‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Welcome to the ’92 Cinema Revue.

Every week we’ll be taking a look at one film from each week released in 1992. On a personal note, I’m turning 30 this year. I wanted to take a look at what was popular during my birth year film-wise. Some of these are stone-cold classics, others not so much. A majority of the films I’ve never seen before. Now, a few rules before we start:

The Rules for the Cinema Revue
  1. If the film hit number one at the US domestic box office on its debut, it must be covered.
  2. If the number one film is the same for the next week(s), review another film’s debut.
  3. Film choices are based on wide release. If no wide-release standout, a limited release will be released.
  4. Five audibles were called:
    – One film was changed due to switching a mid-tier film with a film on my watchlist for nearly a decade.
    – Two films were chosen due to the lack of availability via rental or streaming for another film’s debut.
    – Two others were chosen using the UK release date as no other film debut stateside.
    The good news is this allows every Best Picture nominee at the Oscars to be reviewed during the series.

With the housekeeping out of the way, let the revue begin.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle – #1 Film in US, Jan. 10, 1992

All-Time Domestic Gross – $88,036,683

All true trophies of the age
Are from mother love impearled:
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.”

– “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,”
William Ross Wallace (1865)

Popular cinema in 1992 began with a bang. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a thrilling “nanny from hell” elevated by a terrific and terrifying performance from Rebecca De Mornay.

Cradle follows Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra), a pregnant victim of sexual molestation from her gynecologist Dr. Victor Mott (John de Lancie). With more victims coming forward to make Mott’s sexual assaults public, he commits suicide. As a result of this, his wife Mrs. Mott (De Mornay) is distraught going into early labor which winds up in a miscarriage. Determined to get revenge on Claire for ruining her family and life, she poses as a nanny under the guise of Peyton. Peyton is hired by Claire and her husband Michael (Matt McCoy).

Mrs. Mott starts to play mind games with the family and starts a slow steady process of punishment toward Claire. She builds a manipulative bond with Claire’s daughter Emma (Madeline Zima). hurling accusations at intellectually disabled handyman Solomon (Ernie Hudson). She also attempts to seduce Michael who doesn’t want to overstep that line. Claire’s pal Marlene (Julianne Moore) feels there is something more to Peyton. Yet, as time goes on, the signs begin to show to Claire and the true battle begins over control of the household.

Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) and Mrs. Mott as Peyton (Rebecca De Mornay) meet after she stops the school bus for Claire’s daughter. Source: The Walt Disney Studios

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a film whose plot today would be regulated to the “so bad, it’s good” vibes of the Lifetime network. But in 1992? This goes straight to number one at the box office and that rules. The fact that thrillers were such a popular genre in the ‘90s that they could rule the box office. One of the highest-grossing films of ‘92 is Basic Instinct, an erotic thriller. This is a feat that is unheard of today.

Yet, the plot is something that has more often than not been fodder for Movie of the Weeks. In lesser hands, this film more is another forgettable film and relic of the ‘90s. What saves it is the performances from the two leads Sciorra and De Mornay. That latter is the reason this film works with a conniving and vicious performance.

She sells the naivety of a nanny and can be one hell of a manipulative bastard. She does this to Emma to get her on her side and tries to woo Michael with her sexuality which falters, but damn does it get close. When she turns into the full raging monster in the third act, she means business and becomes terrifying in every sense of the word. This is a career highlight for De Mornay.

Mrs. Mott as Peyton (De Mornay) leaves the kitchen after an attempted seduction of Claire’s husband Michael (Matt McCoy). Source: The Walt Disney Studios

Sciorra’s Claire is a tormented woman going into a spiral of depression. Her world keeps getting turned upside down and her performance expresses that by showing how dejected she is from everything. The scene that shows much torture she is in is when she accuses Michael of cheating at her surprise party. Mrs. Mott watches in pure satisfaction as Claire crumbles from embarrassment and sadness. Sciorra is a great performer that most reading will remember as Gloria from The Sopranos.

As for the plot and the rest of the film, it’s all the schlock one would expect. A seduction scene occurs in the kitchen with the fridge open with Mrs. Mott in a negligee. There is a death in a greenhouse that is rigged up like a psycho Kevin McCallister. Michael gets pushed off stairs in a basement breaking both legs. A shovel and knife fight occur in the third act leading to impalement. Yet, the most shocking of all is Mrs. Mott breastfeeding Claire’s son Joe with her own breast milk that was to be for her own child. This scene is creepy as hell and happens within moments of Mrs. Mott’s hiring as Peyton. This is a disgusting adult fear that would frighten any parent.

The other performances in the movie are okay and dated. Matt McCoy is a blank slate with a performance that would not be out of place in a cereal ad. Zima as Emma is okay, but given throwaway lines (except for a line she says after tricking Peyton).

Solomon (Ernie Hudson) is confronted by Mrs. Mott (Rebecca De Mornay) after he catches her breastfeeding Claire’s baby. Source: The Walt Disney Studios

Hudson’s performance as Solomon is dated as heck can be a hard watch. Upfront, it is not a mockery of the intellectually disabled like discussed in Tropic Thunder. Yet, the scene when Mrs. Mott calls him the R-word is so mean and unwarranted that it itself is upsetting after seeing her breastfeed the baby. His firing after is also disheartening due to Peyton framing him as a sexual harasser. Yet, his return later in the film is a badass moment.

The film is directed by the late great Curtis Hanson who would go on to direct L.A. Confidential after this film. Hanson’s direction is great here capturing the action unfolding and getting into the grittiness of it all. This is a nice preview into how he would handle L.A. Confidential and later 8 Mile. The screenplay by Amanda Silver helps too by giving a ton for the characters to work with and hone on, but ensuring it does not get too hokey or cheesy. Silver would go on to co-write the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy alongside Rick Jaffa.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a thrill ride of topsy-turvy turmoil that exceeds expectations. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it is a damn fun time through and through. Sciorra and De Mornay are at their peak in this film giving everything they got, even if others falter. It’s a TV movie with a feature film budget done right.

Revue Rating: 4 out of 5

Next week, we take a look at a triple threat of debuts. The directorial debut of cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson of Do the Right Thing. The feature film debut of Omar Epps. The cinematic starring role debut of  Tupac Shakur. ‘92 Cinema Revue will return with Juice. We’ll return with another view of 1992.

2 thoughts on “‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

  1. Pingback: Heads-Up Reflection: January’s Cinema Revue selections get recapped, February brings SNL fun, and ‘The Matrix’ gets animated | Cinema Revue

  2. Pingback: ‘The Lawnmower Man’ – ’92 Cinema Revue | Cinema Revue

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