Archie Lee Meighan, middle-aged cotton gin owner, can hardly wait for the 20th birthday of his childish bride Baby Doll, when he'll be allowed to consummate the marriage...he thinks. But rival owner Silva Vaccaro suspects Archie of burning his gin down, and takes an erotic form of Sicilian vengeance.
Karl Malden ... Archie Lee Meighan
Carroll Baker ... Baby Doll Meighan
Eli Wallach ... Silva Vacarro
Mildred Dunnock ... Aunt Rose Comfort
Lonny Chapman ... Rock
Eades Hogue ... Town Marshal
Noah Williamson ... Deputy
I've seen quite a few films in my life, but none such as this. Elia Kazan's quirky, off-the-wall romp about revenge and justice in 1950's Mississippi is truly remarkable. The first time I saw this movie I didn't know how to take it; I turned on my TV one day right at the scene where Eli Wallach and Carroll Baker are upstairs playing hide and seek... It seemed disturbing, but something about it held my interest.
A second viewing of this film was powerful. Karl Malden is right on the money as the loud-mouthed, frustrated, alcoholic husband; Carroll Baker, brilliant (and stunning) as Baby Doll; but I have to say, Eli Wallach SHINES as Silva Vacarro. He is so smooth, calculated, and mesmerizing as the one who "does his own justice". Hard to believe he didn't win an Oscar for his performance.
It is worth noting Kazan's use of the extras in this film (most of whom are African-American). Often you'll see a man or two in the background or off to the side, observing the story as it unfolds; they are the silent and wise observers to the craziness around them. Like the scene where Karl Malden is yelling "Babeee Dolllll!!!!" from his car, and the men just sit there and watch him--you wonder what they're thinking.
A superb film! The dining room scene at the end is choice.
Elia Kazan took a big chance in directing "Baby Doll". His association with Tennessee Williams must have been the deciding factor in his coming on board. This was a film that caused quite a stir because of the direct intervention of Cardinal Spellman of New York in denouncing it for its suggestive billboard in the Times Square area and the content of the movie.
This film is a testament of how to film an erotic feature without having the actors running naked all over the place. Carroll Baker, as the Baby Doll of the title, generates a lot of heat every time we see her in the opening scenes through the "peeping tom" eyes of Archie Lee, the husband still awaiting to fulfill his duty as a husband.
The steamy scenes between Vaccaro and Baby Doll are incredible if one thinks of the era when it was filmed. Nothing like those torrid scenes were seen in an American film before! What is amazing is the fact this film was released at all.
Unfortunately, the copy that was shown on cable recently has the worst sound track imaginable. The Southern accents from the actors don't help things either.
Karl Malden adds to the character of Archie Lee by playing it as a dumb hick who is not too worldly in matters of the bedroom. Carroll Baker had a great role in her Baby Doll. She plays her as a typical small town from that part of the South, a real teaser. Eli Wallach's as Vaccaro brought virility and sensuality to his portrayal. Mildred Dunnock was good as Aunt Rose.
This film is an oddity that heralded the liberation of Hollywood from the hated Hays Code which will come much later on.
This is a hilarious farce by Tennessee Williams, containing much self-parody. On one level, it can even be interpreted as a burlesque of his "A Streetcar Named Desire." "Stella!" becomes "Baby Doll!" If one cannot imagine the great dramatic playwright writing comedy, then this is the film to see.
Even the story is a mockery. A foolish old man, Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden), pretending to be a Southern gentleman, with a rundown plantation and a cotton gin, tricks another old man into letting him marry his comely teenage daughter, Baby Doll (Caroll Baker). He promises to renovate the old farm for Baby Doll and to buy her the world. She agrees if he swears not to touch her until her twentieth birthday. The foolish old man quickly becomes a laughing stock to both blacks and whites who live in the small community in the delta region (there's a sham sign posted in the general store that reads, "Buy Arkansas"). To insure his hold on the rather worldly, not so innocent Baby Doll, Archie Lee burns down his competitor's cotton gin. His competitor, a Sicilian named Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach), becomes Baby Doll's Latin lover to get back at Archie Lee.
There are several memorable scenes in Elia Kazan's direction of Tennessee William's screenplay. The one that is most remembered because it created such a moral outrage at the time (even Baby Doll pajamas were marketed) shows Baby Doll lying in a baby crib, scantly clad in, what else?, baby doll pajamas, sucking her thumb and arousing all sorts of erotic sensations in the male observer. Another scene is one of the most laughable ever put on the big screen. Picture if you will Eli Wallach riding a hobby horse like a wild stallion while slurping lemonade from a pitcher, listening to "Shame, Shame, Shame" by Smiley Lewis on the record player. This is part of the mad Sicilian's seduction of Baby Doll in the most childish way conceivable, ultimately falling asleep in her baby crib with Baby Doll intoning to him a lullaby.
In classical dramas, tragedies naturally had tragic endings and comedies had happy endings. Tennesee Williams' travesty doesn't exactly have a happy ending, but it's not a tragic ending either, more of a postponement of things to come.
A personal note: I was twelve when "Baby Doll" opened in my home town in Arkansas. The churches and other so-called decency groups attempted to have it banned. There were even pickets outside the theater. Because of all the hype with pictures of Baby Doll flooding the media, I had to finagle a way to see it. Those under thirteen had to be accompanied by an adult (this was before the MPAA ratings system was developed--the PCA was beginning to bend its strict rules as American mores were changing. I mislead my dad, who paid little attention to movie previews, into thinking it was suitable for the general public. My dad attended the film with me and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. He never told my mother about either one of us watching it.
* The Legion of Decency, an organization of the Roman Catholic Church in the US, condemned the film as immoral, and despite the efforts of director Elia Kazan, were able to get it withdrawn from release.
* Tennessee Williams's first choice for the title role of Baby Doll was Marilyn Monroe, (who was straining to improve herself as an actress at the time and wanted the role badly), although Elia Kazan preferred newcomer Carroll Baker, whose work he was familiar with from the Actors' Studio in New York.
* When the film was released in 1956, it was enormously controversial for its extremely risqué subject matter. The Legion of Decency condemned the film for its "carnal suggestiveness". Francis Cardinal Spellman condemned the film in a stunning attack from the pulpit of St. Patrick's Cathedral two days before the film opened, saying that the film had been "responsibly judged to be evil in concept" and was certain that it would "exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it", and exhorted all Catholics to refrain from patronizing the film "under pain of sin". Cardinal Spellman's condemnation of the film led to the Legion of Decency's first-ever nationwide boycott of an American-made film produced by a major studio. All over the country, almost 20 million Catholics protested the film and picketed theaters that showed it. The Catholic boycott nearly killed the film; it was cancelled by 77% of theaters scheduled to show it, and it only made a meager $600,000 at the box office. The film was also condemned by Time Magazine, which called it the dirtiest American-made motion picture that had ever been legally exhibited. Surprisingly, despite the film's sordid elements, the Production Code Administration gave it a seal of approval, but only after nearly a year of arguments. This was one of many examples of how the lax attitude of new Code official Geoffrey Shurlock, the successor at the PCA to the strict Catholic militant Joseph Breen, would lead to a schism with the Legon of Decency and the PCA's own downfall over the next few years. After this film, the PCA drifted farther and farther away from its traditional guidelines until it was replaced by the MPAA ratings system in 1968.
* Tennessee Williams's screenplay for "Baby Doll" is based on two of his one-act plays, "Twenty-seven Wagons Full of Cotton" and "The Unsatisfactory Supper".