A man (Karl Malden) foolish enough to marry a teenage girl many years his junior resorts to bullying and violence. He lives, it must be said, in humiliation, for his wife Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) does not love him and refuses to consummate the marriage until she turns 20. Moreover, through a stratagem on the part of a business rival (Eli Wallach), Baby Doll becomes infatuated with the rival.
The 1956 Baby Doll, written by Tennessee Williams, was directed by Elia Kazan, who gladly called the film “unrealistic.” We mostly believe in its unrealism, though, except when the story grows hyperbolic, hysterical. That’s when we see its basic trashiness, also engendered by bits of third-rate directing by Kazan, as in the big fire sequence. To me the film is a guilty pleasure, but nothing more. It is only partly well acted, by Baker and Wallach.
“You can’t compare yourself to God.”
“Am I not God’s image in your eyes? Is it not to me that you owe your taste for a certain kind of perfection?”
This exchange of words does not take place except in the imagination of Dr. Paul Courreges, the main figure in the Francois Mauriac novel The Desert of Love (1925), which exchange is between Courreges and the woman he has long been passionate about (and it ain’t his wife): Maria Cross. Doubtless Maria is the kind of woman to see “God’s image” in a man she falls for, but Courreges, it turns out, is not that man. Yet the doctor still loves Maria, whereas she gradually falls for Courreges’s son Raymond. What the novel directs us to is, on the one hand, the deep secularization of French society and, on the other, “the desert of love” one encounters after connections are made with the desired person.
Very little is working out for these characters, and not a one of them adheres, as Mauriac did, to any particular religion. The Desert of Love is very solemn and even tragic, though with Christian overtones. Although God is seldom mentioned in the book, when He is, the references are not only sobering but also encouraging. Example: “There could be no hope for either of them, for father or for son, unless, before they died, He should reveal Himself Who, unknown to them, had drawn and summoned from the depths of their beings this burning, bitter tide.”
To think that God would summon from a person a burning, bitter tide! I was prompted to use the word “encouraging” for a reason.
The disco club at the center of Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco (1998) is, in a way, fading or perishing—there is ill-gotten gain there—but much in the lives of the characters is fading or perishing as well. This is true despite all the young-professional effort, all the industriousness, going on, which certainly counts for something but will not necessarily make Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) or Tom (Robert Sean Leonard) a better person. As always, however, Stillman believes he can afford to be optimistic. It is the optimism of at least one kind of philosophical conservative, one who appreciates “the old world order” (Eric Hynes) and Christianity; and, yes, although the characters in Disco do not genuinely embrace Christianity, maybe an “amazing grace”—sung by Charlotte—will sooner or later embrace them.
(This, by the way, is my second review of the film.)