Living in Tiger Tail County, Mississippi, middle aged Archie Lee Meighan and nineteen year old "Baby Doll" Meighan née McCargo have been married for close to two years. Their marriage is not based on love, but each getting what they want from the other. Their marriage agreement has them consummating their marriage on her twentieth birthday, which is in three days, the act to which Baby Doll is not really looking forward. But she does taunt him and other men with her overt "baby doll" sexuality, the baby doll aspect which she fosters by sleeping in their house's nursery in a crib. Baby Doll's now deceased father allowed the marriage on the stipulation that Archie Lee provide Baby Doll financial security as displayed by the most resplendent house in the south. They currently live in a dilapidated mansion with her Aunt Rose Comfort, and although Archie Lee is making some renovations on it, he no longer has the financial means to make it what Baby Doll wants as his cotton ginning ...Written by
The working titles of this film were "Twenty-Seven Wagon Loads of Cotton" and "Mississippi Woman". In her autobiography, Carroll Baker reports that on her last day of shooting, Elia Kazan offered to change the film's title from "Mississippi Woman" to "Baby Doll", her character's name, as a "present" to her. See more »
After Silva bursts through the door in the attic, Baby Doll is shown running from him with her blanket wrapped around her. The instant before she falls on to the attic beam, she removes the blanket, and holds it in her left hand. In the very next shot, after she has fallen, the blanket is wrapped around her body once again. See more »
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.
31 of 35 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this