Baby Doll (1956)

114 mins | Drama | 29 December 1956

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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Twenty-Seven Wagon Loads of Cotton and Mississippi Woman . The film's title card reads: "Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll ." In her autobiography, Carroll Baker reports that on her last day of shooting, director Elia Kazan offered to change the film's title from Mississippi Woman to Baby Doll , her character's name, as a "present" to her. Kazan, in his autobiography, claims that Williams only "half-heartedly" contributed to the screenplay, and that it was, in fact, Kazan, himself, who wrote most of the script. He also reports that although he urged Williams to stay in Benoit, Mississippi, the film's location, for the duration of the shooting, Williams departed after only a few weeks because "he didn't like the way people looked at him on the streets." HR production charts add that the film was also shot on location in Greenville, Mississippi and New York City. According to Kazan, the film's final bittersweet lines, uttered by "Baby Doll" to "Aunt Rose Comfort," were later sent by Williams "as a consolation" for his departure.
       According to studio production notes, African Americans from the Benoit area were featured in bit roles. Production notes also state that Uncle Pleasant, purported to be 107 years old at the time of shooting, and Sam General were in the cast, and that Boll Weevil "served as both actor and utility man for nearly three months with the location unit." A plantation house, built in 1848 and known as "Old Burras Place," was used in the film. According to Baker's autobiography, Kazan had each actor choose props for ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Twenty-Seven Wagon Loads of Cotton and Mississippi Woman . The film's title card reads: "Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll ." In her autobiography, Carroll Baker reports that on her last day of shooting, director Elia Kazan offered to change the film's title from Mississippi Woman to Baby Doll , her character's name, as a "present" to her. Kazan, in his autobiography, claims that Williams only "half-heartedly" contributed to the screenplay, and that it was, in fact, Kazan, himself, who wrote most of the script. He also reports that although he urged Williams to stay in Benoit, Mississippi, the film's location, for the duration of the shooting, Williams departed after only a few weeks because "he didn't like the way people looked at him on the streets." HR production charts add that the film was also shot on location in Greenville, Mississippi and New York City. According to Kazan, the film's final bittersweet lines, uttered by "Baby Doll" to "Aunt Rose Comfort," were later sent by Williams "as a consolation" for his departure.
       According to studio production notes, African Americans from the Benoit area were featured in bit roles. Production notes also state that Uncle Pleasant, purported to be 107 years old at the time of shooting, and Sam General were in the cast, and that Boll Weevil "served as both actor and utility man for nearly three months with the location unit." A plantation house, built in 1848 and known as "Old Burras Place," was used in the film. According to Baker's autobiography, Kazan had each actor choose props for the house to reflect his or her character's personality.
       The film created controversy immediately upon its release. Although a Code seal for the film was granted, the Legion of Decency found the film to be "grievously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency," and gave the film a "C," or condemned, rating. In an 8 Dec 1956 article, MPH complained about the picture: "Both the general principles of the Code and several specific stipulations thereof are tossed aside in granting the film a Code seal. Among these, the law is ridiculed, there are sexual implications, vulgarity, and the words 'wop' and 'nigger.'" A 28 Nov 1956 Var news item noted that Baby Doll marked the first time in years that the Legion of Decency had "nixed" a major American production, particularly one with the Code seal.
       The Legion of Decency's ruling set off a storm of debate in religious communities. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, forbade parishioners to view the film, calling it "sinful." According to a 19 Dec 1956 DV news item, Catholic War Veterans wired Warner Bros., promising to see that the release of the film would "result in a financial fiasco for the company coffers and a grievous moral blow to Warner's reputation." According to a 25 Dec 1956 LAT article, Rev. Dr. James A. Pike, dean of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, devoted his entire Advent sermon responding to Spellman's attack on Baby Doll . Pike argued that the film The Ten Commandments contained a great deal more "sensuality" than Baby Doll , but had nonetheless been deemed "excellent" by "a leading New York prelate." Pike further stated that "the church's duty is not to prevent adults from having the experience of this picture, but to give them a wholesome basis for interpretation and serious answers to questions that were asked with seriousness."
       A 7 Jan 1957 LAT article reported that the Roman Catholic authorities of the Paris Archdiocese, led by Cardinal Feltin, also disagreed with Spellman's attack, and that Father John Burke, head of Britain's Catholic Film Institute, had called the film "a powerful denunciation of social and racial intolerance and as such is something for thoughtful people to see." In addition, the ACLU complained that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Albany's motion to forbid Catholics to attend the local Strand Theatre for six months in protest of the film's opening there was a violation of the First Amendment. In his autobiography, Kazan writes that although Spellman made Baby Doll famous, his attack ultimately hurt the film, and that Kazan never made any money on it.
