Baby Doll (1956)

Baby Doll (1956), directed by Elia Kazan.

A foolish older man is driven to drunken derangement by sexual frustration. His young wife is making him wait. And wait. Lots of yelling and throwing things. He burns down a competitor's cotton works and when that man comes around for revenge...let's just say he knows how to hurt a crazy jealous husband.

Adapted by Tennessee Williams from one of his plays. Nominated for four Oscars. Then withdrawn from US theaters and banned in several countries. Time magazine called it "the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited".

Well, times have changed. It can't match later films for explicit lewdness, but still holds its own (is this a competition?) for psycho-drama and raw emotional shock value. It is uncomfortable to watch people stripped of their better natures, enduring degradation and enacting lust and revenge and building up to actual violence. It's set in the Delta with all the usual Southern Gothic unpleasantness on display. They live in a grubby dump of a mansion.

Strangely enough, despite all that, it's pretty funny. Finely photographed.

Karl Malden, Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach (in his first film role) are all just outstanding. I could not have imagined Wallach as a accomplished seducer but he is good at it. In the "making of" on the DVD the actors claim they had no idea the film would be so controversial.

A certain type of lingerie became known as the baby doll after this film.

A confession: I find twentieth century playwrights hard to take. A little bit of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller will last me a year or more.