Follow TV Tropes


Film / Baby Doll

Go To

Baby Doll is a 1956 black comedy drama film, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan. The film starred Carroll Baker, Karl Malden and Eli Wallach, and was Wallach's first theatrical film.

In the Mississippi Delta, nineteen-year-old Baby Doll (Baker) is married to failing cotton businessman Archie Lee Meighan (Malden), but she's saving herself for her twentieth birthday. She acts like a child and consciously sleeps in a crib while sucking her thumb.

Archie Lee is in debt and their furniture is being moved away because of it. Things get even worse for him when Sicilian Silva Vacarro (Wallach) moves into town with a booming business. Jealous, Archie Lee burns down Vacarro's gin. Vacarro is bent on revenge, so he seduces Baby Doll...

Banned in the United States for twenty years because it was too scandalous for the time (even though it earned Eli Wallach a Golden Globe Award and Carroll Baker an Academy Award nomination), the film is credited with originating the name and popularity of the babydoll nightgown.

This film provides examples of

  • Ambiguous Ending: Silva leaves with his accomplice, hurriedly promising to come back to Baby Doll, and the film leaves the audience wondering if he'll forget about her or not.
  • Annoying Laugh: Baby Doll has a ridiculously loud laugh which emphasises her childishness.
  • Anti-Hero: Baby Doll is not a bad person but she can be spoiled and emotionally manipulative.
  • Anti-Villain: Both Archie Lee and Silva to a degree. Archie Lee is abusive and a pervert, but he gets no respect from his workers, his wife is drifting away from him already and he's in debt because of his bad luck. Silva is cunning and conniving, but held no malice towards Archie Lee before his gin was burned down, and faces prejudice in Mississippi for being a "wop" (racial slur for Italian or Sicilian); he takes justice into his own hands because if he testified against Archie Lee, he'd lose easily because he's a foreigner.
  • Arranged Marriage: Baby Doll's marriage to Archie Lee was arranged.
  • Betty and Veronica: Baby Doll is rather ironically the Archie to Archie Lee (Betty) and Silva (Veronica).
  • Catchphrase: Baby Doll has, "My daddy would turn over in his grave..."
  • Comforting Comforter: Baby Doll throws a blanket over Silva while he goes to sleep in her crib.
  • The Deep South: The film's setting.
  • Determinator: Silva will do whatever it takes to throw Archie Lee in jail.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Silva sneaks into the house, finds a rocking horse in the nursery and raucously straddles and hits it with his riding crop while Smiley Lewis' "Shame, Shame, Shame" plays.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The main characters are all morally ambiguous and relatable to a degree.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Archie Lee, all the way.
  • Henpecked Husband: Archie Lee is this to an extent, although he's not a very pleasant man to have as a husband.
  • Hollywood Kiss: An extremely passionate one between Baby Doll and Silva.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Baby Doll at the beginning, wearing a short, frilly nightdress.
  • Male Gaze: Archie Lee looking through a hole in the wall at a sleeping Baby Doll reflects the male audience's own view of her.
  • Man Bites Man: Baby Doll bites Silva on the ankle while they're romping on the upper floor together.
  • Maybe Ever After: Unlike in Tennessee Williams' original screenplay, it's not made clear whether Baby Doll and Silva will get together, or if he'll forget about her and move his business elsewhere.
  • May–December Romance: 19 year old Baby Doll, played by 25 year old Carroll Baker, doesn't exactly have a romance with either man, but she is married to Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden was 44) and has an affair with Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach was 40).
  • Never Learned to Read: Baby Doll never learned to count either, which rules out her chances of becoming a typist or a cashier.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Silva is invited to sleep in Baby Doll's "crib", and Baby Doll puts a blanket over him. When we next see them, Silva is still asleep in the crib and Baby Doll is dressed in a slip, her hand in his. When Archie Lee comes home and they have dinner together, Silva remarks that Baby Doll is "grown up all of a sudden". This subtly implies that something intimate has definitely gone on between them.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: For most of the film Baby Doll wears white or light colours reflecting her purity and virginity. Then in the third act, she wears black clothes like Silva, to imply that she had sex with him.
  • Scooby-Dooby Doors: Silva pranks Baby Doll on the upper floor of the mansion, which becomes a chase scene that's staged this way.
  • Still Sucks Thumb: Baby Doll. It's presented in a suggestive way, even though she ends up being an Innocent Fanservice Girl.
  • When She Smiles: Silvia tells Baby Doll that she has a beautiful smile and asks her to smile again.
    Silva Vacarro: You make me think of cotton. No! No fabric or cloth, not even satin or silk cloth, and no kind of fiber, not even cotton fiber, has the absolute delicacy to your skin.
    Baby Doll: Well, what should I say? Thanks or somethin'?
    Silva Vacarro: No, you just smile, Mrs. Meighan. You got an attractive smile. Dimples.
  • Whip of Dominance: Silva is always carrying a riding crop with him, which gives him a commanding aura. He uses to intimidate Baby Doll when he interrogates her about the arson, swatting her with it a few times, though he claims he's "swatting flies".
  • Womanchild: Baby Doll, and she makes a conscious effort. Still, her marriage to Archie Lee has made her more disillusioned and cynical than most examples.