Baby Face (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred E. Green|
|Produced by||William LeBaron
|Screenplay by||Gene Markey
|Story by||Mark Canfield|
|Music by||Harry Akst
Beth Slater Whitson
|Cinematography||James Van Trees|
|Editing by||Howard Bretherton|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||71 mins.
75 mins. (restored version)
Baby Face is a 1933 American dramatic film directed by Alfred E. Green, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent. Based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck (under the pseudonym Mark Canfield), this sexually charged, Pre-Code Hollywood film is about an attractive young woman who uses sex to advance her social and financial status.
Marketed with the salacious tag line, "She had it and made it pay", the film's open discussion of sex made it one of the most notorious films of the Pre-Code Hollywood era and helped bring the era to a close. The New York Times quotes Mark A. Vieira, author of Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood as saying, "'Baby Face' was certainly one of the top 10 films that caused the Production Code to be enforced."
Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) works for her father in a speakeasy during Prohibition in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her life has been miserable; since the age of 14, her father (Robert Barrat) has had her sleep with many of his customers. The only man she trusts, a cobbler who admires Friedrich Nietzsche, tells her that she should start afresh in a new city and use men to get what she wants.
When Lily's father is killed in a still explosion, she sheds no tears for him. She and her African American co-worker/friend Chico (Theresa Harris) hop on a freight train out of town but are discovered by a railroad worker who threatens to have them thrown in jail. She says, "Wait ... can't we talk this over?" It is strongly implied that she has sex with him during a filmmaking fadeout to get him to change his mind.
In New York City, Lily gets a job at the Gotham Trust, even though she has no office experience. The personnel man asks Lily, "Have you had any experience?", to which Lily replies, "Plenty!" She then entices him into his absent boss's office to demonstrate. Her progress, sleeping her way to the top, is shown in a recurring visual metaphor of the movie camera panning ever upward along the edifice of the Gotham Trust's skyscraper, accompanied by the saxophone wail of "St. Louis Blues" (song)  Her second conquest is Jimmy McCoy Jr. (John Wayne), who recommends her for promotion to her next victim, Brody (Douglass Dumbrille).
Lily eventually ensnares Ned Stevens (Donald Cook), a rising young executive engaged to Ann Carter (Margaret Lindsay), the daughter of First Vice President J.R. Carter (Henry Kolker). She schemes to have Ann walk in on the two locked in an embrace. When J.R. attempts to get Lily to leave Ned alone, she soon adds the older man to her list of admirers. J.R. installs her in a lavish apartment, with Chico along as a maid. However, when Ned finds her there with his future father-in-law, he first shoots the older man, then himself.
Courtland Trenholm (George Brent), the playboy grandson of the company's founder, is elected bank president to deal with the resulting public scandal. He rebuffs Lily's attempt to extort $15,000 from the firm in return for withholding her diary from the press. He only offers her a job in the firm's Paris office, where she can do no harm. To maintain her appearance as a "victim of circumstance", she has little choice but to accept. Some time later, when Courtland goes to Paris on business, he is surprised and impressed to find her not only still working there, but also promoted to head of the travel bureau. He soon falls under her spell and marries her.
Although he is not responsible, Courtland is indicted when the bank fails due to mismanagement. He begs Lily to return all the gifts he showered on her so he can finance his defense, but Lily decides to keep them and she flees to Europe. However, she changes her mind when she realizes that she has finally found a man she can love. When she returns, she discovers that her husband has shot himself. On the ride to the hospital, the attendant assures her that Courtland has a good chance of survival. Courtland opens his eyes, sees Lily, and smiles at her as the movie ends.
- Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers
- George Brent as Courtland Trenholm
- Donald Cook as Ned Stevens
- Alphonse Ethier as Adolf Cragg, a cobbler
- Henry Kolker as J.P. Carter
- Margaret Lindsay as Ann Carter
- Arthur Hohl as Ed Sipple
- John Wayne as Jimmy McCoy Jr., one of Lily's early bank conquests.
