Most Controversial Films
The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


Written by Tim Dirks

The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
Movie Title Screen
Film Title/Year, Director

Citizen Kane (1941)
D. Orson Welles

Critics loved it, but media mogul W. R. Hearst -- the inspiration for Kane -- used his influence to discredit Orson Welles' groundbreaking movie.

This widely-acclaimed film from debut film director/actor Orson Welles (24 years old) is usually regarded as the greatest film ever made. The film, budgeted at $800,000, received unanimous critical praise even at the time of its release, although it was not a commercial success (partly due to its limited distribution and delayed release by RKO due to pressure exerted by famous publisher W.R. Hearst) - until it was re-released after World War II, found well-deserved (but delayed) recognition in Europe, and then played on television.

The film engendered controversy (and efforts at suppression in early 1941 through intimidation, blackmail, newspaper smears, discrediting and FBI investigations) before it premiered in New York City on May 1, 1941, because it appeared to fictionalize and caricaturize certain events and individuals in the life of William Randolph Hearst - a powerful newspaper magnate and publisher.

The film was accused of drawing remarkable, unflattering, and uncomplimentary parallels to real-life (especially in regards to the Susan Alexander Kane character who represented Hearst's beloved mistress - young, and successful silent film actress Marion Davies).

The notorious battle was detailed in Thomas Lennon's and Michael Epstein's Oscar-nominated documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996), and it was retold in HBO's cable-TV film RKO 281 (1999) (the film's title referred to the project numbering for the film by the studio, before the film was formally titled).

The gossip columnist Louella Parsons persuaded her newspaper boss Hearst that he was being slandered by RKO and Orson Welles' film when it was first previewed, so the Hearst-owned newspapers (and other media outlets) pressured theatres to boycott the film and also threatened libel lawsuits. Hearst also ordered his publications to completely ignore the film, and not accept advertising for other RKO projects.

Kane Estate of Xanadu
Snow-Globe Falling from Kane's Dying Hand

The opening prologue included a view of media tycoon Charles Foster Kane's (Orson Welles) estate of Xanadu (similar to W.R. Hearst's "Castle") and the uttering of the mysterious word "R-o-s-e-b-u-d" (the film's first line) by the giant rubbery lips of a dying, mustached man as a crystal globe/ball of a snowy scene (of a snow-covered house) fell from his hand and shattered on the floor.

The discovery and revelation of the mystery of the life of the multi-millionaire publishing tycoon was determined through a reporter's search for the meaning of his single, cryptic dying word: "Rosebud" - in part, the film's plot enabling device - or McGuffin (MacGuffin). However, no-one was present to hear Kane utter the elusive last word. The reporter looked for clues to the word's identity by researching the newspaper publisher's life, through interviews with several of Kane's former friends and colleagues. Was it a favorite pet or nickname of a lost love? Or the name of a racehorse?

The final fadeout scene started from the time the reporters climbed up the stairs to a shot that closed in on the incineration of a sled in the furnace -- (revealing the meaning of "Rosebud" as Charles Kane's childhood playtoy) - and the smoke rising toward the sky.

At film's end, the identity of "Rosebud" was revealed, but only to the film audience.

[Note: One source, Gore Vidal - a close friend of Hearst, wildly claimed in 1989 in a short memoir in the New York Review of Books that "Rosebud" was a euphemism for the most intimate part of his long-time mistress Marion Davies' female anatomy.]

Kane's "Rosebud" Sled in Furnace

The Outlaw (1943)
D. Howard Hughes

Busty starlet Jane Russell's breasts cast a long shadow over this erotically-charged Western, outraging guardians of public decency.

This infamous adult-oriented sex-western was obsessed millionaire director/producer Howard Hughes' B-grade pet project. The B-grade western featured busty starlet Jane Russell in a breakthrough role. It was marketed salaciously for full effect - such as with this tasteless, salacious slogan: "What are the two great reasons for Jane Russell's rise to stardom?", angering the MPAA for its unapproved ad campaign. Hughes defied the Hayes Production Code (reportedly this was the first US film to do so), and sued the MPAA organization, but eventually backed down.

Hughes' picture was notorious for leering camera views of statuesque and formidable Jane Russell's ample, buxom cleavage - displayed to the fullest and greatest effect to anger Hays Code censors. The film was denied a Production Code Administration seal of approval for the exploitative use of young star Jane Russell's prominent, bulging breasts and cleavage.

It faced close scrutiny by the Hays Office (and Joseph Breen), due to its exploitation of star Jane Russell's prominently-uncovered 36D chest in her debut film by Hollywood huckster Russell Birdwell. Salacious advertising added to the lurid sensationalism and kept the film from being widely circulated.

