Baby Doll (1956): Kazan’s Controversial Film Starring Carroll Baker in Oscar Nominated Performance

Warner (Newton production)
 
With “Baby Doll,” as with “A Streetcar Named Desire,” director Elia Kazan and playwright Tennessee Williams broke new ground in depicting sexual situations incorporating themes of lust, sexual repression, seduction, and the corruption of the human soul.
 
Tennessee Williams adapted to the screen his one-act play, “27 Wagonloads of Cotton,” a provocative, even macabre comedy. This steamy classic centers around cotton-mill owner Archie (Karl Malden, for a change in a lead role) who’s going through tough times but at least has his luscious, child-bride (Carroll Baker) with whom hell be allowed to consummate when she’s 20. Meanwhile rival Silva Vaccaro (Eli Wallach) thinks Archie may have set fire to his mill and takes an erotic form of Sicilian vengeance.
 
The performances, as expected from a Kazan film, are intense and wonderful. The only exception may be Wallach, in one of his few leading roles, who’s more effective at being a menacing threat than a seductive stud (Brando, who starred in “Streetcar,” would have been a better choice).
 
Mildred Dunnock, who was typecast early on as a dotty, eccentric character actress plays Aunt Rose Comfort, Carroll Baker’s dotty aunt; she’ll play another dotty aunt in “Sweet Bird of Youth.” She lost the Oscar to Dorothy Malone in “Written on the Wind.”
 
“Time” magazine called the film just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited. The film caused a sensation in 1956, also earning condemnation by the then-powerful Legion of Decency and causing Cardinal Spellman to denounce “Baby Doll” from his pulpit.
 
“Baby Doll” earned laurels too: four Academy Award nominations, Golden Globe Awards for Baker and Kazan, and a British Academy Award for Wallace.
 
Oscar Nominations: 4
 
Actress: Carroll Baker
Supporting Actress: Mildred Dunnock
Screenplay (Adapted): Tennessee Williams
Cinematography (b/w): Boris Kaufman
 
Oscar Context
 
This was Carroll Baker’s first major role, after making a debut in “Easy to Love” (1953). She lost the Best Actress Oscar to sentimental favorite, Ingrid Bergman, in “Anastasia,” as did the screenplay, rather inexplicably.
 
Boris Kaufman lost the Cinematography Oscar to Joseph Ruttenberg, who was honored for “Somebody Up There Likes Me.”
 
Running time: 114 Minutes