       According to memos in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the first rough script of Baby Doll was received by PCA director Joseph I. Breen on 1 Aug 1952. In a memo to the producers, Breen suggested rewriting the police roles, so that they would appear more decent and sympathetic to "Silva Vacarro." Breen also worried about a scene (eventually cut) in which a "Negro girl" offers herself to Vacarro "for sex purposes," and the fact that Vacarro "deliberately and with malice" uses adultery to get back at "Archie Lee Meighan." The latter, Breen wrote, is "impossible under the Code." On 24 Oct 1955, PCA official Geoffrey M. Shurlock wrote to studio head Jack Warner about the "serious Code violations" in the script, especially the suggestion of an adulterous affair between Vacarro and Baby Doll, which Kazan previously had promised to avoid.
       Shurlock also warned that "the element of Archie's sex frustration" was in violation of the Code and that this element would have to be removed if the film was to be approved. In a letter to Warner dated 15 Nov 1955, Kazan asked Warner to "assure Sherlock and Vizzard once more that both Williams and I specifically do not want there to have been a 'sex-affair' between our two people." Kazan pointed out several places in the script where he had eliminated hints of sex between Baby Doll and Vacarro, but stated that, "I cannot reduce the element of Archie Lee's sex frustration. I will, you can be sure, handle it delicately and in good taste." In the same letter, Kazan argued passionately that in order for theatrical films to survive, their makers must offer viewers fare that cannot be seen on television. Kazan urged Warner to break taboos and "strike out for increasingly unusual material." On 25 Jul 1956, the PCA deemed the film's basic story acceptable, including the "sex frustration" element.
       The film received the following Academy Award nominations: Carroll Baker for Best Actress, Mildred Dunnock for Best Supporting Actress, Boris Kaufman for Best Black and White Cinematography, Tennessee Williams for Best Writing (Screenplay-Adapted). Baby Doll marked the first screen appearance by Eli Wallach, who had played "Mangiacavallo" in Williams' The Rose Tattoo on Broadway. In her autobiography, Baker states that Marilyn Monroe was an important contender for the part of Baby Doll, and that the famous actress acted as an usherette at the film's New York premiere, which was a benefit for the Actors' Studio. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
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CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Elia Kazan Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
WRITER
Orig scr, Orig scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Assoc art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
MUSIC
Mus comp
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Mgr of prod
Script and cont
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton by Tennessee Williams (New York, 19 Apr 1955).
SONGS
"Shame, Shame, Shame," music by Kenyon Hopkins, lyrics by Ruby Fisher.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Mississippi Woman
Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll
Twenty-Seven Wagon Loads of Cotton
Release Date:
29 December 1956
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 18 December 1956
Los Angeles opening: 26 December 1956
Production Date:
late December 1955--late February 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Newtown Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
29 December 1956
Copyright Number:
LP9720
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
114
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18129
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the Mississippi Delta region, nineteen-year-old Baby Doll lives unhappily with her husband, Archie Lee Meighan, a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck cotton gin owner. Archie cannot afford to repair the decrepit antebellum mansion, Fox Tail, that the couple inhabits, and the Ideal Pay-as-You-Go furniture company is threatening to repossess their meager household belongings, thus giving Baby Doll more and more reason to malign Archie's masculinity. When Baby Doll was betrothed to Archie on her father's death bed, the dying man made Archie promise not to deflower the girl until her twentieth birthday, and with her birthday just two days away, Archie is anxious to make Baby Doll his wife "for real." As the childlike Baby Doll sleeps in her crib sucking her thumb, Archie tries to drill a hole in the wall in order to spy on her. Baby Doll awakes furious, and later during her bath, she becomes even more enraged when Archie tries to grab her. The next day, in town, while Archie is seeing his doctor about his sexual troubles, Baby Doll, determined to get a job, flirts with a young dentist who is looking for a secretary. As the couple returns to Fox Tail, they see the furniture being taken away, prompting Baby Doll to announce her desire to leave Archie and move to the Cotton King Motel. Meanwhile, Silva Vacarro, a Sicilian immigrant and the owner of the new cotton gin that has taken away all of Archie's business, gives his employees a fish fry to celebrate their first successful crop. As the festivities, which include a speech by a senator, ensue, a drunken Archie sets fire to Vacarro's cotton ... +