Its original release had to be postponed until 1943 - and then only in very limited release to theatres. After a one-week run at that time, Hughes decided to withdraw and shelve the film for three years after which it was finally placed in general release in 1946 (in a cut version) without a seal of approval, and then again in 1947.

The eventual release of the mediocre, fictional film ended up as an example of triumphant ballyhooing and film marketing. Pin-up shots of big-busted Russell rolling around in the hay had the desired effect at the box office (especially among WWII GIs). One of the film's most vulgar stunts, also orchestrated by Birdwell, was to have skywriting planes fly over San Francisco where they spelled the film's title followed by two giant circles -- each dotted in the center.

One local judge in Baltimore, Maryland was quoted as saying that Russell's breasts "hang over the picture like a summer thunderstorm spread out over a landscape." However, it appeared that the publicity pin-up shots were much more revealing, sultry and suggestive than the film itself.

The storyline was a western tale that featured three well-known historical figures in New Mexico:

  • Sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell)
  • Doc Holliday (Walter Huston), gunslinger-gambler
  • Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), aka William Bonney, an outlaw

Billy the Kid was being pursued by Sheriff Pat Garrett, with Jane Russell functioning as Doc Holliday's sexy, half-breed mistress Rio McDonald who was also engaged in a love-hate relationship with Billy -- it was considered too racy for contemporary audiences in 1941 when it was screened for the Hays Office.

Sheriff Pat Garrett
(Thomas Mitchell)
Doc Holliday
(Walter Huston)
Billy the Kid
(Jack Buetel)

Rio (Jane Russell) was frequently seen with an oft-unbuttoned, low-cut peasant blouse - she was the formidable, sexy Mexican half-breed mistress of Doc Holliday. Early in the film was a wrestling semi-rape scene in a hay stable between Rio and Billy the Kid when he cautioned her to end her struggling resistance in the dark shadows. She condemned him for murdering her drunken brother and vowed to kill him.

Later, a wounded and unconscious Billy was brought by Doc to Rio to care for him (she was tempted to stab him with a knife she used to cut off his clothes, but couldn't do it); with her Aunt Guadalupe (Mimi Aguglia) present, Rio made a promise to the unconscious Billy: "You're not gonna die. I'll get you warm" - once Billy began to recover and recuperate a month later, she bent down (in the uncensored version) to caution Billy from getting up: "Be careful, your wound. You'll hurt yourself."

As he became stronger, Billy wished to kiss her, but she at first hesitated: "No, no, you'd better not get up until tomorrow...You're not strong enough yet"; he pulled her to himself: "Who says I'm not?!"; she responded as she wrestled with him: "Billy, you mustn't. You'll hurt yourself"; she was tempted to kiss him, although fearful at first: "But you've been so sick. You're not well enough. You're not..." - but then she surrendered to him; there was an incredible zooming full-face (and lips) closeup as she moved closer to kiss him.

A Closeup of an Impending Kiss Between Billy the Kid and Rio

When Doc returned, Rio was forced to admit to him that she had been charmed by the ailing Billy during one of his delirious periods to get married to him ("I'm married to him...That's the truth, Doc. Only please don't tell him.... I never would have done it, only I thought he was gonna die").

Later when an angry Billy returned and surprised Rio in her bedroom, he accused her of revealing their route to the Sheriff and of filling their canteens with sand. However, he also sarcastically vowed that he returned because he missed her - it was clearly a love-hate relationship.

Rio's Resentment Toward Billy

To retaliate against Rio, Billy left her bound, gagged and strung up by her wrists within sight of a desert waterhole. After she was released by Doc and the Sheriff, Doc realized Billy's infatuation with Rio: "I think he's in love with you....The crazier a man is about a woman, the crazier he thinks and does."

There was a frontal close-up view of Rio galloping along on horseback to escape pursuit by Indians on the way to Fort Sumner.

Doc Shot Dead by the Sheriff

In the concluding sequence, after Doc showed a distinct preference for Billy, Pat reluctantly shot Doc dead. Following Doc's burial, Billy was allowed by the Sheriff to ride off. As he departed, Billy looked back at Rio - indicating that she could join him, and she happily jumped onto the back of his horse with him.

