Classic of the Week: Baby Doll (1956)

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Baby Doll  is a 1956 black comedy drama film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Carroll Baker, Karl Malden and Eli Wallach. The story is about a feud between two rival cotton gin owners in rural Mississippi. After one of the men commits arson against the other’s gin, he fights back by attempting to seduce the arsonist’s nineteen year old virgin bride, hoping to get an an admission of her husband’s guilt from her.

This film was condemned Roman Catholic National Legion of Decency, and I do agree that it is racy. It is still a classic and true work of art. The film starts out slow in  small town Mississippi, then gets some action and rather inappropriate flirtation and relationships. Baby Doll, despite being nineteen, still sleeps in a crib, wears childishly short nightgowns and sucks her thumb and Carroll Baker portrays her outstandingly. Her husband Archie is an alcoholic that likes to spy on Baby through a hole in the wall of  their ramshackle antebellum mansion. Karl Malden does an equally great job as Archie, the mean, heavy drinking and abusive husband. Eli Wallach is spectacular as Sicilian Silva Vacarro, Archie’s competitor, that steals all his business with a newer and more modern gin.

This film is has competition, poor living, loss, gain, retaliation and very inappropriate relationships (especially for the time period). The script is well written, the acting is great and spot on and everyone is perfect for their roles. This film is very adult for 1956, before the film rating system was born. After it came out it was given an X, then R rating, which fits it perfectly. This is a very, VERY mature classic pic, that still shocks and astonishes people today. It doesn’t seem like much of a comedy to me, but pretty much a drama. You may find this film to be too crude, but despite all the controversy, it is still a tour de force. 18+ 4.5/5

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