Except for moments of humor that are strictly inherent in the character of the principals, Baby Doll plays off against a sleazy, dirty, depressing Southern background. Over it hangs a feeling of decay, expertly nurtured by director Elia Kazan.
Baby Doll is based on a 1941 Tennessee Williams vignette, dramatized on Broadway in 1955 as 27 Wagons Full of Cotton.
Story briefly has Carroll Baker, an immature teenager, married to middle-aged Karl Malden who runs a cotton gin. When their on-credit furniture is carted away, Malden sets fire to the Syndicate cotton gin in town. Suspecting Malden, Eli Wallach – owner of the gin – carts his cotton to Malden’s gin for processing but then proceeds to seduce Baker who signs a note confessing that Malden committed the arson. Malden, who has promised not to touch his young wife until one year after their marriage finds Baker and Wallach together in the house and goes berserk with jealousy.
Baker’s performance captures all the animal charm, the naivete, the vanity, contempt and rising passion of Baby Doll.
Wallach as the vengeful Vacarro plays it to the hilt. Malden is cast to perfection and turns in a sock performance.
1956: Nominations: Best Actress (Carroll Baker), Supp. Actress (Mildred Dunnock), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Cinematography