Baby Doll: Excuse me, Mr.
Vacarro, but I wouldn't dream
of eatin' a nut that a man
had cracked in his mouth.
Silva Vacarro: You've
got many refinements.
Baby Doll: Thank you.
Federico Fellini once explained that he cast Donald Sutherland
as the lead in Casanova (1976), because the actor looks like
"a big sperm-full waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator."
Hmmm, maybe that plays differently in Italian. Then again,
maybe not. Is it a backhanded compliment, or the world's
most disgusting putdown? It covers both bases handily.
Recounting the tale is how Jack Pendarvis begins his article, "Baby Doll: The Smuttiest Story Ever Told," one of the highlights of The Oxford American's excellent movie issue. (Pendarvis's piece on Dick Powell, happy hoofer and offbeat noir anti-hero, is another.)
The author adds, "We can only assume that Fellini never saw
[Karl] Malden in Baby Doll, because Malden has Sutherland
beat by a mile." (Though married, his wife is a virgin.)
[Only a mile, not a country mile? This is,
after all, the South we're talking about.]
About the title character,
Carroll Baker's Baby Doll,
screenwriter Tennessee Williams notes that just because she sucks
her thumb (and sleeps in a crib!),
"It doesn't mean she wants a penis in her mouth." No, it just means she's orally fixated. You say potato, I say...
Immediately after reading this
article, I added Elia Kazan's Baby Doll (1956) to my Wish List. It may simply be an overdose of Southern-fried baloney, but I expect to be thoroughly entertained by the desperate antics on display. Plus, Eli Wallach, in his silver screen debut, plays Silva, the man who lights Baby Doll's fire.
A decade later, Sergio Leone would cast the venerable actor as "il Brutto," i.e. "the Ugly" in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the iconic Spaghetti Western in which Wallach gives, as usual, a great performance—as do Clint Eastwood (the Good) and Lee Van Cleef (the Bad)—but ugly? I think not! Never was, never will be.
Silva Vacarro: Fuzzy?
Baby Doll: Hmm. Fuzzy and buzzy. My head is swingin'
round. Must have been that swingin' that done it.
Click here for Jonathan Rosenbaum on Southern
cinema. And here for my review of Baby Doll.
Endnote: If you have any interest in Southern film, I
couldn't recommend this issue of The Oxford American (#56) more highly. (Thanks to Bill for the tip. I was just going to read a couple pieces, but couldn't stop till I'd devoured the whole damn thing.) Images from Google Images and The Oxford American.