Pretty Baby (1978) Poster

(1978)

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Very pretty and very solid
fertilecelluloid18 January 2004
At the time of its release, PRETTY BABY attracted a lot of controversy for its subject matter and matter-of-fact nudity of pre-teen Brook Shields (Violet).

Now it would probably not get made at all -- which is a shame, because it's a solidly written and directed drama.

The late Louis Malle, who also directed the amazing BLACK MOON, approaches the subject of child prostitution without judgement or moralizing.

The film's effectiveness comes from a script that does not burden any of its characters with explanatory dialog. Most of the dialog heard is of the incidental kind. Characters do not pause to explain situations or pontificate. Malle captures glances, body language, reflections and uses the non-verbal to tell his very human story of a New Orleans cathouse.

Susan Sarandon, as Violet's prostitute mother, turns in a fine performance as a woman in denial of her reality. Keith Carradine, who plays a photographer who falls in love with Violet, delivers a perfectly tuned performance with little more than than a dozen lines of dialogue. Also worth nothing is the beautiful performance of Francis Faye as Nell, the cathouse madam. She brings a sharp gift for irony to her role.

Brooke is very, very good, too, and this was the performance of her career.
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8/10
An incredibly frank but humane movie of the type that doesn't seem to be made anymore.
Ham_and_Egger9 June 2005
A beautifully filmed movie which tells a difficult story with a subtlety and power that leaves you thinking about it during odd moments for days. It's that much more disconcerting because all the while you're keenly aware that this isn't based on "a true story" but on millions of true stories throughout history, including today, and in every part of the globe.

Due to my age I'd never seen 'Pretty Baby' in the theater or, for some reason, read much about it. I was aware of the basic plot but didn't know I'd be seeing quite so much of a naked 12 year-old Brooke Shields. A couple of moments were honestly difficult for me to watch, but I've come to the conclusion that the nudity is absolutely essential to the telling of the story. You *have* to be forced to see exactly what those men were paying for.

The brilliance of director Loius Malle's film is that he constantly subverts the audience's desire to be aghast at what we see. The camera finds happy little moments throughout the movie, your mind is left to fill in the ugly realities. This trend continues to the end, which is like a cruel mirror image of the typical happily ever after Hollywood ending.
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8/10
This Movie Is Based On Truth!
mk425 December 2004
I'd like to point out that this movie is literally based on first hand recollections of a prostitute interviewed in Al Rose's definitive book on the subject: "Storyville", published many years ago. Anyone familiar with with the era knows that the photographer, E.J. Bellocq, was a real person who captured on glass plates forever the images of the young prostitutes of Storyville. These photographs are hauntingly beautiful in their own right, and the young Brooke Shields--as well as the beautiful Susan Sarandon--were a masterstroke of Malle to play the parts of mother and daughter prostitutes. The recollections in the book draw upon the actual fact that the mother who related the story actually took part in the deflowering of her daughter in the "House" as described, and that they went on to be a "team", a very common and desirable commodity in that day. Not mentioned-- but inferred to those who "read between the lines"-- was that the pony that young Violet casually rides in the backyard of the mansion in the beginning of the movie was actually an animal used to entertain the paying customers in "the circus" that certain women performed in ...for the"right price." Many of the photo sessions depicted in the film are loving recreations of surviving Bellocq prints. The women portraying the "girls" in the movie could have been working girls in "The District" had they lived back then. Some IMDb readers profess to be shocked by conditions in Storyville back then, but as the book recounts, it was all true, and many of the women actually did enjoy their livelyhood. It was the "bluenoses" to the rescue who saved them and the U.S. Navy from themselves, just as they would save the nation from "drink" a few years later. Although ragtime and jazz are touched on in the movie, Storyville was directly responsible for the likes of young Louis Armstrong--who ran coal from House to House--picking up the street melodies he heard and playing them on a cornet furnished to him--providentially--by the local orphanage, and for Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, pianist...and pimp...who played in only the best houses and claimed he invented the term "jazz" as applied to music after witnessing first hand all that "jassing-around" he saw in the bordellos of Storyville! Remarkeably, overlooked altogether is any mention of the composer of the tune "Pretty Baby," Professor Tony Jackson, a key figure of the Storyville saga, who should have been the character portrayed in the film but wasn't, and who was not even mentioned in the credits.

