Thursday, February 23, 2023
Baby Face (1933)
Lily Powers (Stanwyck) grows up in a small hick town. Her father runs a bar and he distils bootleg liquor. He also pimps out his daughter. He does this once too often and she decides to leave. When the still blows up he doesn’t have much choice.
There’s an old guy in the town who had befriended her. He’s into German philosophy and he sees potential in this girl. She could be a success if only she could learn to be a bit more focused, and learn to crush every trace of sentiment in her makeup.
Becoming focused and stamping out sentiment is something that Lily learns very quickly.
She arrives in New York with four dollars in her purse. What she needs is a job. The biggest building she can see is the Gotham Bank building. There should be lots of opportunities there for a smart girl.
Landing a job is easy. When there’s a man in charge of handing out jobs Lily will never lack for work. She’s asked if she has any experience. She replies that she has plenty.
Lily has reached one of her goals but there are complications. Some men just don’t understand when they’re not needed any more and keep turning up on the doorstep like lost puppies. Men like Mr Stevens. Men like that tend to do silly tiresome things that make life difficult for a girl.
And her life is about to get complicated again.
The version of this movie that I saw was the prerelease print which is the movie as it was originally made. The 1933 theatrical release was censored. After 1934 the movie was of course banned. The prerelease version makes it crystal clear that Lily offers sex in exchange for advancement and presents. She’s not leading the men to believe that maybe she’ll sleep with them. It’s very obvious that she does sleep with them.
Even more outrage was caused by Lily’s lack of shame or remorse. She’s a realist. And the men know the score. She’s offering them sex in exchange for advancement and money and they’re offering her advancement and money in exchange for sex. As far as Lily is aware that’s just how the world works. She’s unsentimental and ruthless but she doesn’t treat men any worse than they’ve always treated her. The moral watchdogs were not happy about seeing such a brutally realistic view of life being portrayed and they certainly weren’t happy about the suggestion that rich, powerful respectable men participate in such transactions.
A further level of outrage was added by the fact that several of the men with whom Lily gets involved are married men.
This movie is one of three pre-code gems included in the TCM Archives Forbidden Hollywood two-disc DVD set which I bought recently. Both discs were faulty and Baby Face is the only one of the three movies I managed to get to play, and even then only with difficulty. Of course I may have been unlucky to get a faulty set. Baby Face gets a very nice transfer and the fact that it’s the uncut version is a major bonus.
Baby Face is a must-see for pre-code fans and for Barbara Stanwyck fans. In fact it’s a must-see movie for any classic movie fan. This is pre-code Hollywood at it’s most brutally honest. Very highly recommended.