Movie Mirrors Index

Baby Doll

(1956 b 114')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, a 20-year-old wife of an older man has not let him consummate their marriage. When they lose their furniture, he burns down the cotton gin of his competitor, who gets revenge with a good neighbor policy.

         Archer Lee Meighan (Karl Malden) supervises repairs on his large house while wearing pajamas and shoes. He makes a hole in a wall so that he can peep at Baby Doll Meighan (Carroll Baker), who is sleeping in a large crib. She wakes up and calls him a “peeping Tom.” He asks if he has ever forced himself on her, which he says he has a right to do as her husband. While she is dressing, she asks him to go to his own room. She laughs because he is getting bald. The phone rings, and he asks Aunt Rose Comfort (Mildred Dunnock) to answer it. He takes the call and says he needs time to pay his bill. Archie orders her not to tell his wife about the call and tells her to get back in the kitchen. Baby Doll is taking a bath, and he goes in and plays with her. She threatens to move into a hotel the next time he breaks their agreement.

         Archie toots his car horn and calls to Baby Doll he has to get to the doctor. From the upper window she says he can go without her. She comes out and expects him to get out and open the car door for her. He refuses, and two Negroes laugh.

         Archie stops at a cotton gin and talks to a worker. In town they walk up stairs outside the building, and he goes in to see a doctor. Baby Doll sees a “Receptionist Wanted” sign and asks the dentist for a job. The dentist asks if she can type, and she says no. She says he is young for a dentist, and he says he is just starting. The doctor asks Archie to advise him on his checker game. Archie says they have been married a year. Archie sees her talking and is jealous.

         Archie takes an ice cream cone to Baby Doll in the car, and he says people know about them. He says he bought a large house and furniture not paid for. She sees a truck going to get their furniture and tries to get a ride. She runs off, and he starts the car. They arrive home and see furniture being removed. She says she won’t stay in a house without furniture and says her dad is turning over in his grave. She says she will get a job, and he asks what she can do. A man asks Archie to sign a form, and he does. Baby Doll makes a phone call and says she wants to use her maiden name. Archie goes outside and shares a bottle with a worker who asks when they are going to gin out more cotton. Archie drives off in his car.

         Archie goes in a gin and sees men congratulating Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach). A fire is burning in another building, and Silva runs out and tells them to move the cotton. Silva falls by a puddle while carrying a kerosene can.

         Silva goes to a place in town and asks who set the fire. The Town Marshall (Eades Hogue) says many poor people he hurt were there. A black woman sings “I Shall Not Be Moved.” The Marshall advises Silva not to make any more reckless charges. Silva says he wants Biblical justice—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

         Silva takes many wagons full of cotton to Archie, who offers to give him priority. Silva says he must be glad about the fire, and Archie denies he saw the fire. Silva spells his name. Archie asks Baby Doll to entertain the gentleman, and he promises him a chicken dinner in town. Silva tells her he wants some cool water, and she suggests he use the pump. He says he has plenty of energy. Aunt Rose introduces herself to Silva. He talks to Baby Doll, who says they lost their furniture yesterday. He says they both had misfortunes on the same day. Silva says he heard that the house is haunted. Aunt Rose hands Baby Doll a bottle of Coca-cola, and Silva asks if that is her breakfast. Baby Doll gets in his car and asks him to take her for a drive. He corners her on the seat and does not let her get out. He counts the charms on her bracelet. She says she is going to be twenty, but she never got past the fourth grade. She asks him to move his leg so that she can get out, and he obliges. He cracks a pecan in his mouth, and she declines to eat it. She stumbles on a step, and he puts his arm around her. She says she sleeps in the nursery, and he asks her why. She says that is a personal question. She says sometimes she is afraid to go in the house. During the fire she was afraid. She says Archie did not come back until after the fire. He determines that Meighan disappeared after supper. He asks if she is a witness to a case of arson. She says she can explain. Silva agrees with her husband that this world is built on tit for tat. They are sitting on the swing, and he tells her to relax. He puts his arm around her. He removes cotton lint from her dress. He touches her arm and says she is smooth. He touches her face and says she has an attractive smile. She asks him not to touch her. She says she wants to make some lemonade, but he does not let her go. Their faces are very close together. She gets up and says she feels weak and dizzy. She walks away, and he touches her arms with a stick. She calls a boy, and Silva laughs. He tells her to give in and not fight it. She says her husband did not burn down his gin. She is about to go in, and he asks if she believes in ghosts. He says he does. He says evil human spirits spread from one human heart to another. During the fire he says he saw grinning faces. He says the fire was a manifestation of the need to destroy. He believes this house is haunted. She runs off and calls for Archie Lee.

         Baby Doll goes to the gin and finds Archie. He scolds her not to come there and slaps her. Silva tells Archie his equipment is rotten. He warns Archie that he had better get his gin working. Baby Doll wants to talk, but Archie says he doesn’t have time. Silva tells Rock (Lonny Chapman) to take the pickup truck. Archie drives off past Baby Doll, who cries. She tells Silva not to touch her. He sits next to her and uses a handkerchief to dry off her face. She starts laughing and tells a story about Rose eating chocolate candy. Silva asks her if she is really married to Archie. She says she was not ready for marriage. She says she had to throw rocks at boys. She says Archie was ginning cotton then before Silva had his gin. She says Archie promised to wait after the wedding, and he is still waiting. She says she would be ready on her twentieth birthday, which is tomorrow. Silva asks if she is ready. She says it depends on whether the furniture comes back. She tells him to wait while she makes lemonade.