Semi-Rape Scene In the Hay With Billy the Kid

Rio Tempted to Stab Unconscious, Recuperating Billy

Bending Down, Rio to Billy: "Be careful, your wound. You'll hurt yourself"

Rio to Doc, About Being Married to Billy: "I'm married to him"

Billy's Angry Return to Rio

Rio Strung Up By Her Wrists

Rio Released by Doc and the Sheriff

Rio Galloping on Horseback on a Race to Fort Sumner

Conclusion: Rio Riding Off with Billy

Song of the South (1946)
D. Harve Foster (live action), Wilfred Jackson (animation)

Never available on video or DVD in the US, Disney's charming animated take on Southern folklore was tainted by its live-action sequences depicting happy slaves.

This remarkable Disney film (a hybrid of live action and animation) was based on the "Uncle Remus" stories in the late 1800s of Joel Chandler Harris (first published as columns in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper), and was presented as one of their earliest, innovative live-action (70%) and animation (30%) mixtures. It was Disney's first attempt to make a feature film that included extensive, dramatic live-action footage.

The film's song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" won the Academy Award for Best Song. It was the first color film shot by famed cinematographer Gregg Toland who had filmed The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Citizen Kane (1941). For many years, Disneyland's theme park log-flume ride 'Splash Mountain' was partly based on the film's animated sequences.

Remarkably, the film has never been released for home video consumption in the US (although it has been available in European and Asian markets). After this film's last theatrical release in 1986 (on its 40th anniversary), it has simply vanished and been unavailable for purchase. Recently, a Disney spokesman reiterated the fact that the film would continue to be unavailable due to "the sensitivity that exists in our culture" and fears of political-correctness repercussions.

Although it has been rumored that the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) banned this Disney movie, that was untrue -- they simply expressed their disapproval of the portrayal of African-Americans in the film, and their concern about its potential to present an image of an idyllic master-slave relationship. The NAACP's executive secretary Walter White wrote:

"It [the NAACP] regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the North or South, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery...Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, ‘Song of the South’ unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts."

Harlem's black Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., called the film "an insult to American minorities." And NY Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote: "No matter how much one argues that it’s all childish fiction, the master-and-slave relation is so lovingly regarded with the Negroes bowing and scraping and singing spirituals in the night, that one might almost imagine that you figure Abe Lincoln made a mistake. Put down that mint julep, Mr. Disney!"

The main objection was its stereotypical depiction of blacks in the live-action sequences and its idyllic ("white-washing") depiction of slave and plantation life, although others mistakenly thought that the movie actually depicted slavery and tacit approval of the master-slave relationship.

The film opened with a prologue: "Out of the humble cabin, out of the singing heart of the Old South have come the tales of Uncle Remus, rich in simple truths, forever fresh and new."

Set presumably after the Civil War in the mid-to-late 1800s at a time when slavery was abolished during the Reconstruction Era in Georgia, it told about a family that journeyed from their home in Atlanta to a large rural plantation (owned by Sally's mother Miss Doshy (Lucile Watson), Johnny's grandmother) - they rode in an open carriage together. Sally and her husband John were in the midst of a marital separation, and Johnny was being taken by his mother to live with his grandmother for an extended period of time, while his father returned to Atlanta without them:

  • John (Erik Wolf), a newspaper editor
  • Sally (Ruth Warwick), John's wife
  • Johnny (Bobby Driscoll), 8 year-old son
  • Aunt Tempy (Hattie McDaniel), Johnny's black nursemaid
Sally and John
Aunt Tempy and Johnny
The Plantation House
Servant boy Toby (Glen Leedy) with Johnny
Ginny Favers (Luana Patten) with Dog Teenchie
Joe and Jake Favers - Ginny's Two Bullying Brothers

Once his father departed back to Atlanta and the distressed young Johnny feared the threatened divorce of his parents, he decided to run back to the city. He came upon a campfire where black slaves were singing about Uncle Remus tales (i.e., how the leopard got his spots, how the camel got his humps, and how a pig got his curly tail, etc.).

He was befriended and comforted by the charismatic handyman and folk story-teller (and former slave) Uncle Remus (Special Oscar-winning James Baskett), who took him to his cabin for some "grub" (cornbread and sweet taters) and became his best friend and confidante.

Storytelling Uncle Remus illustrated life lessons to help Johnny deal with his family and personal troubles through three animated sequences that featured Uncle Remus characters (i.e., Br'er Rabbit, wily Br'er Fox, and the stupidly dim-witted Br'er Bear). Br'er Rabbit was able to outtrick the fox and bear in all three instances of his tales:

  • "Br'er Rabbit Earns a Dollar a Minute" (approx. 8 minutes), featuring the Oscar-winning song: "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"

    While running away from his briar patch ("I ain't ever comin' back"), Br'er Rabbit became caught in Br'er Fox's snare trap, at the edge of a cornfield; he fooled Br'er Bear into switching places with him as a 'paid' scarecrow (for a dollar a minute) to protect the field; Br'er Rabbit learned his lesson about leaving home (and so did Johnny) - "You can't run away from trouble."
"Br'er Rabbit Earns a Dollar a Minute"
  • "Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby" (approx. 12 minutes), featuring the song: "How Do You Do?"

