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September 2, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #87 - The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Dear Masha and Fasha of mine: Thanks for letting me watch this movie when I was a young teen who shouldn't be watching a movie whose plot hinges on a groping gynecologist.  Also, thanks to The Sista for being so persuasive back in the day, convincing them to let us watch an evil nanny try to take over a seemingly perfect household and set up elaborate traps to stop the likes of a scheming Julianne Moore.  There are many lessons in life that come from The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, and I feel obliged to address them tonight.
For starters, we learn that we shouldn't inherently trust people who look like Rebecca De Mornay.  We want to, because the best case scenario is that Risky Business happens to us.  I mean, she looks trustworthy, and she presents as trustworthy, but she also kind of wants to destroy our families and take our children because we called out her groping gynecologist husband for being a groping gynecologist.  Which is inherently BAD.
If you're unfamiliar with the film - perhaps your parents didn't let you watch this R-rated thriller when you were 11 or 12 - De Mornay stars as Peyton Flanders, the too-good-to-be-true nanny who comes into the Bartel home to take care of the children of Claire and Michael, played by Annabella Sciorra and Matt McCoy('s wicked beard). The couple seem to have the perfect life with a big white house, two daughters (one an infant, one old enough to be one of those overly smart Hollywood children), and a bumbling handyman played by Ernie Hudson hanging around.  But when you get offered a Peyton - and she acts like the good Rebecca De Mornay - you take that offer, right?  Of course you do.  It's human nature.
And that's when that old saying that starts with the title comes into play: The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.  From the moment Peyton steps into the house, they might as well just call the house Peyton Place - except of course that that one was already taken.  The former wife of the groping gynecologist teaches us all another important lesson: that taking care of a baby is pretty much the easiest way to gain power known to man or woman.  Peyton - as written by screenwriter Amanda Silver - understands this, and the power she gains allows her to take on a predatory role throughout the film.  Silver (who recently resurfaced in Hollywood by co-writing the fantastic Rise of the Planet of the Apes) does a fantastic job of showing how De Mornay uses her ruthless intelligence against each character in different ways.  My favorite of her tactics, of course, is the fact that she lets six-year-old Emma watch White Zombie.
The other key thing we learn from The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is something we should have already known by early 1992 - that Ernie Hudson is totally awesome.  I've never felt Hudson got his due as one of the Ghostbusters, which is awful enough, but then he comes into The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and totally rocks the house as the slow-but-steady Solomon.  It's a simple role - literally - but Hudson just seems to be having so much fun in it that he makes me smile every time.  And then there's the final act, when Solomon gets to step into a hero role, and I look at the film and start doing the fistpumpdance.  The fact of the matter is that more movies need Ernie Hudson, and it's a crying shame that we haven't been fed a steady diet of the man in awesome roles for the past 25 years.
With Curtis Hanson - who would go on to direct masterful films like L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys - at the helm, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is always competent, often chilling, and occasionally thought provoking.  It's not the most groundbreaking thriller in the world, but the lessons it teaches have stuck with me for decades.  Peyton and Solomon and the rest of the characters in the film - except the groping gynecologist - can teach us a lot about life, even if we're too young to understand just what a groping gynecologist is.  And that's the biggest reason why this thriller still entertains me thoroughly.


Kev D. said...

I'm a huge Ernie Hudson fan. You seen him in No Escape? Man's a genius. Also, he adds one million extra levels of cool to The Crow as well.

Enbrethiliel said...


I love this movie! Peyton is so twistedly evil!

And yet I think every woman wishes she could be like her.