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Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) reels out over 200 films from around the globe. Filmmakers and celebrities attend many of the screenings and events during the festival. Parties and gatherings at area "hot spots", on board yachts, and on the beach will provide audiences an opportunity to hob knob with film talent and other movie buffs.




FLIFF Screens Classic "Indecent Film" From the 1950s


Wednesday, November 5------It may seem tame to today's audiences but in 1955 when director Elia Kazan was making the Southern gothic classic BABY DOLL, it was a cause celebre. The film, which was banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and was the subject of church boycotts (priests told their parishioners that if they saw the film that their souls would be damned for all eternity), became one of the most notorious films of the repressive Eisenhower Years.


Well, not one to let a little controversy get in the way, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival is screening the film tomorrow evening, as part of a Lifetime Achievement Tribute to one of its stars, the venerable character actor Eli Wallach. The veteran of stage and screen, who is 93 years young, will be attending, along with his long-time wife and acting collaborator Anne Jackson, who will also be honored by the Festival (more on their remarkable careers in a separate article to be posted here tomorrow).


Originally written as a one-act play by Tennessee Williams and adapted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author for the controversial film, BABY DOLL offers a tour-de-force trio of actors, including Oscar winner Karl Malden (who won the Best Supporting Actor for his role in another Williams film, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE), the aforementioned Eli Wallach and Kazan's blazing discovery, the honey-haired child/woman innocent, Carroll Baker. It was Baker's role in particular and a still showing her in a baby's crib sucking on her thumb that most outraged the church and the censor boards of the period. Until this film, children were considered innocent of carnal desire and this blatant depiction of youthful sexuality was just too much for the "holy roller" crowd.


In the film, Malden plays cotton gin owner Archie Lee Meighan who has married his "child bride" Baby Doll Meighan (played by Baker). Meighan has married Baby Doll at age 18 in an arrangement with her late father, which included a promise not to consummate the marriage until she turned 20. While this has left Meighan somewhat frustrated in his marriage, his world is rocked when his business rival (played by Eli Wallach, in his feature film debut) begins to lust after the very same Baby Doll (who is not shy about returning his attention with her own).


To add authenticity to the picture, director Elia Kazan (who had directed the sensation A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE both on the stage and on film) took his cast and crew to Benoit, Mississippi, in the heart of the conservative South. During the production, news was being leaked about the salacious story, forcing the Motion Picture Production Code (an industry body that determined waht could and could not be shown on screen) to revise its requirements. Pressure was put on the Code by powerhouse Warner Brothers studios, which needed to release the film with a "seal of approval", otherwise theaters around the country could choose not to show it at all. Such was the influence of Jack Warner in those days that he bent the Code to his personal will.


The Production Code Seal may have been approved but the film was roundly condemned by the Catholic National Legion of Decency, which called the subject matter of the film "morally repellent". When then Cardinal Spellman of New York railed against the film from the pulpit of Saint Patrick's Cathedral (which the news media of the time ate up), the notoreity and "must see" buzz around the film eventually made it a box office sensation. To thumb its nose at Cardinal Spellman's antics, Warner Brothers placed an enormous billboard in New York's Times Square that featured star Carroll Baker as Baby Doll in a crib sucking her thumb.


The film's box office clout, despite its being condemned by the religious right, is credited as one of the events that eventually broke down the restrictions of the Production Code (which had been in place since the 1930s) and ushered in the more permissive films of the 1960s. FLIFF offers its audiences a rare opportunity to see this ground-breaking film on a big screen.


Sandy Mandelberger, FLIFF Dailies Editor


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About Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies for the 24th edition of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival , October 23 - November 11, 2009

United States

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