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USA 1992
Directed by
Curtis Hanson
110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

The script for The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is very much in the style of a Hollywood studio-era pot-boiler. Indeed it is hard not to see Rebecca De Mornay’s Mary-Poppins-from-Hell as being played by Bette Davis with Joan Crawford in the Annabella Sciorra role of her housewife employer victim. Unfortunately Curtis Hanson’s heavy-handed direction keeps the film well short of those old school delights.

Sciorra plays Claire, a woman who accuses her gynecologist of sexual harassment, which leads to his suicide. De Mornay is his wife who, as a result of that trauma, loses her baby. Bent on revenge she insinuates herself into Claire’s family and proceeds to destroy Claire's suburban idyll.

Whilst the script, modern embellishments notwithstanding, would have been quite suitable for a ‘40s black and white melodrama, the high-toned, sunlit ‘90s production values are an uncomfortable fit with the film's B grade tenor.  Hanson is overlong in establishing the happy middle class nuclear family so that even before the deranged nanny arrives so easily in their home we pretty much know what’s going to happen. And it does so with a mind-numbing lack of imagination and, in its latter stages, a good deal of stupidity. Thus, when Claire and Michael finally discover the true identity of their nanny they simply tell her to leave. Like, hello...isn't she a psycho killer?

The film’s overall design from make-up to set decoration is awful with Matt McCoy, a dorky Sam Waterston type, with his drab-coloured shirts and ties, epitomizing the televisual blandness that in its carefully colour-coordinated homogeneity actually becomes a distractingly insistent presence whilst Ernie Hudson is nearly laughable for his pantomime performance as a mentally-challenged, black handyman.  De Mornay and Sciorra fulfill their roles well but given the conventionality of their parts the only performer of any real interest is Julianne Moore as Claire’s career-woman best friend.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is a film that if it had been made fifty years ago would probably be more watchable than it is today.




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