****/**** Image: B, Sound: A, Extras: B+
starring Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, Mildred Dunnock
screenplay by Tennessee Williams
directed by Elia Kazan
by Walter Chaw It makes perfect sense to me that the 1950s, our most openly culturally-restrictive decade, was also the decade that saw so many Tennessee Williams plays ushered to the silver screen for the outrage and closet titillation of Ozzie and Harriet. Repression always leads to explosion, and a film like Elia Kazan's Baby Doll--based on Williams's first screenplay, itself drawn from two of his early one-act plays ("Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton" and "The Long Stay Cut Short")--is a prime example of ground zero in the morality war, five years on from Kazan's first shot across the primrose bow with his Williams adaptation A Streetcar Named Desire. The resistance pushed back harder with Baby Doll, some Catholic leaders going so far as to promise excommunication for wayward eyeballs, while a giant billboard in Manhattan became a turgid lightning rod not unlike the one erected in the Valley for Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny some forty years later. In fact, the opening shot of the titular Lolita, Baby Doll (a simply fantastic Carrol Baker), is from her husband Archie's (Karl Malden) point-of-view through a keyhole: she in a crib, sucking her thumb. Shocking then, shocking now; that the powers-that-be chose this image for the poster says a little about naïveté and a lot about balls.