Baby Doll is a 1956 American dramatic black comedy film directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, and Eli Wallach. It was produced by Kazan and Tennessee Williams, and adapted by Williams from his own one-act play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1955). The plot focuses on a feud between two rival cotton gin owners in rural Mississippi; after one of the men commits arson against the other’s gin, the owner retaliates by attempting to seduce the arsonist’s 19-year-old virgin bride with the hopes of receiving an admission by her of her husband’s guilt.
Filmed in Mississippi in late 1955, Baby Doll was released in December 1956. It provoked significant controversy, largely due to its implied sexual themes. An effort to ban the film was carried out by the Roman Catholic advocacy group National Legion of Decency, though responses to the group’s condemnation of the film were varied among Catholic laity and other religious institutions. Despite moral objections to the film, it was largely well-received by critics, and earned numerous accolades; Kazan won the Golden Globe for Best Director and the film was nominated for four other Golden Globe awards, as well as four Academy Awards and four BAFTA Awards, with Wallach taking the BAFTA prize for Most Promising Newcomer.
Culturally, the film has been credited with originating the name and popularity of the babydoll nightgown, which derives from the costume worn by Baker’s character. Additionally, it has been named by film scholars as one of the most notorious films of the 1950s, and The New York Times included it in their Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.