Baby Doll Movie Review

The first shot of Baby Doll slaps you in the face with the promise of something unique and the assurance that you're about to watch a real Tennessee Williams production. That shot is of Carroll Baker, lolling on a child's bed with her thumb in her mouth. When we see Karl Malden leering at her through a peephole, we assume he's the local pervert. He turns out to be her husband. And that's the source of all the film's sexual tension.

Baby Doll (as she's known) turns out to be a virgin, and Malden's Archie is due to change that on her 20th birthday, which is set to occur in two days. But things take a strange turn when one of Archie's competitors, Silva (Eli Wallach) -- both men are cotton gin owner/operators -- accuses Archie of burning down his gin. As payback, Silva figures he'll take the only thing of value that Archie has: His wife... if you could call her that.

Strangely, the bulk of the film concerns Silva and Baby Doll. She doesn't want his advances, though she teases him just enough to convince him otherwise, and Archie is absent for large stretches of the film. What follows is mostly cat and mouse as Silva woos Baby Doll with parlor tricks and Baby Doll alternately swoons and tries to escape. Who'll win this little tete a tete? If you've seen any of Williams' other film adaptations (this one is loosely based on two of his plays), you'll probably figure that no one will end up very much ahead.

The film isn't without its weaknesses. Malden, always an impressive performer, seems tragically underused after his fiery opening scenes. Wallach's Silva is played as a one-note lech, and Baby Doll's histrionics ultimately come off as forced. The battle between Silva and Archie is equally contrived, and it seems like with half an hour of thought, Williams could have come up with a more believable way to get Silva and Baby Doll in the same room together, alone.

Still, an impressively steamy story for its day and some moments of true greatness make Baby Doll a film worth seeking out. And strangely it's Malden who makes it more worthwhile than anyone. It's finally on DVD, and part of the new Tennessee Williams box set.

The DVD also features a restrospective featurette.

Comments

Baby Doll Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 1956

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