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Alfred E. Green,
Lilly (Baby Face) sleeps her way from basement speakeasy bartender, literally floor by floor, to the top floor of a New York office building. Bank sub-manager Jimmy McCoy finds her a job in the bank only to be cast aside as she hooks up with the bank's president. When he complains of not seeing her she says: "I'm working so hard I have to go to bed early every night." Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
"Baby Face" is a precode melodrama starring a very young Barbara Stanwyck, an almost unrecognizable George Brent, and Theresa Harris. It's about a girl who goes to the city to make good...or should I say make time. Stanwyck's father has been pimping her for one reason or another her whole life in dingy, depressed, filthy Erie, Pennsylvania. After her father dies, one older father type who knows what she's been through and truly cares about her future advises her to go to the big city and take advantage of opportunities there - and not the easy ones
and to take the high road in life. (Note that I saw the censored
version and not the uncut - this part of the film was redone for the censors.) She and Chico (Harris) go to New York where Lily (nickname: Baby Face) decides the low road's a lot smoother and will get her where she wants to go a lot faster. In the movie's most famous scene, the camera moves us up the corporate ladder by taking us from floor to floor as Lily sleeps her way to the top. She finally corrals the big man himself and is able to quit her day job. Trouble follows, and she's soon involved in a huge scandal.
Stanwyck wears lots of makeup and for most of the film is cool as a cucumber as she seduces one man after another with no regrets, and she's great at playing the innocent victim. In one scene, she sits staring at a king's ransom in jewels while wearing a black dress that looks like it's decorated with diamonds at the top. Then she asks Chico for another case, and that's filled with more jewelry, plus securities. All in a day's work.
Theresa Harris was an interesting talent - she could be played down or glamorous, and was a talented singer and dancer as well. Here, she sings or hums the movie's theme, "St. Louis Woman" throughout. She worked in literally dozens of movies and is very good here as a friend of Stanwyck's, her best work being in the precode era. As a bizarre byproduct of the code, blacks were often given less to do in films after it was put in place.
Precode films could be more sexually blatant and therefore, though they're 70+ years old, seem more modern. Even though these films didn't have to have moral endings, Baby Face learns her lessons - how like life it is after all. There were several endings of this film, all with the same message. The one I saw had an added scene, but apparently, there were two other endings that didn't pass the censors. (There wasn't a code but there were always censors.) At any rate, it's a neat surprise. "Baby Face" is an important film in movie history - a must see.
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