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86 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Kazan Conjures CarnalityDec 5 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: VHS Tape
I had the privilege of seeing this excellent film last week at the AFI Silver Theater, which recently ran a month-long tribute to the late, great director Elia Kazan. Kazan is notable for his collaborations with a young Marlon Brando, directing the rising star in three films during the early 50s: "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Viva Zapata!" and the masterpiece "On the Waterfront." Many film critics put "Baby Doll" right behind "On the Waterfront" when ranking Kazan's filmography. Having seen it, I would likely do the same (though I haven't seen all of Kazan's films yet).
Eli Wallach, who plays Silva Vaccaro in "Baby Doll," was on hand to introduce the film at the AFI Silver. He spoke for about 45 minutes and, though he's in his 80s, had the audience (about 40 or 50 of us) roaring with laughter. I was amazed at how many top actors and directors he's worked with. He spoke mainly about "Baby Doll," which he says is his favorite film.
Here are a few things I learned from Eli Wallach about "Baby Doll": His hands were NOT anywhere near Carroll Baker's private parts during the notoriously erotic swing scene, as reported in many a film review at the time. Rather, they were resting on a space heater; though "Baby Doll" takes place in the heat of summer, the film was shot during winter. In fact, the actors had to suck on ice cubes before each take so their breath wouldn't show. Wallach spent more time in the iconic baby crib than Baby Doll herself. This was Wallach's first film.
"Baby Doll" is based on two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams: "27 Wagons Full of Cotton" and "The Unsatisfactory Supper." Anyone familiar with Tennessee Williams knows that his writing is very southern and very steamy. "Baby Doll" may be the steamiest, most erotic thing he ever wrote.
The owner of a private cotton gin, Archie Lee, has his hands full with "child bride" Baby Doll, who sleeps in a crib and won't let her husband touch her until she turns 20. With her birthday in a few days, Baby Doll, played by the impossibly-cute Carroll Baker, is threatening to "withhold" unless her aging, doltish husband starts raking in the dough. After their furniture is hauled off, Lee, played by Karl Malden, sets fire to the new cotton gin that's been taking away his business. Silva Vaccaro, a firey Sicilian businessman played by Eli Wallach, vows to exact revenge on the person who burned down his gin. Suspicions lead him directly to Lee's doorstep where, over the course of an afternoon, he proceeds to destroy the man's life.
The heart of the movie is Vaccaro's seduction of Baby Doll. No flesh is ever shown, nothing explicit is ever uttered and I believe there's only one kiss in the entire film. Regardless, this is some of the hottest, most erotic footage in American film. The dialogue, the acting, the way it's directed: the overall effect is like watching passionate sex, yet it's simply two people talking - and they're not even talking about sex! To me, this type of filmmaking is magical, when the director conjures something out of thin air that isn't even there.
"Baby Doll" was highly, highly controversial upon its release in 1956. It was condemned by The Legion of Decency, an organization of the Roman Catholic Church, who claimed that it was immoral. Because of the hype, it was withdrawn from over 70 percent of U.S. theaters before its premiere. Several film critics at the time called it the most pornographic film ever released by a film studio. Today however, very few would likely get in a fuss over it.
"Baby Doll" is a great film that now ranks among my favorites of all time. It's not only sexy, but very funny, well-acted, well-written and expertly directed. It may seem a little dated to most modern viewers, but I personally think it holds up quite well (but then, I do watch a lot of old films.) If and when "Baby Doll" is produced for DVD, I hope the studio considers Eli Wallach for the audio commentary.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
"Is that what they call a Mona Lisa smile you got on your puss?"June 22 2006
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A nymphet, her hothead husband and a vengeance seeking Sicilian form a bizarre triangle filled with sexual tension in Tennessee William's smoldering black comedy. The film (released in 1956) created quite the sensation in its day and was condemned by the Catholic Church. Although tame by today's standards, it is easy to see why the film was so daring at the time of its release. The heavily suggestive dialogue and sexual implications are easily apparent. "Baby Doll" is finally available on dvd and it looks fantastic.
Filmed in Benoit, Mississippi in a dilapidated antebellum mansion (which still stands today), you can almost feel the heat drifting across the desolate landscape. Locals were used in some of the bit parts which adds even more authenticity to the feel of the film.
The performances are top-notch with Carrol Baker breathtaking and utterly memorable as the unsophisticated child bride ("I've been to school in my life and I'm a magazine reader") and Karl Malden perfect as the bumbling, seething husband whose jealously drives him over the edge. Eli Wallach is hypnotic as the revenge seeking opportunist and Mildred Dunnock is hilarious as the ditsy aunt who runs around trying to keep the chicken out of the kitchen and forgetting to turn on the stove to cook the greens. Baker and Dunnock received Academy Award nominations and it is unbelievable that Malden and Wallach were over-looked. This is one of the funniest films ever made. The scene where Wallach is running across the mansion with a pitcher of lemonade trying to scare Baby Doll is especially hilarious.
