Baby Doll

1956, Movie, NR, 114 mins


An explosive, provocative black comedy from Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan. Williams reworked his one-act play, 27 Wagonloads of Cotton, into a highly controversial screenplay that Time magazine called "possibly the dirtiest American picture ever legally exhibited."

Although BABY DOLL feels tame today, the cinematography and appropriately sleazy setting still have a sizzling effect, especially in a notorious porch-swing tryst between stars Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach. All the performances are masterful, amusing and archtypal in the Williams manner: Karl Malden's yokel, Baker's hothouse virgin, Mildred Dunnock's vague octogenarian (especially hilarious) and Wallach's wily Sicilian all score strongly, though the latter lacks the physical size and power to be a believably threatening stud. Arguably, Kazan has no peer at directing Williams: you can almost feel the moss growing, so authentic is this treatment.

This was Baker's first major role, following her film debut in 1953's EASY TO LOVE, and despite all the moral outrage, she deservedly received an Oscar nomination (she lost to Ingrid Bergman for ANASTASIA), as did the script, Dunnock, and Kaufman's starkly handsome black-and-white photography. At the other end of the spectrum, the Catholic Legion of Decency broadly condemned the film, stating that it "dwells upon carnal suggestiveness." Half the town of Benoit, Mississippi, where the film was shot on location, turned out as extras for this sexual potboiler, presumably from erotic curiosity. leave a comment

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