As for Bellocq himself not much is known except that he was slightly deformed and not interested in the ladies at all sexually-- the marriage to Violet merely a modern plot device--but he professed his deep fascination and reverence for them, thankfully, in other ways: his portraits. Without them, a poignant record of their lives,and that of The District, would be lost forever. All in all, the film is a wonderful paean to Bellocq, and the women he loved in his own way. I would urge all critics of this movie to seek out a copy of "Storyville, New Orleans" by Al Rose, or MOMA's "E.J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits." They will really open yours eyes to what Louis Malle has recreated.
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Can you step outside of yourself for two hours?
futures-15 June 2006
"Pretty Baby" (1978): Usually, when a controversial film comes out, the hubbub dies off in a few weeks. Later, people wonder why anyone got upset at all. In this case, I think the opposite is the case. There WAS some buzz about "Pretty Baby" when it premiered in 1978, but NOW? People would be killing the director, photographer, and screen writers in the names of Decency & Righteousness. It's a crazy world. Photographed by Sven Nykvist (Ingmar Bergman's photographer), Louis Malle directed this Polly Platt screenplay about the real life New Orleans documentary photographer E.J. Bellocq. He spent much of his career photographing those no one else would – the prostitutes of N.O. - and eventually became involved with a young girl (Brooke Shields) raised by her prostitute single mother (Susan Sarandon), to be a prostitute herself. There's an interesting push/pull to this film. It is SO beautifully photographed, and the prostitutes shown SO human, there is much warmth in the scenes, yet the facts remain difficult to accept – life was what it was, and they did what they had to do to survive in the turn-of-the-century South. This is NOT a story of tragedy (except in personal terms that have nothing to do with the profession). Most everyone went about their days in matter-of-fact acceptance of their "station" in life, and did not get ulcers. They had a roof, decent money, good food, servants, and a place to raise their "accident" children. "Pretty Baby" asks you to step outside your contemporary world and standards, and try, just for two hours, to see another point of view. It's an interesting challenge…perhaps more now than even a mere 30 years ago.
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Oh, my . . .
DeeDee-1019 August 1999
Warning: Spoilers
Twenty one years later, I finally rented the video of Pretty Baby out of curiosity. What a surprise. Brooke Shields was amazing: coquettish, playful, a brat, a frightened child, and at times mature beyond her years. How Malle managed the nudity scenes with her I'll never know. Without saying a single word Carradine produced the most poignant scene in the film when Violet asks, "Can't we all go?" as her mother returns to reclaim her. Throughout the film the silence of characters was astounding: the look in the eyes of the piano player as Violet was being auctioned off. The auction itself! What a travesty. The flavor of turn-of-the-century New Orleans was rich with decadence and bawdiness. If ever a child was a product of her environment, Violet was. Yes, this was a disturbing film, but there redeeming qualities to it. See if you can find them.
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8/10
Most Friendship is Feigning, Most Loving Mere Folly.
rmax3048235 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
There are a couple of reasons to see this well-executed movie.

One is Brooke Shields in her only believable performance, as a defiant self-absorbed brat who learns not just about sex but about love. She is, of course, dazzlingly beautiful and barely pubescent and it's necessary to get beyond that. Value judgments about whether she should or should not have made this movie aren't really relevant. The movie is too good for that. Throwing up our hands and rolling our eyes is a little like interpreting "Lolita" as a simple story about pedophilia. Looked at pragmatically, Shields' playing this role hurt no one. Certainly it didn't hurt her subsequent career, what there was of it. There isn't any way to stop our own feelings of disgust at times, granted. I feel that way about movies like Friday the 13th or Halloween. I'm more disgusted by murder than by sex so I'm clearly warped. Shields packs more talent into her playing here, as Violet, than she did into all of her other movies put together. And it's not a one-note performance either. She develops from a vulgar know-it-all into a creature of real emotion. At the end of the story, her mother is taking her away from the older man she has married. The camera slowly moves in on her trembling face. She's silent but the froufraws in her hair quiver with regret. Malle ends it on a freeze frame of that drop-dead gorgeous, wrenchingly sad face.