- Robert Barrat as Nick Powers, Lily's father
- Douglass Dumbrille as Brody (as Douglas Dumbrille)
- Theresa Harris as Chico, Lily's maid/friend
This film was Warner Bros. answer to MGM's Red-Headed Woman (1932), another Pre-Code Hollywood film starring Jean Harlow with a similar theme. Production head Darryl F. Zanuck wrote the treatment for this film and sold it to Warner Bros. for a dollar. The Great Depression was having a devastating effect on the film industry at the time, and many studio personnel were voluntarily taking salary cuts to help. Zanuck did not need the money because he was drawing a weekly salary of $3,500. Zanuck would later leave Warner Bros. and become the legendary head of 20th Century Fox.
Aside from its depiction of a female sexual predator, the film is notable for the "comradely" relationship Lily has with her African-American female friend/employee, Chico. A publicity still from this film aptly shows Barbara Stanwyck posing next to a step ladder.
- Sexual content
Because the original version of the film was rejected by the New York State Censorship Board in April 1933, the film was softened by cutting out some material (such as Lily's study of Nietzschean philosophy as well as various sexually suggestive shots). The producers also inserted new footage and tacked on a new ending which comments on how Lily has changed, and is now content to live a modest lifestyle. In June 1933 the New York Censorship Board passed the revised version, which then had a successful release.
The uncensored version remained lost until 2004, when it resurfaced at a Library of Congress film vault in Dayton, Ohio. George Willeman is credited with the discovery. The restored version premiered at the London Film Festival in November 2004. In 2005 it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry and also was named by Time.com as one of the 100 best movies of the last 80 years.
- Altered speech
Early in the film, Lily seeks the advice of the only man she trusts, a cobbler played by Alphonse Ethier. He reads a passage from a book by the philosopher Nietzsche. The first version of the cobbler's speech that did not pass New York State Censorship was as follows:
|“||A woman, young, beautiful like you, can get anything she wants in the world. Because you have power over men. But you must use men, not let them use you. You must be a master, not a slave. Look here — Nietzsche says, "All life, no matter how we idealize it, is nothing more nor less than exploitation." That's what I'm telling you. Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities! Use men! Be strong! Defiant! Use men to get the things you want!||”|
After much discussion with screenwriter Darryl F. Zanuck, Joseph Breen of the Studio Relations Committee suggested that the film could pass by making the cobbler a spokesman for morality. Breen himself rewrote the scene as follows. (The revised lines in the speech are italicized.)
|“||A woman, young, beautiful like you, can get anything she wants in the world. But there is a right way and a wrong way. Remember, the price of the wrong way is too great. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities! Don't let people mislead you. You must be a master, not a slave. Be clean, be strong, defiant, and you will be a success."||”|
The new lines were dubbed onto an over-the-shoulder shot of the cobbler. This was one of several changes that allowed the film to pass the New York State Censorship Board.
- Turan, Kenneth. Never Coming to a Theater Near You: A Celebration of a Certain Kind of Movie. Public Affairs 2004. ISBN 1-58648-231-9. Pg. 375
- Vieira, Mark A. (1999). Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. pp. 148–149. ISBN 0-8109-4475-8.
- "A Wanton Woman's Ways Revealed, 71 Years Later", Dave Kehr, New York Times, January 9, 2005
- Jeff Stafford. "Spotlight: Baby Face". Turner Classic Movies (tcm.com).
- "Baby Face (1933)". moviediva.com.
- Sin in Soft Focus, p. 157
- Article by Betsy Sherman, April 7, 2006, WBUR radio
- Boliek, Brooks (December 28, 2005). "'Hidden film history' unearthed". hollywoodreporter.com.
- Library of Congress press release, December 20, 2005, re films added to National Film Registry
- "Baby Face (1933)". Time magazine.
- Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press 1999. ISBN 0-231-11094-4
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Baby Face (film).|
- Baby Face at the Internet Movie Database
- Review by Chris Dashiell from July 2000 (pre-restoration)
- Blog entry from Filmradar.com, May 20, 2005
- Article by Kendahl Cruver, Senses of Cinema, September 2005
- "Revealing the Racy Original Cut of 'Babyface'", Scott Simon, January 29, 2005
- "Profile and Review: Forbidden Hollywood", Review by J.C. Loophole, The Shelf