Baby doll

‘Baby Doll’ Blu-Ray Review – Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams Reunite for Controversial Southern Drama

The work of Tennessee Williams is the type that usually throbs with passion, whom the acclaimed playwright has exploited and exploited to his limits. His work is generally considered some of the best of the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t raised more than a few eyebrows because of the subject matter. When it comes to adapting such material for the big screen, the stories have often found themselves at odds with the strict Hays code put in place to enforce a modicum of decency. Theatrical characteristics of acclaimed works such as A tram called Désir, Cat on a hot tin roof and Sweet bird of youth made the jump to the big screen, but often not without some major changes. One of his most controversial plays was the 1956 adaptation of his one-act play 27 wagons full of cotton – theatrically titled Doll. Directed by Elia Kazan (East of Eden), the film features stark depictions of sensuality that may seem tame today, but were condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency upon release. The film has carried this notoriety for decades, but its place in cinema has always been respected. With its Blu-Ray debut, it’s time to reflect on that infamous image.

Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden, At the water’s edge). Archie Lee is the kind of person who believes he should live a better life than him, especially when he has a gorgeous 19-year-old wife, Baby Doll (Carroll Baker, Giant). Young Baby Doll may technically be his wife, but the closest old Archie Lee to making the marriage “official” is when he peeks through a wall to watch her as she sleeps, sucking her thumb in a crib she is forced to use due to the lack of furniture in the house. Baker is perfect in this role of a naive teenager suffering from a severe case of developmental arrest. Before his father died, he made Archie Lee promise not to consummate the marriage until she was ready, and anyone with eyes can see how childish she behaves in life. But, she promised she would be ready by the time she turns twenty, which is only a few days away. Archie Lee is intent on finally embracing what’s his, but his precarious position on the brink of financial collapse doesn’t help Baby Doll feel any better about his impending marital obligation.

Feeling stuck financially, Archie Lee burns the new cotton gin of his competitor, a Sicilian American named Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach, The good the bad and the ugly). Wallach makes quite an impression in his feature debut, displaying a rugged good looks that may be quite shocking to those who only know him as the nice old man from Vacations. If there’s one thing Archie Lee is good at, it’s making things worse for himself. Silva is no model when it comes to running his business, and he reasonably suspects Archie Lee was likely behind the fire. Not only does Archie Lee bring Silva closer as a contestant, but he also inadvertently brings him closer to the young Baby Doll. As Silva forces Archie Lee to be tied up under false pretenses, he’s intent on gathering evidence of his misdeeds from Baby Doll, and if he gets more than that, so be it. Much of the controversy generated by the film stemmed from Baby Doll’s infantilization and her breathless chemistry with Silva. The film largely keeps many of the more sordid elements ambiguous, but there’s still enough bubbling longing to keep you on your toes.

Williams has a knack for creating characters that are truly awful, but still extremely interesting to watch. The most despicable character in the story is Archie Lee, who Malden expertly portrays as some kind of sad bag who is constantly humiliated – you might feel bad for the guy if he wasn’t such trash. It’s a real treat to watch him suffer a strategic checkmate from the cunning Silva, who wasn’t looking to take everything from Archie Lee but is happy to do so when he sees how he’s been wronged. Kazan proves once again why he is considered one of the great directors of classic Hollywood, as the way he composes certain shots is truly masterful. Stunning black and white photography is captured to its full potential as contrast and shadows are incorporated in the best way. To step into this picture just to see what the controversy was all about would be a bit of madness, but those who enjoy Tennessee Williams’ lived-in dialogue brought to life by a wonderful cast of performers will likely find it. a fascinating story.

Video quality

Doll makes its Blu-Ray debut with an all-new 1080p transfer courtesy of Warner Archive from The Best Materials Available. There is an incredible amount of detail present with beautiful texture on the costumes and in the production design of the shabby mansion. This set acts as an additional character in the film, and each worn spot says more about the couple who inhabit it. The beautiful black and white photography of Boris Kaufman shines in high definition with natural grain intact. The contrast is well defined, and there are no print damages or digital anomalies to be found. Black levels are extremely deep with no trace of black crush or compression artifacts. A few of the established shots look a little softer compared to the rest of the film, but that seems to be a quality of the source material and not a problem with the disc. Warner Archive delivered a top notch presentation for this one.

Audio quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a pretty grand DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track. There is no major age-related wear on the track, such as hissing or popping. Dialogue and background noise are perfectly represented with the brooding score of Kenyon Hopkins. No sound ever dominates the dialogue that is spoken here. Although much of the dialogue is dialog-driven, the more kinetic moments, like when the cotton gin catches fire, are handled with ease and give the track a bit of dynamic range. Optional English subtitles (SDH) are also included for the feature film. Warner Archive has delivered a record that sounds great in every way.

Special features

  • See no harm: A thirteen-minute featurette from 2006 with interviews with actors Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, and Karl Malden, as well as various others, which help put the image into context. Participants discuss the controversial nature of the film, how it was sold to the public through promotional material, the improvisation in the story, the impact of the feature film on their lives and many more fascinating stories. It’s a great addition to the disc that any fan of the movie should check out.
  • Theatrical trailer: A three-minute trailer that replays the creatives’ previous hits while giving you a taste of what’s to come with this new drama from Tennessee Williams.

Final Thoughts

Doll finds Tennessee Williams indulging in its typical themes of lust and toxic relationships with great fervor. The basic concept is a little unfortunate, but these incredible performers bring this narrative to life in a captivating way. Warner Archive delivered a Blu-Ray with a really wonderful A/V presentation and some good special features. The film may not live up to the hype generated by the controversy, but it’s a picture worth more than your time and attention. advised

Doll can be purchased directly through Warner Archives or various other online retailers. The film will officially be released on February 16, 2021.

Note: Images shown in this review do not reflect Blu-Ray image quality.

Disclaimer: Warner Archive has provided a free copy of this disc for review. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.