Archive for the ‘Baby Doll’ Category

Baby Doll

May 29, 2006

When Baby Doll was unleashed on the public in 1956, there was a huge moral uproar. Twenty million Catholics protested the film, thanks to a unique damning of the movie by Cardinal Francis Spellman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The outcry was enough to convince the studio to withdraw the movie.

So what was the big deal? Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) is a nineteen-year-old virgin married to Archie Lee (Karl Malden), who exacted from her before the wedding a promise – that when she turned twenty, she would be ready to consummate the marriage. The movie takes place three days before Baby Doll’s twentieth birthday. So there you have it. Archie Lee and Baby Doll haven’t done the deed, as much as Archie Lee wants to, and it’s frustrating the bejeezus out of him.

To add to Archie Lee’s troubles, his cotton farm (as well as those of just about every other farmer in the country) has been severely crippled by the arrival of a new farmer, Silva Vaccaro (Eli Wallach, in his first film). But on the night that Vaccaro receives an award from the sheriff, his cotton gin is burned to the ground. Could Archie Lee have had something to do with it?

But those two troubles are secondary to the main tensions, all between characters. Baby Doll resents Archie Lee’s possessive-entitlement attitude; Archie Lee resents his wife’s confounding, diva-like behavior. Then there’s the tension between Archie Lee and Silva; first, it’s a professional tension – Silva suspects Archie Lee had a hand in ruining the gin – but then it gets personal after Silva spends a long part of an afternoon trying to seduce Baby Doll.

Tennessee Williams again proved an able adapter of his own plays for the screen, especially in crafting honest dialog and situations. Every scene feels seamy, steamy, and sincere. Nowadays, the brouhaha seems quaint – no way people would get bent out of shape over sexual tension today; it’d be different if Baby Doll and Silvo actually did have a sex scene. So much of the movie feels dated, albeit a fine characterization of Deep South tensions and sensibilities.