Written by: Carroll Jenkins on May 23rd, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: USA, July 1st, 1933
Director: Alfred E. Green
Writers: Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker, Margaret Lindsay, Arthur Hohl, John Wayne, Robert Barrat, Douglass Dumbrille, Theresa Harris
Approximate running time: 72 minutes/ 76 Minutes (restored version)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Warner Brothers
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $39.98 (Only available as part of the TCM Archives – Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 1)
Synopsis: A young woman from the slums determines to sleep her way to the top. She does.
Warner Brothers took the basic model of MGM’s Red Headed Woman of an amoral woman who takes the easiest way to wealth and prosperity, and did it one better in every aspect of production: script, acting, casting, pacing, and cinematography. It’s more realistic, better motivated, and altogether more believable, which makes the entire concept that much more shocking. So shocking, in fact, that it was first rejected and only released after substantial cuts, voiceovers, and new post-production scenes. Even the tamed down version was too much for the Breen administration, and it was seldom seen after the initial run and the code crackdown.
In 2004, a pre-censored version was discovered and finally saw the light of day. Ironically, the cut version is more outrageous than the original because the basic point of the entire movie is excised. The original version is a study of the application of Nietzsche’s book ‘Will Of Power’. Actually, that book was a post-mortem pastiche compiled by his sister and was a corruption of his philosophy and beliefs that was later viewed favorably by the Nazi regime!!! This movie is years ahead of it’s time (and WWII) in showing the fallacy of that concept – that the quest for glory, honor, and power is more powerful and desirable than Judeo-Christian values or even the basic will for survival.
Barbara Stanwyck is in top form as Lily, the girl from the slums who was first pimped out by her father when she was 14 years old. She doesn’t really hate [all] men, but she can certainly take them or leave them.
The first two-thirds of the film are stunning, beginning at her father’s speakeasy and following her ascent through a company from the ground-level to the executive suite one man at a time, no mercy, no prisoners. After she achieves her perceived goals, the film becomes more melodramatic and limps somewhat towards the conclusion. Overall, however, the film is a stunner.
Highly unusual is the relationship between Lily and her black companion / servant Chico whom Lily treats with great respect. In one telling scene we see Chico boast both furs and finery; Lily might exploit herself and her lovers, but not her faithful friend. All of the supporting cast are excellent, including a young John Wayne who’s character has no clue what hit him.
The pre-release print is of excellent quality, whereas the theatrical version, also included, is mediocre. The theatrical trailer features scenes cut from the theatrical release. Also in the set is Red Headed Woman with Jean Harlow, and Waterloo Bridge directed by James Whale.
Baby Face is without equal as the finest example of unrestrained pre-code amorality and sexuality. And that’s the censored version! Exceptionally revealing and of historical importance is the opportunity to screen the pre-release and censored versions back-to-back and see what was trimmed and how it completely altered the final product.
Baby Face will steal your heart before she stomps it into the ground.
Note: Baby Face is only available as part of Warner Brothers “TCM Archives – Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 1″ which also includes these titles (Waterloo Bridge, Red Headed Woman).