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Baby Doll (1956)

One of the best of Tennessee Williams’s steamy southern dramas about mendacity under the magnolias, this rare, seldom-revived movie classic is a welcome treasure.

Shot on location in Beloit, Mississippi, the great Elia Kazan directed, and this gem launched the career of luscious 25-year-old Carroll Baker as a backward thumb-sucking Lolita-like Mississippi child bride who drives men wild with frustrated lust.

Karl Malden is magnificent as her mad husband, Archie Lee Meighan, a cotton farmer fallen on hard times. Archie’s been outmanoeuvred by slick gin syndicate head honcho Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach in his screen debut), a self-described “wop” who’s anything but a good ol’ boy, and his home – a tumbledown Gothic mansion known as the Tiger Tail (actually the J.C. Burrus House, built in 1848 and the only genuine antebellum mansion in Beloit) – is in a serious state of disrepair.

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The black and white photography of Boris Kaufman brilliantly captures the steamy atmosphere of the Mississippi backwoods.

When it was first released, this film was denounced by the Catholic church, condemned by the Legion of Decency, and the centre of a storm of censorship controversy.

Now it’s regarded as a high-water mark in cinema. It’s sexy, but also howlingly funny.

Karl Malden
Baby Doll
Carroll Baker
Silva Vacarro
Eli Wallach
Aunt Rose Comfort
Mildred Dunnock
Lonny Chapman
Town Marshall
Eades Hogue
Noah Williamson

Elia Kazan