Malle is another reason this movie is worth while. He was a great story teller, even when the stories were a bit thin, as Polly Platt's is here. His specialite de la maison was the study of a community. He was almost anthropological in his approach. If he doesn't give us the social structure and eidos of a French boarding school, then it's Atlantic City, or a New Orleans whorehouse in 1917. We get to know the milieu pretty well, although we don't see much of the actual city, only the house itself, its back yard paved with coquina crunching under everyone's shoes, the palms and banana plants, the anoles. We get to know the furniture inside the house -- massive heavy things, overstuffed, overdone, overlaced, rose windowed. New Orleans was an odd city, a blend of all sorts of ethnic traditions. There's a bit of hoodoo thrown into the plot. (Madame Livingston addresses her clients as "M'sieur.") Edgar Degas visited relatives in New Orleans. Now, alas, it's becoming not much more than another big Southern city with the Quarter serving as a kind of theme park. Note too Malle's editing technique. When you expect a shot to disappear, to dissolve or be cut away from, it doesn't always happen. The image lingers, sometimes long beyond our expectations. Keith Carradine balked when Shields is taken away from him, for instance.

Much of this beauty (let's call a heart a heart) is made possible by the superb photography of Ingmar Bergman's collaborator, Sven Nyquist. He makes it possible for us to almost feel the heat and the humidity, and the solid mahogany of the bar.

The depiction of the cat house is convincingly realistic, the general atmosphere being one of casual jealousy, petulance, nudity, practicality, and mutual support. The women (and the clients) form fleeting friendships. When they leave, it's without any particular ceremony. That's why the love that develops between Carradine and Shields is as shocking as it is. It's the only real commitment shown in the film. There is an abundance of commitment on the part of the people who contributed to this very good film.
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8/10
Nicely photographed period piece
yossarian10029 December 2003
Beautifully photographed and sumptuous to watch. Brooke Shields, with that famous saucy and spirited personality, is gorgeous. I wasn't bothered by the nudity. I wasn't bothered by the story either and I feel the movie accurately portrayed a different time with a quite different moral tone than the one we live with today. But, hey, stories are just stories. Actually, I think the main reason this movie works is because it comes across as honest, it feels like being in another place and another time, and it's lovely to see.
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8/10
One of the Boldest Coming of Age Film, Even Thirty-Four Years Later
claudio_carvalho15 May 2012
In 1917, in the red light district Storyville, New Orleans, the prostitute Hattie (Susan Sarandon) lives with her twelve year-old daughter Violet (Brooke Shields) in the fancy brothel of Madame Nell (Frances Faye), where she works. The photographer Ernest J. Bellocq (Keith Carradine) has an attraction to Hallie and Violet and he is an habitué of the whorehouse.

One day, Madame Nell auctions Violet's virginity and the winner pays the fortune of US$ 400.00 to spend the night with the girl. Then Hattie marries a wealthy client and moves to Saint Louis, leaving Violet in the brothel alone. Violet decides to marry Bellocq and she moves to his house. Until the day that Hattie, who has overcome her past, comes to Bellocq's house with the intention to take Violet with her.