    After Br'er Rabbit's arm (and entire body) became stuck in Br'er Fox's trap on the side of the road - a 'tar-baby' (a doll-like clothed figure composed of sticky tar), he begged them to be released, using reverse psychology - do anything you want with me – roas' me, hang me, skin me, drown me – "but please, Br'er Fox, don't fling me in dat brier-patch" - and the gullible Fox complied, thereby freeing Br'er Rabbit. The lesson taught to Johnny was that people shouldn't get involved with something they have no business with in the first place.
"Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby"
  • "Br'er Rabbit's Laughing Place" (approx. 5 minutes), featuring the song: "Everybody's Got a Laughing Place"

    Br'er Rabbit was again captured by the Bear and Fox (and was about to be BBQ'd on a fire for dinner), but convinced his captors to lead him to his secret "laughing place" (he tricked them by taking them to a bee hive in a bushy thicket) and was able to escape. The story helped Johnny and Ginny to be cheered up after the Favers boys bullied them, and they were unable to attend Johnny's birthday party.
"Br'er Rabbit's Laughing Place"

Rather than his own peers, Johnny preferred to spend time with his black servant Toby (Glen Leedy), playing with a croaking frog. He also suffered the bullying of two poor 'white-trash' boys, Joe (Gene Holland) and Jake Favers (Georgie Nokes), who threatened their blonde sister Ginny's runt dog named Teenchie, that was given to Johnny as a gift. As a result of Uncle Remus' second tale, Johnny used reverse psychology on the Favers boys, daring them to not tell their mother about the dog, but of course they did - and they received a whipping from their mother. However, Sally ordered Uncle Remus to stop telling tall tales to the impressionable Johnny, and Teenchie was reluctantly returned to the Favers.

In the film's conclusion, when storyteller Uncle Remus was departing for Atlanta, the young boy was dismayed and felt deserted. He took a shortcut across a pasture to try and catch up to him. He was seriously injured by a bull, but was revived from death by the return of his father to the plantation and story-telling Uncle Remus who reprised the "Laughing Place" tale. He reached out for Uncle Remus' hand for comfort, and was assured by his father and mother that the family was back together for good ("We'll have the laughing-est place in the whole wide world")

The film ended with the cartoon characters (butterflies, Br'er Rabbit, a frog and more) interacting with Uncle Remus and the children (Johnny, Ginny, and Toby) as they skipped along the road toward the horizon while singing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."

Depiction of Happy Slaves Singing Spirituals While Returning From Work in Fields

First Views of Storyteller Uncle Remus


Storyteller Uncle Remus with Johnny and Toby

Storyteller Uncle Remus with Johnny and Ginny

The Remus Tales:

Br'er Rabbit

Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear

Bull Attack on Johnny

Revived from Death by Uncle Remus

Ending Image

The Miracle (1948, It.) (aka Il Miracolo) (short) (part of L'Amore (1948, It.) (aka Ways of Love))
D. Roberto Rossellini

A devout but demented goat-herder, imagining herself as the Virgin Mary, was impregnated (after becoming drunk and passing out) by a stranger who she believed was an incarnation of Saint Joseph. Later, she delivered her 'miracle' baby all alone inside an empty church on a rocky hillside. This subject matter in the late 1940s was considered scandalous, blasphemous, and sacrilegious, and the film was banned. It took a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1952 to declare that movies were protected under "free speech" guidelines in the US Constitution.

This 43 minute neo-realistic drama was part of a longer 69 minute anthology film entitled L'Amore (1948, It.) (aka Ways of Love)] - it was the second episode, with a story scripted by Federico Fellini.

After the release of the misunderstood film, it caused considerable controversy when it was maligned, censored and banned. It was exhibited at the 1948 Venice Film Festival, but was basically a flop in Italy after Catholic officials denounced it as "an abominable profanation." The film was imported into the US in 1949 by Polish-Jewish immigrant Joseph Burstyn, and in late 1950 opened at the Paris Theater in Manhattan. The short film was then challenged by the New York State Board of Regents in 1951 under 30 year-old censorship regulations barring 'sacrilegious' films.

