Blu-ray Review: Baby Doll [Warner Archive] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, March 8th, 2021  

Baby Doll

Studio: Warner Archive

Feb 17, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Nineteen-year-old “Baby Doll” was promised to her middle-aged husband by her dying father just after her eighteenth birthday. Feeling that she wasn’t ready for marriage—or, at least, what comes after—a deal is struck ahead of their wedding that it won’t be consummated until her twentieth birthday. Now, that date is days away, and Baby Doll wants out of her situation. Her husband, Archie Lee, has them living in an empty mansion that he’s been unable to restore since his cotton ginning business fell out of favor next to the high-tech setup of his rival, an Italian named Vacarro. When Archie Lee burns down Vacarro’s machinery in an act of drunken vengeance, the outsider turns up on his doorstep looking for a confession—and, perhaps, a little more from his young wife.

Elia Kazan’s film—from Tennessee Williams’ original script—stirred up a large amount of controversy in its original release shortly before Christmas in 1956. Although there’s no nudity or sex on-screen, it’s easily one of the most explicitly sexually-charged films you’ll see from the period; the marketing, which included billboards of Carroll Baker in her nightgown, sucking her thumb and awkwardly squeezed into a baby’s crib, certainly played up these elements. The film was pulled from many theaters, and outright banned in some countries, but in spite of this was nominated for numerous awards—including the Best Actress Oscar for Baker.

One of the things that is often overlooked in all of the controversy is how unusual this movie is. There’s biting humor for such a dark situation, set against a backdrop of poverty and segregation that is hardly shied away from. (There are things only implied that would render the film even dark; such as, did Baby Doll’s father promise her away because she was intellectually disabled, and he thought Archie Lee could care for her after his passing? It seems that way.) Karl Malden and Eli Wallach are nearly as good as Baker in their roles. Boiled down to its core, Baby Doll is a riveting, three-person play with an ever-shifting sense of who possesses the upper hand.

Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray edition offers the film in crisp black-and-white, with a solid sound mix that clearly presents both the dialogue and the jazzy score. Included on the disc is the original theatrical trailer, and a 2006 featurette with the cast briefly discussing the film’s production and legacy on the occasion of the film’s fiftieth anniversary.



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