"Pretty Baby" is one of the boldest coming of age film, even thirty-four years after its release date. The story of a very young prostitute, apparently based on a true story, is supported by the beauty of the only promising Brooke Shields, great cast, magnificent cinematography and the talent of Louis Malle that keeps the film in the level of art and never vulgar. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): Not Available
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8/10
A Sad Time and Place
Hitchcoc21 December 2016
This movie was a showcase for Brooke Shields. Let's face facts. A lot of the people who went to see this had heard about her tender age. I'm sure there were pedophiles in every theater. Shields was a beautiful child and was probably exploited to get her into the movies. The story is that of a young girl who grows up in a brothel. She is being "held back" until she turns twelve. Eventually, the place they live becomes off limits to their top clientele. Brooke is simply a part of the family but has had a lifetime of experiences. Is she capable of going back to being just a girl. That's the issue that she faces. This film is lush with images of the south. It is a striking movie, but I did feel a little sick having seen it.
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10/10
Beautifully made
Dale655 July 1999
Warning: Spoilers
Louis Malle is one of the late geniuses of film. "Pretty Baby" is one of his most beautiful achievements. Telling the story of a lonely photographer's obsession with a precocious twelve-year old prostitute named Violet(Brooke Shields) in New Orleans early in the century.

The photographer (Keith Carradine) eventually allows Violet to move in with him, and then marries her. In a wonderful scene, Carradine buys Violet a baby doll. She is thrilled, but then asks why he bought her a doll. "Every child should have a doll" he replies. Shields reaction is perfect, she is angered that he still thinks of her as a child, but cannot help but play with the doll in the very next scene.

Shields hits all the right notes here. She goes from sexy and alluring, to childish and innocent with a snobbish pout. She is charmingly free-spirited from being raised in a brothel, and often appears totally naked in front of strange men many times her age. Prostitution is all that she knows, and Malle does not shy away from it.

This film was largely shunned when it was first released. It seems, having read some of the other comments here, that the trend continues. This is a mature film, for mature minds. See it and enjoy.
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8/10
the kind of film that probably couldn't be made today, at least in how Malle does it
Quinoa198421 November 2006
I wouldn't say that Pretty Baby, directed by Louis Malle, has the overall audacity of the main art-house European-directed sexual trip of the 70s, Last Tango in Paris, but it comes close, very close. It's a scathing, unflinching look at the downtrodden women of a 1920s whorehouse in New Orleans. What's most shocking of all, and what Malle understands about such subject matter, is that the best approach with this material is truthful, and to not be exploitive in the sense of manipulative characters (situations are another thing). There's really not much in way of it going through anything specific in being stylized. If anything, as I recall, Malle's style here is to try and not seem apparent much, if that's possible, with a very controlled sense of pacing and how scenes should move. The implications raised in the picture are the sort that would probably get shot down in flames by the 'Religious Right, though mostly around the Brooke Shields character.

To say that it's not perhaps a masterpiece is not off the mark. But it's an important work nonetheless, and one that is really hard to forget or ignore once finished. Shields plays the daughter of a working-prostitute, played by Susan Sarandon with total class and southern finesse with the men, but never too un-wise around her daughter. It's the time of jazz, at least jazz coming into a much greater bloom, and sex and general decadence is right there for the taking in such an environment that the 'pretty baby' of the title resides. She's used to it all though, and Shields plays this character with total bravery- I almost wonder how much she was told of it all, and what she brought as intuition or having to just know the state of mind of her all-too-young character. Malle doesn't keep things totally helpless, as he has a photographer, played by Keith Carradine. He's probably the most level-headed and right-minded of any of the male characters (aside maybe from the band members who just don't take part in any shenanigans). But then comes the problem of morals- Sarandon isn't the one who falls for Carradine, but Shields really. But is it really love, or affection, or just the possibility of leaving he house?

The most controversial part of all of this comes down to this really- underage sex, or rather a form of twisted, really non-consensual sex that ends up just skimming the line of bad taste. But it is in bad taste to show subject matter like this? It's a tale of perversion, and how psychology ends up getting right into the cross-hairs of it, so such material should be up on the storyline. What's interesting is to see the 'breaking the virgin' part takes time to unfold, and how it does, and how ugly it all becomes the further it goes along. Shields plays it right though, and her range of emotions for the character is actually stunning, and almost makes Sarandon keep up with what's going on. There's a heap load of nudity overall, including a hot bit with Sarandon and Carradine, but really Malle is after the whole insulated world of this whorehouse, and how being true to oneself ends up clashing with the un-yielding mind-set of those coming in with a wad of bills and a set goal. It skids with being cringe-worthy, and I have a very distinct memory of probably cringing at one point. It's not great, but it's really memorable in the ways that matter. A-
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5/10
It's taken me 20 years to write this!
lambiepie-213 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie for the first time on the Los Angeles based "Z" Channel in the early 80's. (Gosh, I miss that channel!!!)