In the Mississippi Delta region, nineteen-year-old Baby Doll lives unhappily with her husband, Archie Lee Meighan, a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck cotton gin owner. Archie cannot afford to repair the decrepit antebellum mansion, Fox Tail, that the couple inhabits, and the Ideal Pay-as-You-Go furniture company is threatening to repossess their meager household belongings, thus giving Baby Doll more and more reason to malign Archie's masculinity. When Baby Doll was betrothed to Archie on her father's death bed, the dying man made Archie promise not to deflower the girl until her twentieth birthday, and with her birthday just two days away, Archie is anxious to make Baby Doll his wife "for real." As the childlike Baby Doll sleeps in her crib sucking her thumb, Archie tries to drill a hole in the wall in order to spy on her. Baby Doll awakes furious, and later during her bath, she becomes even more enraged when Archie tries to grab her. The next day, in town, while Archie is seeing his doctor about his sexual troubles, Baby Doll, determined to get a job, flirts with a young dentist who is looking for a secretary. As the couple returns to Fox Tail, they see the furniture being taken away, prompting Baby Doll to announce her desire to leave Archie and move to the Cotton King Motel. Meanwhile, Silva Vacarro, a Sicilian immigrant and the owner of the new cotton gin that has taken away all of Archie's business, gives his employees a fish fry to celebrate their first successful crop. As the festivities, which include a speech by a senator, ensue, a drunken Archie sets fire to Vacarro's cotton gin, burning it to the ground. Vacarro tries to tell the police that he was a victim of arson, but they treat him as an outsider and refuse to investigate. The next morning, Vacarro brings his twenty-seven loads of cotton to Archie's gin, and Archie is overjoyed to have the business. As Archie tends to the cotton, however, Vacarro meets Baby Doll and flirts with her in order to get information about Archie's whereabouts the night before. After Baby Doll reveals that Archie had indeed left her alone in the house on the previous evening, she grows suspicious of Vacarro, but he tickles and flirts with her to coax her to talk. Baby Doll gets nervous and goes to the gin to find Archie, but he slaps her and tells her not to go "where niggers are working." Vacarro is disgusted at the state of Archie's equipment and is furious that the work has not yet been started. He orders Archie to find a new belt for the cotton gin, but when Archie leaves, he is chased by a hysterical Baby Doll, who does not want to be left alone with Vacarro. After Vacarro's assistant informs him that they already have the belt, Vacarro approaches a weeping Baby Doll, who is upset because her live-in aunt, Rose Comfort, has left the house to go to the county hospital, where she satisfies her passion for sweets by visiting dying patients and eating their chocolate candies. Baby Doll explains her marital situation to a surprised Vacarro and then declares that her "being ready" depends on whether or not the furniture comes back. Baby Doll goes to make lemonade, telling Vacarro to wait on the front porch, but he sneaks into the house and begins to make ghost noises to scare her. When she locks herself in her bedroom, he makes the lemonade himself. The pair then begin a riotous game of tag and hide-and-seek, and Baby Doll locks herself in the attic. Annoyed, Vacarro tells Baby Doll that he will break the door down unless she signs the affidavit that he has prepared regarding Archie's guilt. He breaks in, and Baby Doll screams, fearing that the rickety floor of the attic will cave in. She tearfully signs the paper, then as Vacarro is about to leave, she offers to let him take a nap in her baby crib. Archie, meanwhile, is treated badly at the parts shop because he has no money and has to pay for the part with his gold watch. After he hurries back to the cotton gin and discovers that the repair has already been made, he returns home, only to be accused of arson by Baby Doll. She announces that their agreement is over, then Vacarro appears. Baby Doll reveals that Vacarro has decided not to rebuild his gin, but will bring the cotton to Archie's gin and have Baby Doll entertain him while it is being processed. Archie, confused, tells Vacarro to stay for supper while he considers his proposal. While Archie is on the phone, Baby Doll and Vacarro kiss, and then Archie, suspicious and angry, begins to scream at Aunt Rose to bring in the food. Archie decides to fire Aunt Rose, whom he claims has overstayed her welcome, but he is perplexed when Vacarro hires the teary-eyed old woman as his cook. Archie finally accuses the pair of having cheated on him, but Vacarro swears that he came for only one thing, the signed affidavit. Archie then calls Vacarro a "wop" and grabs his rifle. After Vacarro hides outside in a tree, Baby Doll calls the police and joins Vacarro in the tree. Archie, frustrated and exhausted after his rampage, finally breaks down in tears crying out Baby Doll's name. Once the police arrive and take the gun away from Archie, Vacarro emerges and shows them the affidavit, threatening to take it to the county sheriff. Before leaving, Vacarro promises to return the next day with more cotton. The town marshal then informs Archie that they must go through with his arrest for "appearances sake," and Archie watches Baby Doll go back to the house as midnight strikes, signaling her twentieth birthday. A transformed Baby Doll tells Aunt Rose that they will have to wait until the next day to see if they will be remembered or forgotten by the tall, dark stranger. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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