Pressure was also brought to bear by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to revoke the film's license on the grounds that the work was "blasphemous" and "sacrilegious." Catholic leader Francis Cardinal Spellman, with the Catholic-dominated Legion of Decency, attacked The Miracle as "a despicable affront to every Christian" and "a vicious insult to Italian womanhood." The film was subsequently banned by the New York State Board of Regents. The film lost its license and the film's distributor, Joseph Burstyn, appealed the decision. The New York Appeals Court backed the Board of Regents decision.

Soon, however, it became a landmark film in the fight against film censorship after a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1952, in the case of Burstyn v. Wilson. It stated that the New York State Board of Regents could not ban the film - it declared movies a form of free speech. The Court ruled that "sacrilege" was too vague a censorship standard to be permitted under the First Amendment. Film was finally freed from federal censorship, although local censorship boards could still ban a film deemed 'objectionable'.

The film starred Anna Magnani as a dim-witted, unwed, homeless young Italian peasant girl and goat-herder named Nannina, who had delusions that she was the Virgin Mary. While herding goats, she met a bearded vagabond stranger (with a bottle of wine) on a hillside where she was shepherding. She thought he was the incarnation of Saint Joseph, (a role played by young screenwriter Fellini!) - and delusionally believing that she was the Virgin Mary.

In the afternoon after being offered wine, the drunken Nannina spent time with the man - and then seemingly passed out - there was a significant fade to black (an off-screen rape?). She was impregnated - presumably raped off-screen. She awakened shortly later with a goat licking her face, and found that the stranger was gone

Later, believing that she was pregnant due to immaculate conception, the devout woman was mocked, ridiculed, ostracized and derided as transgressive by the townsfolk with her belief that her pregnancy was an immaculate conception. She was driven from town with people throwing vegetables at her, in a mock 'walk-to-Calvary' scene; at one point, the mob forced her to wear an empty bowl on her head (a crown of thorns).

In the concluding scene, she gave birth, all alone, to her 'miracle' or 'special' child in an empty church located on a rocky hill outcropping.

Italian Peasant Girl Nannina (Anna Magnani)

Vagabond Stranger: "My dear St. Joseph!"

Drinking Wine Before Passing Out

Awakened by Goat

Mocked by Townsfolk for Believing in Immaculate Conception Pregnancy

The Moon is Blue (1953)
D. Otto Preminger

Well-bred people in the 1950s didn't use words like "virgin," "seduce" and "mistress" in public, but this mild sex farce did and became a cause celebre.

This daring sex farce and romantic comedy was the first major studio-produced film from Hollywood that was released without an approved code seal from the Production Code Administration (PCA). It was deliberately made as a test case by its producer/director Otto Preminger. Despite its lack of a seal of approval and the controversy, it proved to be a major hit film (grossing $6 million).

The PCA's Joseph Breen complained about the film's unacceptable, comedic "light and gay treatment of the subject of illicit sex and seduction." It was subsequently rated condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency for vulgarity, in part because of its offensive use of prohibited words such as "virgin," "seduce," "pregnant," and "mistress" in the dialogue.

Following the Kansas Board of Review of Motion Picture's decision to ban the film, the Kansas State Supreme Court upheld the decision. (Three states, Maryland, Ohio, and Kansas had banned the film.) The state's censorship board had used current state censorship laws to ban the film and release it without a seal of approval. In the case of Holmby Productions v. Vaughn brought up in a Maryland court in 1953, the blocking of the film's release by the Maryland and Kansas state censor boards was contested. In 1955, the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned the ruling of the Kansas Supreme Court to uphold the film's banning, declaring it unconstitutional. The film's court victory was one more indication that the influence of the Production Code was weakening. A PCA seal of approval was granted to two of Preminger's films in 1961, The Moon is Blue (1953) and The Man With the Golden Arm (1955).

The film's philosophical theme was about the prospect of remaining a virgin, in order to remain respectable, and the efforts of two aging lothario-playboys attempting to score in a love triangle with an attractive young virgin. The three main characters were:

  • Patty O'Neill (Maggie McNamara in her film debut) - a wholesome (or virtuous) and chatty 22 year-old heroine and struggling beer-commercial actress
  • Donald Gresham (William Holden), a successful 30 year-old architect and wolfish bachelor
  • David Slater (David Niven), 41 years-old, divorced, martini-drinking, charming; also Donald's upstairs neighbor, and the father of Cynthia Slater (Dawn Addams), Donald's ex-fiancee

After meeting Donald on the top of the Empire State Building (where he impulsively kissed her), they shared a taxi ride to his Madison Avenue apartment for drinks before dinner.

