6

FRIDAY

The phrases “sexual frustration” and “Karl Malden” seem made for each other, don’t they? Proving the point: Baby Doll, the 1956 tragicomedy Time magazine called “just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited”—never mind that it’s actually a pretty sophisticated piece of social criticism. Racism, outsiderdom, and the inevitable costs of what we like to call progress—those, plus old ideas about women’s work and women’s worth, come in for examination in a scorching melodrama directed by Elia Kazan from a Tennessee Williams screenplay. The story, about the middle-aged owner of a failing cotton-gin operation (Malden) and the child bride (Oscar nominee Carroll Baker) who escapes his cruelty in the arms of a foreign-born competitor (Eli Wallach), is adapted from two of Williams’ earliest one-acts—and if the proceedings get a bit purple, some of the language is vintage Williams. Says that world-weary interloper, in a bitter moment: “People come into this world without instructions of where to go, what to do, so they wander a little and then go away. Drift for a while and then…vanish.” Watch ’em fade, fabulously, when the film screens at 7 p.m. at the Library of Congress’ Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. (202) 707-5677. (Trey Graham)

More from WCP