Baby Doll (1956)

Baby Dollbaby doll poster
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Tennessee Williams
1956/USA
Newtown Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Baby Doll: Sometimes, big shot, you don’t seem to give me credit for very much intelligence at all. I’ve been to school in my life – and I’m a magazine reader!

I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly was not this fantastic black comedy!

Baby Doll Meghan (Carol Baker) is nineteen years old and sleeps in a crib.  She is married to Archie Meghan (Karl Malden).  They have an “agreement” that the marriage will not be consummated until she turns 20, which will happen in a couple of days.  Baby Doll does not appear to be enthusiastic and makes it clear that her part of the deal is contingent on the couple retaining the furniture they bought on credit.  This seems doubtful as Archie’s decrepit cotton gin has been put out of business by a modern operation in town.

Baby Doll has pretentions of gentility and Archie sees himself as a good ol’ boy but they both behave like stereotypical White Trash.  Archie has liquor bottles stashed around the place which he frequently sips from on the sly.  The couple lives in squalor with Baby Doll’s Aunt Rose Comfort (Mildred Dunnock) who acts as chief cook and bottle washer when she is not over visiting an acquaintance at the hospital in order to nibble on their chocolate candy.

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Finally the furniture company comes and repossesses all the furniture in the house save the nursery set.  In desperation, Archie sets fire to the competition.  Outsider Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach in his film debut) who operates the gin is on to Archie and arrives to get his cotton processed and get revenge.  It turns out revenge is sweeter than expected when he sets eyes on Baby Doll.

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My sense of humor is idiosyncratic and possibly warped but I thought this was hilarious. The writing is jam-packed with terrific one-liners and double entendres.  I love Eli Wallach and he is deliciously wicked here.  The other actors match him in excellence.  The direction is also fantastic.  I loved all the shots of farm hands of different races cracking up at the goings on.  Recommended.

The film was condemned by the Legion of Decency for “carnal suggestiveness” and led to an organized nationwide boycott by Catholics.  It was cancelled by 77% of the theaters scheduled to show it.  The film is very suggestive but not graphic by any means.

Baby Doll was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress; Best Supporting Actress (Dunnock); Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted; and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.

Trailer

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