Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992): Hanson’s Psychological Thriller

The reasons for the popularity of Curtis Hanson’s psychological thriller The Handle That Rocks the Cradle, the first bona fide hit of 1992, may be sociological rather than cinematic.

The movie has been touted by some as “Fatal Attraction for the l990s,” and one can see why. Both movies are psychological thrillers dealing with the sanctity of the nuclear family. In both films, the dominant motif is revenge. And finally, in both film the sociopath is a blonde, attractive woman. Other than that, the films are very different.

What makes “The Handle” really scary is the notion of terrorizing the family from within; in Fatal Attraction it was from without. It is to the credit of director Curtis Hanson (“The Bedroom Window”) that the suspense that he built is consistently sustained. Yes, there is a big climax with some frills.

Yet the reason why the movie has become a media event, talked about in talk shows in TV’s morning programs is that it touch chords with the audience–especially female viewers. One of the most suspenseful scenes is early on when Claire Bartel, a pregnant Seattle housewife goes to see her gynecologist and he crosses the proper, professional lines and examines her in a rather sexual manner. It is the kind of scene that many women must have experienced–or at least thought about while examined. Then, there is the issue of malpractice and filing charges. With her husband’s encouragement, Claire files charges, which result in the doctor’s suicide–and other women, similarly abused by him, coming forward.

Young parents may wish to check and double check the references of their baby-sitters. Since the movie was released, there have been a number of cases of women abusing children.

Bent on revenge, the baby-sitter employs just about every tactics possible to destroy the happiness of the couple, which she blames for ruining her life. She turns the daughter against her mother, increases the suspicion that the family handyman molested the child.

“The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” is the kind of film that would increase parents’ suspicions and doubts when there was no reason and no evidence to doubt the references and appropriate behavior.