(Minor Spoilers)

In watching it, my first reaction was saddness...because this told of a story of children who were raised in a brothel. This one particular beautiful daughter of one of the female prostitutes was destined to live a life just as her mother, a prostitute, for the daughter knew of no other life. Her mother did eventually leave the brothel in one of her selfish modes, but left her very young daughter there who experienced life very quickly -- for she saw nothing wrong with that life.

20 years later, I look at this movie again on the HBO network and after living some years I gotta tell you, this movie now upsets me to watch. I found it difficult to look at a pre-pubescent Brooke Shields run around naked with grown men, including Keith Carradine, even though this was part of the script and part of the film -- it wasn't meant to be gratitutious or stimulating. But now -- I just wanted to smack her mother for allowing her almost teen daughter to do this. I wanted to smack myself for ever watching it. And ya know what? That IS the point of film.

This is what makes this film disturbing and captivating at the same time. The IDEA this occured in our Century makes one furious and that story is being told so we can look back and make sure it never occurs again. But...the realization of SEEING it on film dramatically portrayed by Brooke Sheilds as the daughter, Susan Sarandon as the self-centered, prostitute mother and Keith Carradine as the grown Photographer is what gets to you.

I remember reading where many movie seekers saw this as Louis Malle's "kiddie porn" and wanted the film banned. I guess its all in your personal comfort level. But be warned, this is an adult film with very adult subject matter... NOT a subject or film for many.
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8/10
A monstrous subject handled with care and beauty by Louis Malle
tomgillespie20026 July 2011
Set during the final weeks of legal prostitution in Storyville, New Orleans, the whorehouse ran by the ageing Madame Nell (Frances Faye) is quietly coming to an end. This is unknown to the employees, who are going about their work and earning their money. Ernest Bellocq (Keith Carradine), a real-life photographer who took the famous Storyville prostitute portraits, arrives and takes an special interest in the beautiful Hattie (Susan Sarandon), and her 12-year old daughter Violet (Brooke Shields). Violet is a confident, bratty and adventurous girl who is groomed to be the star attraction at the brothel by Hattie and Madame Nell. As the men queue up for Violet, Bellocq also becomes enamoured with her, and the two start a strange love affair.

For such a monstrously ugly subject, Pretty Baby is a strikingly beautiful film. The idea of child prostitution is repulsive but was a very real thing back in the 1917-era (and obviously still exists today under a much more secretive veil). It takes a very brave director to even consider tackling such a subject, and then to do it with such elegance, truth and respect. The both cosy and dank whorehouse pulses with life and realism, to the point where it feels like the film was actually filmed in the time. Minor details such as the peeling paint on the window ledges and the layers of dust on the bookshelves adds an authenticity rarely seen.

The film was extremely controversial in its day (and would still be if it was released today) for its full-frontal nudity of a 12-year old Brooke Shields. It is undoubtedly uncomfortable to watch at times, but as hard as it is to say, it is necessary to truly see who she is, and what the men want her for, which makes the whole thing even more horrific and wrong. The scene where she is carried into a room and flaunted as a virgin to rich, cigar-smoking older men who start a bidding war to take her virginity, left me cold. It is a truly powerful scene, and when we later see her naked in her youth, all fragile and undeveloped, it almost made me sick.

Shields, who is clearly not the most talented actress in the world, is genuinely brilliant here. Full of natural beauty and swaggering maturity, her character is a complex mixture of the naive, the immature, and the wise-beyond-her-years. She seems more than ready, and eager to start work, and has the natural ability to wrap a man around her little finger. Years growing up in a brothel has seemingly left her unable to feel. And when she begins her relationship with Bellocq, it is unclear if she truly loves him, or she is simply acting to get the life she desires. If you can stomach the taboo subject matter, this is a fascinating film, rich with great acting, complex characters and a smart script, handled with an individuality and grace by the great Louis Malle.

