Baby Doll ★★½

Really gets to my problem of watching all these 50s playwrights on cinema (Williams, Oddets, Inge), which is that overblown emotions combined with hard-hitting realism always seems out of place for me (the counter being Douglas Sirk's outlandish cinema for outlandish emotions). There's always something BIG about Kazan and Williams, even as his stories settle on small cases, they always take a bit of outlandish preposterous drama to set up their explorations, here the weird agreement between Malden (Who does not have a volume control button) and Carroll Baker, and the way the various psychological motivations are set up to get the plot rolling feel as contrived as the "realistic" dump they live in, carefully art directed in every corner, or given dead-on-arrival metaphors like the carriage. Manny Farber on Kazan/Chayefsky: "These newcomers, in being so popular and influential, have all but destroy background interest, the golved fluidity of authentic movie acting, and the effect of a modest shrewdie working expeditionally and with a great camera eye in the underground of a film that i intentionally made to look junky, like the penny candies sold in the old time grocery."

But enter Eli Wallach—gleam in his eye, madness in his gestures, determination in his voice. The 20 minute sequence between him and Baker features honest authentic acting, the kind that doesn't tell you how to morally judge the character before you or even if you should laugh or cry. Kazan seems to be more cueing off of Wallach more than pushing the camera himself, where he plays to what's on screen instead of his own agenda.

Things calm back down to their normal hysteria levels once Malden re-enters the picture, though Wallach's deviousness keeps the picture on edge enough to trudge through the 2+ hour running time. But it can't help but feel blunt—Wallach sneaking a kiss while Malden's on the phone a prime example. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the gender politics—a 50s film that gives voice to female sexuality as a real want that a woman can control, but still must end up punishing it (though not as outlandish as Splendor In The Grass). I won't glibly condemn it, because it seems wanting and trying in that oh so Kazan way. It reminds me of a comment Kent Jones left about Kazan's films, saying that he realized they were flawed, but he enjoyed each film's flaws, as they came out of ambition as opposed to safety.

There's apparently an essay on the film by Catherine Brelliat, translated from Positif, in Projections 4 1/2. Will hopefully read soon!

Peter liked this review