production Design. Philip Rosenberg
  • Cinematography. Gerald Hirschfeld

5. Critical reception

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote "Child’s Play, which is beautifully acted and very nicely directed, doesnt seem to know whether it’s really about the supernatural or not. the entire movie is set up to suggests supernatural overtones, so when we get a rather conventional, Freudian, ending, we’re disappointed. The original fault lies with Robert Marascos Broadway play, I suppose. But it could have been fixed for the movie." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "With the exception of the performance of Mr. Mason, who is fine as the mad, exhausted Latin teacher, everything in Childs Play seems to be rather cheaply tricky - such as the low-range photography and floor lighting designed to throw faces into eerie relief. In a more thoughtful film, the screen play and the performances might have been expected to create the sense of true menace and mystery. Even more irritating is the soundtrack, full of ominous clicking noises that are so loud and so resonant that one cant believe that the characters inside the film cant hear them, too." Variety called the film "a taut and suspenseful drama," further stating that "Sidney Lumets direction catches the mood and spirit of an unhealthy situation and he makes every move count," and Mason gives a "solid performance." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune rated the film 2 stars out of 4 and wrote "Because the look of the film is so artificial, and because the guilty party can be only one person - the only one with a genuine motive - Childs Play is a small disaster as both horror story and mystery." A positive review from Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a superior psychological thriller" that "works a few mild deceptions on the audience to achieve its ends, but no one is likely to care very much. Getting there is all the scary pleasure." Champlin added that "Masons performance, in its power and also in its subtle shifting, ranks with the best portrayals in his long, impressive career." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote "In a better play or movie we might have learned what makes one man despise another so intensely that he thinks hes justified in destroying him. In Childs Play we get a load of ominous, evil-minded humbug, a vicious dumb show with schoolboys acting like zombie killers, constantly lurking in the shadows and inflicting nasty accidents."

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