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Friday, June 27, 2014

Baby Doll (1956)

In Mississippi, a sexually frustrated cotton gin owner (Karl Malden) is married to a 19 year old girl (Carroll Baker). He promised her father he would not consummate the marriage until her 20th birthday. But when he burns down the cotton gin of a Sicilian rival (Eli Wallach), the child bride becomes a pawn in a game of revenge between the two men. Tennessee Williams' wickedly sly black comedy was considered so scandalous when it opened in 1956 that it was condemned by the Catholic church as obscene and denounced from the pulpit of St. Patrick's cathedral by Cardinal Spellman. Seen today, that response all seems silly and Puritan though no American film had ever been so blatantly sexual since the pre-code era. The steamy atmosphere just exudes sex (in one quick shot, it appears even the dogs are aroused). So it's hard to not to forget that it's a comedy and an excellent one. No one writes more gorgeously poetic dialog than Tennessee Williams but he's also a master of droll humor. The three principal actors are superb (Baker received a best actress Oscar nomination) and Wallach who passed away this week, in his film deubt has never been better. Expertly directed by Elia Kazan. With Mildred Dunnock, both touching and hilarious as Baker's half wit aunt, Rip Torn, Madeleine Sherwood and Lonny Chapman.

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