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6/10
Ultimately, a damp squib... though a controversial one.
Asa_Nisi_Masa220 April 2006
Pretty Baby started off very well and I immediately thought: This is gonna be a gem! But it seemingly lost steam in the second half, petering out quite disappointingly towards the end. It was as if Louis Malle had been in a bit of a rush to conclude the story. Brooke Shields really was an angelically beautiful child - she seemingly peeked so early! The atmosphere in the brothel scenes was the best thing about the movie, probably helped by the fact that the photographer Bellocq's real photographs were used to get a sense of the time and place and evoke it with authenticity. Viewers particularly touchy to the issue of underage sex beware, as the movie doesn't spare modern sensibilities with the fact that the concept of a girl being too young for sex (if she was deemed sexually attractive) wasn't even an issue for most men in the early 20th century! That said, there are thankfully no explicit scenes - you just know what is happening and painfully squirm in your chair while it does! One qualm I did have with the movie was some of the slightly sloppy costuming: some of the clothes worn here seemed a little earlier than 1917, more like a decade earlier. Furthermore, the way everyone reacted to the pictures Bellocq, the young photographer took of the prostitutes seemed very anachronistic, and made me lose respect for the movie (Bellocq is a figure that actually existed, though the specific story built around him in the movie is fictional). Photography was by 1917 no longer considered a sort of "magic", viewed with incredulous wonder (as the characters in the movie react to it). This would have been more historically exact for a story set in, say, 1850 or thereabouts! I found that aspect to be a ridiculous - its makers really should have known better.
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6/10
artistic justification
SnoopyStyle7 November 2016
It's 1917 Storyville, New Orleans. Illiterate willful twelve year old Violet (Brooke Shields)'s mother Hattie (Susan Sarandon) gives birth to a boy. They work in a high class brothel run by drug addict Nell. Ernest J. Bellocq (Keith Carradine) pays to take up residence photographing mostly Hattie. Nell puts Violet's virginity up for auction to her customers. Violet is eager to join the business but the actual act is painful. Violet starts to work as a prostitute. Hattie marries a customer and moves to St. Louis without Violet. After getting a corporal punishment, Violet runs away and moves in with Bellocq starting a sexual relationship.

Violet's gleeful willing participation in her own degradation is compelling and infuriating. The most engaging scene is the auction. It is creepy with these entranced old men. That scene should be the climax. The movie cannot get any more creepy although it does try. Bellocq is all too quick to sleep with Violet. The movie meanders in the second half. It's all very sad. Brooke Shields is exceedingly young and the movie fits the definition of child porn. There is definitely some artistic merits but I don't know if it justifies pushing open the envelop.
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6/10
intentionally disturbing
jep8311 February 2005
I think it was a fine piece of film making about a horrific situation. I agree with a previous poster that its understated tone was one of its strengths. The film maker presents a detailed, rounded view of the lifestyle and its effects on a girl who is much too young and much too pretty to have been allowed to ply her trade.

One of the ways I judge the strength of a film is the extent to which I wonder "what happens next?" after the closing credits. I would say the film succeeded. From the expression on Violet's face in the closing shot, I think she had been so warped by everything she had seen and done that, no matter what, she would never be able to become a normal woman living a normal life. My fear is that whether she went back to prostitution or lived a presumptively respectable life, she would always be ignorant, impulsive, self-centered and someone who used her appearance to manipulate others. After all, she, like everyone else in the world, can only know what she has been taught.
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4/10
All style
moonspinner5522 January 2001
At the beginning of Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby", there's a tight shot on Brooke Shields' baby face: she's watching something with interest and we hear a woman moaning just in front of her. Since we all know what the film is about, one is to assume the child is watching some sexual act with curiosity. Actually, it's just the opposite. This is writer-director Malle's clever way of laughing at the viewer, saying "You have the dirty mind, not I." It's a very smart way to begin the picture, but little else occupied my mind after it got going. Why does Keith Carradine's impatient, somewhat-indifferent photographer take such an interest in this maddeningly dull child? He apparently has a fetish for little girls, but nothing sexual seems to occur between them (except for some nude photography). Carradine--who has one sullen expression to express every emotion--and the inexperienced Shields are a monotonous pair; these characters (along with Brooke's mother, an unblushing Red Light district prostitute played by Susan Sarandon) provide no passion, no emotion. The film is just a stylish painting, posed and rather embalmed. *1/2 from ****
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8/10
An Exceptional Film!
bbhlthph5 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is an exceptional film - not because most of the critics say so, but for me because I cannot think of any other film which left me with a greater feeling of having been temporarily transported to another world in a place and time with which I was totally unfamiliar.

