Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baby Face (1933)

Baby Face is probably the most sexually explicit film that I've seen when exploring older film. It features a lot of scenes that obviously lead to sex in addition to a lot of suggestion as to sexual activity. It's kinda crazy, and if I were a 40 year old woman in the 1930's, this movie would certainly make me cover my mouth in shock and horror.

Also, I should note that this entry is based on the uncut version of the film. There is a butchered censored version out there, but I have not seen it. Both are available in the Forbidden Hollywood collection from TCM.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Lily Powers, a waitress in her father's speakeasy. When she's not serving rowdy men, her father is pimping her out to city officials so that they will allow him to keep his illegal hooch house running. This changes one night when her father's still explodes, killing him. Encouraged by a Nietzsche-reading friend to use her sexuality to use men as opposed to allowing them to use her, she sets off to the city to make her living.

What follows is basically a string of sexual conquests within a corporation. She starts on one man, only to dump him when she meets his superior. This results in the ruining of a few lives, but Lily doesn't care, she's in it for the money, like any good whore should.

This changes when she meets Courtland Trenholm (Played by Bette Davis' leading man George Brent), the son of the owner of the business. He instantly takes a liking to her and they begin a relationship. However, is Lily using him for his money? Or has her steel-exterior cracked to allow her to feel love for a man?

This leads to the main flaw of the film, it's ending (which was added due to censor intervention). We have a general idea of Lily's goals and her personality, but the ending kind of throws that out to give us a happy ending that doesn't ring true to the tone of the rest of the film. People have died because of Lily and she didn't bat an eyelash, so for some of the events to occur that occur in the end just feels forced.

But the film should be watched alone for Barbara Stanwyck's performance. As demonstrated in Double Indemnity, she can play a great cold-hearted b*tch, and she plays Lily as a woman with laser focused intensity upon setting herself on easy street.

George Brent is charming, but as someone who has seen him in countless Bette Davis movies, he isn't the best actor in the world, and he has an awkwardness about him whenever he is on screen.

Really, this film deserved to be seen for the wonderful central performance from Barbara Stanwyck as well as its place as being one of the most controversial films of its day, plus it's a pretty good movie to boot.

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