I agree with the previous reviewer who lamented the lost opportunity for a great commentary since the principle actors still living. The brief documentary, "Baby Doll: See No Evil," does include interviews with Baker, Malden and Wallach but a commentary would have been wonderful.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
"My daddy would roll over in his grave!"March 22 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: VHS Tape
Archie Lee (Karl Malden) has had the hots for Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) since she was jail bait. Eventually her elderly father, who obviously sired her late in life and spoiled her silly, passed away, and foolishly agreed to let Archie Lee marry her when she reached age 18 so she'd be taken care of when he was gone.
She was, as she plaintively says, "not ready for marriage." And now, nearly two years later, she still isn't. Her 20th birthday is approaching (not 19th, as some reviews here say for some reason), and her agreement with Archie has been that she'll be "ready" on her 20th birthday. Archie is so excited he literally can't sit still....and we can't blame him.
Director Elia Kazan does his usual terrific job with his method directing, making sure we feel what's going on even if we can't understand all of it. The poor oaf played by Malden is helpless in the hands of the object of his desire, and she loathes him. Eli Wallach, in a terrific film debut, is insightful and virile, his attentions turning Baby Doll into a woman before our eyes.
Much has been said about the steaminess and controversy surrounding this film, and there's a reason for that, viewed in its context as a 1956 sensation. And Kazan certainly makes us feel this as well. The story builds to some appropriate climaxes (none of them explicitly sexual) and never allows our attention to flag. The tension, in spite of expert comedy touches along the way, never flags either. Doubtless the best Kazan/Tennessee Williams collaboration not starring Brando.
Malden was in the middle of a successful film career here, long before his days as the longtime American Express spokesman. Wallach went on to a successful film career himself. Baker, in spite of a Best Actress Oscar nomination for "Baby Doll," sadly degenerated to a caricature of this character, a one-note sexpot, in most of her roles, including the dreadful "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud," starring Bud Cort (Harold of "Harold and Maude") as the famous therapist himself. Please remember her this way; she was brilliant as the virginal, coquettish overaged Lolita yet to fully awaken....and then having awakened. Terrific film about the nature of desire and the sexual power young women can have over middle-aged men who don't know better.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
One Quibble - What a Missed Opportunity!May 12 2006
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I have been waiting for this brilliant movie to be released on dvd for ages and am thrilled that it has finally come to pass.One quibble, though: NO COMMENTARY??? Think about it: How many 50 some-odd year old movies have all its principal players still alive to record a commentary for posterity? Wouldn't it be an important addition to film history to have 94-year-old Karl Malden and 89-year-old Eli Wallach sit in a room with Carroll Baker and offer their observations and reminiscences? We are not going to have these great actors around forever and soon there will be no-one left who experienced the "Golden Age of Hollywood" first hand. If the studio that had put out "Streetcar Named Desire" in its original dvd release had bothered to invest in extras instead of putting it out bare bones for a quick buck, we could've had commentary by Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter. Now they've all passed and the 2 -disc edition is too little too late. Saying a few words about a film in a documentary is not nearly as good as watching the film with the parties involved in creating it, their memories being jogged by each other and the film itself. C'Mon, Hollywood, let's try a little harder with the extras!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
They do not make movies like this any moreFeb. 20 2008
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Often times when people think of director Elia Kazan, they think of his professional movie greats and his personal blunders during McCarthy era. This is the first film of his I saw on DVD and I was smitten by it from the start. Everything about this film is perfection: sceenplay prepared after Tennessee Williams' play, cast, direction. I remember seeing actor Karl Malden as older man in a movies of my childhood and it is just amazing to see him in a fine role of Archie in this film during her younger years as an actor. And then, of course, the infamous part of the film on the swing. I recall reading about it year after year before Oscar nominations, when film critics bring up the most scandalous moments in the american film and this one inevitably shows up repeatedly in their honorable mentions. I will not re-tell the story in this film. What I will say is that story is unique and things that are not said, done or seen on the screen is what drives viewers to this film. Although this film is made after a play, this kind of production could never be produced in the theatre - and that is the best thing about the movie. While people are fascnated about the actrss portraying character of a Baby Doll, I was fascinated by the actor Eli Wallach who gave his performance of a lifetime in this film. From reading other reviews, it is a thrill to learn that Mr. Wallach considers this film to be one of his favorite ones in his career. You MUST see this movie. It has smartness, humor and beauty of language in it and the sexual tension like the one portrayed in this film, has never been filmed before or since. This film is Elia Kazan's masterpiece.