Many IMDb users have reviewed and commented on this film and another full review is unnecessary, but bringing out its exceptional nature and encouraging those who have not seen it to do so does require some supplementation. Comments about the nudity in this film not being disturbing come into this category. Today nudity occurs in films for two principal reasons, firstly because it would be natural for the character concerned under the circumstances being depicted by the film, or secondly because it is being used by the director to add a little eye candy intended to increase the visual appeal of the film. In the latter case the viewers personal reaction will govern the response to such eye candy, (typically for example, regardless of whether or not they themselves appreciate it, many viewers feel that this is very inappropriate for younger viewers and all films should provide advance warning when it is present). But where the nudity is an integral part of the story being presented, viewers who wish to see this story should not find it disturbing unless the nude scenes are excessive or gross. Pretty Baby is not such a film, it is one where Louis Malle has minimized his use of nudity - any less and the nature and character of the scenario he has to depict could become distorted. He should be commended on his restraint which may have made it much easier for some viewers to concentrate on the more serious issues raised in the film.

When this film was first released the sequence showing the brothel auctioning the virginity of their new girl to the highest bidder raised a lot of eyebrows, and clearly many in the audiences had not appreciated that this practice used to be commonplace. Most viewers found the sequence disturbing, but in Pretty Baby the fact that Violet had been raised to expect this, and was looking forward to it as an important step towards entering adult life, greatly reduced its impact. Another film, French Quarter, which was released the same year as Pretty Baby, was the story of an orphaned girl who had been strictly brought up on a farm, but who had had to take refuge in a city brothel to avoid starvation when her parents died. Those who saw it will remember that it included a similar auction which I for one found much more harrowing to watch as it clearly showed the trauma inflicted on an unprepared and very reluctant young girl, starting of course as she was being stripped and paraded for public exhibition. Any such sequences provide very uncomfortable viewing for most men, who tend to thankfully take refuge in a conviction that they could never occur today.

Other scenes showing the exploitation inherent in life as it was lived in Storyville in 1917 were also found to be disturbing by many viewers; and some comments even suggest a widely held conviction that we live in a more moral society today. Before we condemn our forbears we should perhaps examine this conviction in more detail. In Europe and North America we have quite recently moved away from a society where marriages among the upper classes were regarded as primarily intended to enhance social status and generate offspring. Wives frequently did not love their husbands and, although they dutifully provided children, they were often happy for him to exercise his virility with paid companions. Visits to a local brothel, where regular customers could became friendly with all the staff, were condoned or even approved. This often led to a reasonably stable environment for the young women concerned. Today most of us would strongly disapprove of such lifestyles, and would rightly emphasize how far we have progressed by ensuring young people have the opportunity to choose their own lifetime partner; but we still need to be honest about the problems this new lifestyle has created today. There were few Robert Pickton's feeding twenty-six victims to his pigs in Victorian times. Today we frequently encounter police warnings about serial killers; in Victorian times Jack the Ripper was a much more unique character. Too many of today's prostitutes shiver in the rain or snow on street corners throughout long evenings each night, periodically spending an infrequent few uncomfortable minutes in a car - each time at an unknown risk to themself - and are forced afterwards to give almost all their takings to a pimp attached to the local street gang. We need to recognize that many of them would probably regard living in a comfortable and stable brothel, such as that depicted in this film, as akin to heaven on earth.