Taxi-Cab Ride - "Would you try to Seduce Me?"

She warily asked: "Would you try to seduce me?" When he vowed he wouldn't ("I won't make a single pass at you"), but confessed that he might kiss her, she responded: "Kissing's fine. I have no objection to that." She then added: "Look, let's face it. Going to a man's apartment almost always ends in one of two ways. Either a girl is willing to lose her virtue or she fights for it. Well, I don't want to lose mine, and I think it's vulgar to fight for it, so I always put my cards on the table. Don't you think that's sensible?"

They shook hands when she agreed with him on how to appropriately behave: "Affection but no passion." When they arrived at his place, she gratefully claimed: "I'm so glad you don't mind...Men are usually so bored with virgins. I'm so glad you're not."

When the elevator doors opened in his apartment lobby, Donald's miffed ex-fiancee Cynthia Slater (Dawn Addams) was exiting - she was startled to see him escorting the younger woman upstairs. In his apartment, Don suspected that Cynthia had written "STINKER" in lipstick on his mirror after their recent break-up.

Donald also noted that Patty was very inquisitive about his personal life, about Cynthia (and whether she was his mistress or not), and she also seemed very preoccupied with sex: (Donald: "Why are you so pre-occupied with sex?...You are always asking if people plan seduction or if they're bored with virgins or if they have a mistress"); she replied: "You may be right. But don't you think it's better for a girl to be preoccupied with sex than occupied?"

In the meantime, Donald's ex-fiancee Cynthia was fuming over recently being dumped by him (because he DIDN'T seduce her). She had also called Patty a "professional virgin" (a female who flaunted her virginity to get something). Competing with Don for Patty's affection, her father David spoke about maintaining one's virginity, stating to Patty:

"Suspicion, my child, suspicion. The lurking doubt. Is she or isn't she? Does she or doesn't she? Will she or won't she? Suspicion, the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world."

He offered a no-strings-attached $600 bet with her to wait 15 weeks before seeing another man. She held out and kept her virginity, but the bet was soon aborted. Eventually after all of the misunderstandings between the characters were cleared up, Donald truly fell in love with Patty and proposed (with an old-fashioned offer including the word 'love') - at the top of the Empire State Building where they first met.

Virtuous Patty O'Neill (Maggie McNamara)

Patty Meeting and Flirting with Donald Gresham (William Holden) on Empire State Building Observation Deck

Impulsive Kiss with Donald in His Empire State Building Office

Meeting Cynthia Slater (Dawn Addams) - Donald's Ex-Fiancee

"STINKER" Written by Cynthia on Donald's Mirror

In His Apartment - Patty: "But don't you think it's better for a girl to be pre-occupied with sex than occupied?"

David Slater to Patty:
"Is she or isn't she?"

Ending: Donald's Proposal at Top of Empire State Building

Baby Doll (1956)
D. Elia Kazan

The Catholic Legion of Decency condemned Tennessee Williams' lurid tale of a thumb-sucking child bride and the men who lusted for her.

The Oscar-nominated film (with four nominations, but no wins, including Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay) was called notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative. Time Magazine was noted as stating: "Just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited..." New York's Cardinal Spellman declared the film "evil in concept... certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it." The defiant film was a condemned and censored drama (by the Catholic Legion of Decency for many of its scenes depicting older aged men pursuing an under-aged female.

The stark, controversial, black and white film was so viciously denounced by the Legion of Decency upon its release with a "C" (or condemned) rating that many theaters were forced to cancel their showings, but it still did moderately well at the box office despite the uproar.

Elia Kazan's pot-boiling film (based on Tennessee Williams' play) told about a thumb-sucking, white-trash, 19 year-old virginal child bride "Baby Doll" Meighan (Oscar-nominated Carroll Baker) with only a 4th grade education. She continually repulsed him because union with him wouldn't be sexually-consummated until her 20th birthday - two days away as the film opened.

The first sensational image of her was sucking her thumb in a childlike crib in the nursery while being spied upon through a hole in the adjoining wall by her sexually-frustrated (unconsummated) and feverishly-horny "peeping tom" husband Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden), a Mississippi cotton gin operator. The desperate Archie peeked at her through a hole in the wall (and thrust with a penknife to make the hole wider - as her mouth opened and closed around her thumb). She caught him watching her, and confronted him: "Do you know what they call such people? Peepin' Toms!"

