Friday, September 05, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Baby Face (1933)

Today's pre-Code marathon on Turner Classic Movies provided the inspiration for me to catch up with the pre-Code title on this year's 10 Classics list, BABY FACE (1933).

Based on the running time, I believe TCM showed the darker 76-minute pre-release version which was discovered some years ago. That version and the 72-minute theatrical release version are both contained in the very first Forbidden Hollywood DVD set.

I opted to start by watching the theatrical release, in order to see the film as audiences did in 1933, and then in the next few days I plan to rewatch the original longer version so I can see what would later be edited out.

BABY FACE is terrific pre-Code fun, as Barbara Stanwyck's Lily leaves behind a dirt-poor existence and moves to New York, where she literally sleeps her way from the ground floor to the penthouse office of a savings and loan, leaving distraught men in her wake. The men she uses and discards include John Wayne (!), Douglass Dumbrille, and finally Henry Kolker and Donald Cook, who have a tragically violent confrontation.

Lily finally meets her match in Court Trenholm (George Brent), who finesses her attempt to blackmail the savings and loan but later falls in love with and marries her. When the bank is going to fail, Lily must decide what's important -- does she want to hang on to her financial security, or has she finally fallen in love?

BABY FACE has tremendous style, starting first and foremost with a riveting Barbara Stanwyck, gowned by Orry-Kelly. It's fascinating to watch Stanwyck's wardrobe change as her character advances, including an odd secretarial dress with a huge collar. Lily, who had resisted her father's attempt to "give" her to a man with the power to shut down his speakeasy, ironically ends up prostituting herself in order to fill her bank account, then has to decide whether or not she's truly happy.

The film is aided immensely by the use of "St. Louis Blues" in the transitions as Lily climbs floor by floor. The music added a great deal to the film's sassy tone.

It's of note that as racy as BABY FACE is compared to the Production Code era, it still leaves a great deal to the imagination. It's as interesting to compare what the movie didn't need to show, compared to modern films, as it is to look at what it got away with in its day.

George Brent doesn't show up until about 45 minutes into the movie; I didn't enjoy his initially strong character crumpling under the weight of business reversals, but I do like him paired with Stanwyck. They also costarred in THE PURCHASE PRICE (1932), SO BIG! (1932), THE GAY SISTERS (1942), and MY REPUTATION (1946), which is one of my very favorite Stanwyck films.

Theresa Harris is terrific as Lily's friend and maid, Chico. Chico is the only person Lily really cares about for most of the movie -- which is especially interesting, given the era, as Harris is a black actress. I'm always glad to see her name turn up in movie credits.

The cast also includes Margaret Lindsay, Robert Barrat, Arthur Hohl, Charles Coleman, and Nat Pendleton.

BABY FACE was directed by Alfred E. Green and filmed by James Van Trees.

In addition to being available on DVD, BABY FACE also had a release on VHS in the Forbidden Hollywood series.

It can be rented for streaming on Amazon.


Blogger LĂȘ said...

I watched this film earlier this year and loved it! Stany's clothes are marvelous, and so is her performance. It was a delight to see her seducing young John Wayne... and pouring coffee on his lap!
For me, pre-Code Stanwyck is the best Stanwyck.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad you also enjoyed it! I'm also a big fan of the pre-Code Stanwyck. The movies are a lot of fun, particularly this one!

Best wishes,

10:24 AM  

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