Monday, March 28, 2011

BABY FACE (1933)

Lily(Stanwyck) and her gal pal Chico(Theresa Harris)
This is movie that started my pre-code addiction, and if you’ve seen it, you won’t blame me. How can one not love a movie in which Barbara Stanwyck plays an amoral, man eating, woman who exploits men, using them as mere stepping stones to the top of a bank?

The movie starts off with Lily Powers (Stanwyck) working for her father(Robert Barrat) in his speakeasy waiting tables and then some ,we find out that daddy‘s been pimping her out since she was 14, in a factory town. It’s this type of life has made her bitter and jaded towards not only men, but to life itself. So when her father dies in an liquor still explosion, with some encouragement from her Nietzsche quoting mentor, Mr. Cragg(Alphonse Ethier), Lily decides it’s the best time to leave town, taking her black friend, and co-worker Chico(Theresa Harris) with her.

Lily confronting her slimy father

Lily fighting off the advancements of customer

Lily listening to mentor Mr. Cragg giving her advice,

From there on, they travel to New York City, and Lily uses her body and sexuality to advance herself, leaving many men in the dust and causing scandal on her way to the top of a bank(there‘s a delightful little love triangle that results in a murder-suicide). Only in the end does she fall hard for the playboy and new president of the bank, Courtland Trenholm(George Brent), after he attempts suicide, over the mismanagement of the bank.

Can't say no to this Baby Face...

Lily and one of her many victims(yes, this a young John Wayne)

Lily seducing one of her victims, while his fiance walks in on them

Moving on up...
 Now as I stated before, this was the movie that started my pre-code addiction, and for the longest time I considered it to be my favorite pre-code(only recently, has it been dethroned by The Story of Temple Drake(1933), yeah I’m a sucker for outrageousness). It is by far, one of the most outrageous films of the pre-code era, so much so that there are two versions of it(a pre-released one, and the more censored theatrical version) and even the censored version is just thick with sex.

Baby Face is one of those ultimate pre-codes, with more than it’s fair share of sexual frankness within the story, which drove the censors of the time crazy. It is this frankness that helps in setting the stage for characters like Lily Powers to be seen as not a gold digging villain, but as one of a woman who has had a hard, bitter life, and she has had more than her fair share of crap dealt to her by the men in her life. Due to this bitter life of Lily’s, one(the viewer) can’t help but to cheer her on as she conquers man after man, leaving them in the dust behind her, beating them at their own game. We don’t see her as a bad person, we see her as someone who’s had real tough start to life, and enjoy seeing her giving men the dose of medicine they deserve for giving her such a hard time. Ahhh, such are the joys of pre-code film, and the moral ambiguity that go along with them..

I highly recommend this film, for both classic film fans, and your general movie lover(the best thing to do is watch both versions, and compare them, there is a lot of differences between the two versions, and the pre-released one is only 5 minutes longer). If you’re interested in seeing this film, both versions are part of TCM Archives Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume One and both are aired on TCM from time to time. Enjoy, if you haven’t already!


  1. Yay for "Baby Face"! Personally, I love Lily. As you say, she was a victim of abuse and decides to beat those nasty boys at their own game (all the while being extremely loyal to Chico - a woman of color). John Wayne is the real baby face in the movie! Thank you, Nicole, for a very fun and informative post!

  2. Not a Barbara Stanwyck fan, but this sounds interesting. I'll have to rent it.

  3. Wonderful film, even though Barbara's character doesn't stick with her amoral philosophy all the way. Jean Harlow, on the other hand, in Red-Headed Woman satisfyingly never changes her spots.