Archie Accused of Being a "Peeping Tom" by Baby Doll

Shortly later, Archie barged in on Baby Doll who was in the bathtub, taunting and teasing Archie by bathing in front of him - and when he attacked her (off-screen), she yelled: "Get your hands off me...I'm movin' to the Kotton King Hotel the very next time you try to break our agreement. The very next time!"

During a visit to town, Archie was the local laughing-stock - everyone knew that he was sexually-unsatisfied and ruled by his stuck-up, spoiled, child bride. While she sat in the back seat of his open car in town, he brought her a single-dip ice cream cone which she pleasurably and childishly licked - another blatant sequence of teasing temptation. Baby Doll knew that she had him wrapped around her finger: "What you've done is bit off more than you can chew." When she realized that their furniture was being repossessed, she threatened to move to the Kotton King Hotel in town and get a job, since Archie Lee could no longer provide for her. Her stipulation with Archie Lee was that he had to provide a furnished home for her - or otherwise his rights to her as a wife would be forfeited.

Archie's vengeful and competitive business rival was a covetous, wily, sleek, beady-eyed and cocky Sicilian named Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach in his film debut) - he was the manager of the up-and-coming Syndicate Plantation and Gin Company that had stolen away all of Archie's business in Tiger Tale County and had received recognition for his business success from a local Senator. Resentful and retaliatory, later that night, Archie took a kerosene can and set the Syndicate gin building on fire. Although some of the locals weren't sympathetic to the Sicilian outsider and refused to side with a foreigner against a local boy, Vacarro insisted on justice and carrying on his own investigation - he immediately suspected Archie. Vacarro announced that he would take twenty-seven wagon loads of his cotton for ginning to Archie Lee's gin, until his own gin could be rebuilt.

Archie Lee was elated with his newfound prospect for business, and wished to extend every bit of hospitality to Vacarro, including entertainment by his willful child bride virgin while he worked ginning the cotton ("I believe in the good neighbor policy. You do me a good turn and I'll do you a good turn, Mr. Vacarro. Tit for tat and tat for tit is the policy we live on...Honey, honey, honey...Now I want you to entertain this gentleman"). Ultimately, Vacarro's aim during his time at Archie's place was to pursue the truth and bring forth a confession from Baby Doll about Archie's guilt. At the house on a hot afternoon, the virile Vacarro went to use the old-fashioned pump in the yard at the side of the house to get a nice cool drink and vigorously pumped the well - a sexual symbol and contrast to Archie's thwarted and elderly masculinity.

The young "Baby Doll" nymphet was seduced (in a number of notorious, highly-sexual seduction sequences) by the vengeful Sicilian Vacarro to 'take' the virginity of Baby Doll and deflower her to get back at her husband for arson - the main reason for the film's vicious condemnation:

  • in the back seat of a rusty, old wheel-less Pierce-Arrow limousine in the side yard, he flattered her about her charm bracelet, and she admitted she was shy one day from being 20 years old
  • the next most notorious, highly-sexual seduction scene was sizzling (and severely criticized) due to the sexual reactions that an overcome, writhing Baby Doll exhibited on a double-seated plantation swing in the yard. Vacarro continued his cat-and-mouse, teasing interrogation about the arson (and Archie Lee's complicity) as he advanced closer. She became agitated and nervously fingered her hair ribbon due to his taunting questions. He sat next to her on the swing and proposed letting the swing's motion ease her tensions, and then put his arm around her. During the course of their discussion, he decided to exchange his burned-down gin for her seduction - referring to Archie Lee's 'good neighbor policy': ("You do me a good turn and I'll do you one")
Seduction on Porch Swing
  • after noticing a small piece of cotton lint fiber on the front bodice of her dress, he delicately removed it and blew it away, and then inched closer and closer to her and pressed on her, as he complimented her on "the ab-so-lute delicacy of your skin." She actually realized that he was "getting familiar" and told him "I don't like to be touched" - claiming that she was ticklish. The seduction scene was severely criticized - but mostly for what was not shown just below the camera's frame - was he possibly reaching under her dress?
  • when she left the swing feeling weakened and began moaning, and claimed she was dizzy, he pursued her up to the house, following close behind her as he brushed on her arm with his riding crop. Still breathless, she requested that he stop his playful use of the whip: "Cut it out. Feels funny...Feels funny, all up and down. Quit switchin' me, will ya?...Cut it out or I'm gonna call." Soon after as she felt scared about his suspicions about her husband, she basically conceded to his assertion that Archie was involved: "I knew the fire was not accidental. And you know it was not accidental too."