         Baby Doll goes in the kitchen. Silva causes a chandelier to swing. She sees it, and he puts a chair on a table and swings a pendulum. She sees him outside and then runs upstairs. He goes in the kitchen and quickly makes lemonade with lemon juice, ice, and water. He tries it and says it needs something. He opens a bottle and pours some in. He carries the pitcher upstairs. By the crib he plays a record of rock and roll. She picks up an oar and goes looking around. He scares her with a stuffed deer head. He stops her from going down the stairs and puts his foot on her stomach. She screams and laughs as she runs away. He tells her to open the door because they are playing hide and seek. He writes a statement and tells her she must sign, admitting that Archie burned down his gin. He breaks open the door, and she almost falls through the rafters. He scares her and gets her to write her name on the paper. He folds it and puts it in his pocket. He offers her a handkerchief, and they smile. She follows him downstairs and asks where he is going. Her robe is open, and she asks if he wants anything else. He says she is a child. She says he can take a nap there. He says the furniture is gone. She says there is a crib in the nursery. He accepts her invitation and asks her to see him to sleep. She finds him curled up in the crib, and she removes his stick. She puts her robe over him.

         Archie says he will leave his watch, and he is allowed to take what he needs. He goes back to the gin in the rain and sees it is operating. Rock tells him he put in the part they needed. Archie drives home, where a Negro plays harmonica and sings. Archie calls to see if anyone is there. Archie finds a bottle in the piano and drinks. He asks Baby Doll what happened there. He says he told her not to slop around there in a slip. He tells her to put on some decent clothes. He says there is a Useless Women (UW) bureau. She says they are going to round up destructive men and shoot them. She says some men are criminal and with competition turn to arson. Archie asks her where she got those words. She says she is a magazine reader. Men whistle, and Archie shouts at them. He drinks and breaks the bottle. He tells her he will blast them with a shotgun. She tells him their agreement is over. He says it will be at midnight. He asks her if she is threatening him. Silva appears at the top of the stairs. She says she is going to be with Silva until next fall. Archie asks him how long he has been there. Silva says he took a nap in the crib. He says the good neighbor policy makes Archie’s problems his. Archie invites Silva to stay for supper. Baby Doll says she must put on some clothes, and Archie agrees. Archie and Silva sit next to each other on the stairs. They talk about Silva leaving the ginning business to Archie. They go into the kitchen, and Archie tells Rose to set another plate. Archie finds out from Rose that she was out. He gets angry and tells Silva he has to make a phone call. Silva tells Baby Doll he has the ace of spades in his pocket. While Archie is talking on the phone, Silva and Baby Doll kiss for a long time. Rose turns on a light, and Archie hangs up. He tells Rose to bring out some food, and the three sit at the table. Archie says Rose has outstayed her welcome. Silva admires the blue ribbon in Baby Doll’s hair and says it is like her eyes. Rose brings in a pot of greens, but Archie gives the pot back to her. Rose says she forgot to light her stove. Archie tells Rose to sit down. Silva gets up, and she sits in his chair. Archie asks Rose what plans she has made. Silva says that Archie sometimes picks on an innocent person. Archie says she has been there since August. He says she needs a rest. He asks her how long she has been cooking in houses. She says no one ever put her out. Silva offers to drive Rose home, and he says he needs a cook. He asks if it is a deal. Baby Doll assures her it is a deal, and Rose goes out to pack her things. Archie asks Silva if there is anything else he wants to take away with him. Baby Doll says the house is full of furniture, and he wants to borrow some. Silva dips some bread in the greens and eats it, calling it pot liquor. Baby Doll laughs and says it is good. Archie throws something at her. He tells them not to give each other those looks. He says he is not dumb and blind. Archie says she is not ready for marriage. He holds her head and says he has a respected position. Archie asks Silva if he is a Dago. Archie complains about the situation under his roof. He says he sized it up when he saw them smiling. Silva says Archie burned down his gin, and he says he has a paper from a witness. He says that is the only reason he came there. He says he is not revengeful and wants to work out the good neighbor policy. He says a certain attraction exists. Archie asks Baby Doll if she thinks he is going to put up with that. Archie says he will wipe that grin off Silva’s face. Archie gets his shotgun and loads it.

         Silva runs outside, and Archie goes after him. Silva climbs up a tree, and Archie looks under the house and shoots. Baby Doll comes outside. Rose is packed and ready to go. A Negro shouts to take the gun away from him. Archie looks for Silva, who pulls Baby Doll up into the tree. Archie is frustrated and calls for Baby Doll. He sits on the ground and cries. Rose sits by the open front door. A truck approaches. The Marshall and his Deputy take Archie, who sees Silva and runs to the tree. They take Archie in the truck. Archie asks the Marshall not to leave Silva on the place. The Marshall summons Silva and says they have nothing on Archie. Silva says he has a witness and will go to the county sheriff. Silva sees Rock arrive and leaves in his car. Archie asks what will happen tomorrow. The Marshall says he has no control over tomorrow. A bells tolls midnight, and Archie says it is Baby Doll’s birthday. The Marshall says the celebration is over, and they take him away. Baby Doll tells Rose they should go in and wait for tomorrow to see if they are remembered or forgotten.

         This seductive drama was banned by Catholic authorities for its eroticism even though only the early stages of seduction occurred. The story reflects the uneven economy in the southern United States where some are well off and others are poor. One act of arson changes the situation completely between the two competitors. The good neighbor policy is satirized by turning it into the possibility of adultery.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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