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Baby Face

Film poster
Directed by Alfred E. Green
Produced by William LeBaron
Raymond Griffith
Written by Darryl F. Zanuck
Gene Markey
Kathryn Scola
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
George Brent
Music by Harry Akst
Ralph Erwin
Fritz Rotter
Beth Slater Whitson
Cinematography James Van Trees
Editing by Howard Bretherton
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) July 1, 1933
Running time 71 min. (restored version 75 min.)
Country  United States
Language English
Budget $187,000 (estimated)

Baby Face is a sexually-charged, pre-Code Drama film, first released in 1933. The film was based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck (under the pseudonym Mark Canfield), written by Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola, and directed by Alfred E. Green. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent, and features Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker, John Wayne, and Margaret Lindsay.

Contents

Plot

VHS cover

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 can 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 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.[1] 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.

A new bank president is elected to deal with the resulting public scandal, Courtland Trenholm (George Brent), the playboy grandson of the company's founder. 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 flee 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.

Controversy due to 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.[2] In June 1933 the New York Censorship Board passed the revised version, which then had a successful release.[3]

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.[4] 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[5] and also was named by Time.com as one of the 100 best movies of the last 80 years.[6]

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Differences before and after a censored 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:[1]

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![1]

After much discussion with screenwriter Darryl F. Zanuck, Joseph I. 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."[1]

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.[1]

Production notes

  • 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.[7]
  • 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.[1] Zanuck would later leave Warner Bros. and become the legendary head of 20th Century Fox.
  • A publicity still from this film aptly shows a chic-looking Barbara Stanwyck posing next to a step ladder.[8]

Cast

See also

References

External links


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