After the Swing Seduction: "I feel so weak!" -- Vacarro Followed Her to the House
  • Baby Doll was left alone when Archie drove away into town to obtain machine parts, after Vacarro demanded repairs to his outdated and run-down gin machinery. In the house with her after preparing lemonade, Vacarro joined her upstairs where she was changing her wet clothes. In a memorably lewd sight - Vaccaro mounted and sat astride a small wooden hobby horse in the child's nursery - rhythmically rocking back and forth on the tiny toy whose head was hardly visible between his legs - gyrating back and forth to the raunchy accompaniment of the rock song "Shame on You." Then, he moved from room to room, playing a childhood game of hide-and-seek with Baby Doll - who was nearly undressed in a slip although covered with a blanket.
  • eventually, he was able to trap her in the upper attic (with rotting timbers) where she had fled and locked the door. There, he threatened to cave in the entire attic floor unless she signed an incriminating statement attesting to the fact that her husband set fire to the gin and that Archie had lied about his alibi. Afterwards, he accepted her invitation to take a nap in her crib - it was entirely possible that during a fade-out as she knelt over him and covered him with her blanket, he was able to succeed in having sex with the nubile bride
  • when Archie returned, he jealously reprimanded Baby Doll for being with Vacarro, dressed only in her slip: "Ain't I told you not to slop around here in a slip?" Vacarro had been invited for supper at Baby Doll's request. Just before supper, he was able to accomplish a further seduction of Baby Doll in a sneaky and steamy kissing scene behind a wall, seen from Archie's POV (although Archie's back was turned and he was on the phone in the other room trying to encourage his rough friends to come over from the Bright Spot Cafe and deal with Vacarro). The two were in a darkened adjoining room under a bare-bulb. Vacarro told Baby Doll: "I do my own justice," and then lasciviously looked at her:

    Vacarro: "I find you different this evening in some way." (Baby Doll responded with a wanton look)
    Baby Doll: "Never mind that...."
    Vacarro: "Grown up, suddenly."

  • Baby Doll rolled her head over to look at Vacarro and purred: "I feel cool and rested for the first time in my life. That's the way I feel. Rested and cool." Her hand reached up for the beaded chain on the light bulb above her head and switched off the light. She engulfed Vacarro and herself in darkness. They kissed as she breathed heavily - and then they kissed again (in full close-up).
Vacarro Seducing and Kissing Baby Doll in Adjoining Room
  • Vaccaro also flirted with Baby Doll at the stark dinner table when they shared hunks of bread dipped in raw, uncooked greens, while moaning, giggling and exchanging looks
  • the film ended with Vacarro confronting Archie with Baby Doll's signed affidavit. Vacarro further enraged Archie by admitting that he had coaxed other favors from Baby Doll, and that there existed a "certain attraction" between them - after a crib-nap, a sung lullaby, and "the touch of cool fingers."
  • Archie responded by retrieving his shotgun and chasing Vacarro outside while Baby Doll called the police. Both Baby Doll and Vacarro hid in the fork of a pecan tree in the yard until the police arrived and promptly arrested Archie (when Vacarro presented the signed affidavit for the crime of arson) at around midnight when Baby Doll turned 20. It was left ambiguous whether Baby Doll or Aunt Rose Comfort (Mildred Dunnock) would be cared for in the future; Baby Doll asked: "We got nothin' to do but wait for tomorrow and see if we're remembered or forgotten"

Archie With Shotgun

Archie Arrested for Arson

To Be Remembered or Forgotten the Next Day?

Baby Doll (Carroll Baker)
in Crib

Baby Doll in Bathtub

Baby Doll Licking Ice Cream Cone in Town

Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach) Honored For Business Success by a Senator

Competitor's Cotton Gin Set on Fire by Archie Lee

Baby Doll Introduced to Silva

The Virile Vacarro Pumping Water

Vacarro in Car with Baby Doll

Falling Backward Into Vacarro's Arms on the Porch

In the Nursery, Vacarro Rode a Hobby Horse

Baby Doll Signing the Affidavit Against Archie

Vacarro in Baby Doll's Crib with Her

Baby Doll In Her Slip

Vacarro Invited For Late Supper

Baby Doll and Vacarro Eating Uncooked Greens

Archie Incensed by Vacarro and Baby Doll

The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
(chronologically, by film title)
Intro | Silents-1930s | 1940s-1950s | 1960-1961 | 1962-1967 | 1968-1969
1970-1971 | 1972 | 1973-1974 | 1975 | 1976-1977 | 1978 | 1979
1980-1982 | 1983-1986 | 1987-1989 | 1990-1992 | 1993-1995 | 1996-1999
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