Ultimately this is the powerful message from Pretty Baby that makes it such an exceptional film; but because the Director decided to employ a totally non-judgmental documentary type presentation and to minimise any direct emotional appeal, most viewers probably only recognize it when scenes returned to their memory during the hours and days after they left the cinema, and I do not believe its rare combination of beautiful imagery and haunting power has so far been brought out adequately by the comments on this database.
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6/10
Image is Everything
caspian197820 September 2002
If you look close, you will notice that the direction is pulling you into the story. Louis Malle holds onto the image in front of us until we have taken it all in. When we think there will be a cut soon in the film, we are robbed of this pity. Instead, we are given reality. At first, I thought the movie as going to end at the edge of the river bank during the picnic. It would have been a delightful shock for the movie to end in such a pure and innocent way. However, we are not given this. In fact, Louis Malle once again cheats(tricks)us into this. The next shot in the film shows the newly married couple having breakfast. If you watch closely, again, you will notice the scene comes ever so quick without a dissolve in neither the picture nor the music. A film that will stand the test of time. Reasons.....yes, sadly, the nudity will keep this video rented on a monthly bases. Then again, the movie does capture the bleak poetry of the era and tells a story like no other. One of Brooke's first and best roles.
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6/10
My brief review of the film
sol-7 February 2006
A rather interesting, very unusual coming-of-age tale, the film explores ideas such as the effect of one's environment on the way which one views life and normality. Keith Carradine and Susan Sarandon are both are ineffectual, working quite weak characters, but young Brook Shields does a great job in the lead role, fleshing out an excellent character. The film is marred by being overly dark at times and far too leisurely paced - the final half an hour in particular drags. It is a good film, though, and the amounts of nudity are neither in bad taste, nor in excess. Although some of the ideas and events may come off as disturbing, Malle is neither condemning nor condoning, but simply presenting. As a result, we get an interesting view on life that might seem normal to the characters in the film, if not for us.
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Storyville, New Orleans, 1917.
TxMike12 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
What is it about child stars who do their best work when they are still kids? Tatum O'Neal in 'Paper Moon', Jodie Foster in 'Taxi Driver', Diane Lane in 'A Little Romance', and here Brooke Shields as 'Violet', daughter of Hattie (Sarandon), a prostitute in the famed Storyville district during the first world war. I suppose as children they are unhibited when acting, and not yet self-conscious about their craft. All of these women now are still good actresses, but I believe they all did their best work as children. In 'Pretty Baby' Shields must play a 12-year-old who takes prostitution for granted as a way of life, who looks forward to the day she is ready also, but still acts like a child, one who likes to chase lizards in the underbrush and who throws tantrums when she doesn't get her way. Her performance literally carries this movie. Yes, the movie is quite explicit about the business of prostitution during that time, but it is never exploited and gives one the sense of how it really was, and what might happen to children born into prostitution.

The DVD is basic, stereo sound and no extras, but a very nice video transfer for an older movie, 107 minutes long.

SPOILERS, SPOILERS are contained in the rest of my comments, please quit reading if you have not seen 'Pretty Baby.' The movie opens with a full faced shot of a passive Violet (Shields) and we hear what sounds like a woman about to achieve sexual climax off camera. Then we find it is Violet's mother Hattie (Sarandon) giving birth to a son. Violet has the run of the 'house', helps others out when necessary, is very smart and curious. At night when the clients fill the place, eating, drinking, dancing, and sizing up their 'date', Violet is all dressed up and observes everything. At times, Hattie will invite her into a room as an observer, as part of her 'training.' At one point someone asks Violet how old she is, and she answers, "I don't know." She also didn't read or write.

One day Belloq (Carradine) shows up, a photographer who pays prostitutes to sit for him. Everyone begins to call him 'Papa.' At about half-way into the movie comes time for Violet to lose her virginity. It is done with great pomp, a little parade inside the 'house' with sparklers, and she goes to the highest bidder for $400. When the man leaves hurriedly everyone worries and goes upstairs to check on Violet. She is motionless, some think she is dead, until she comes up with a grin as a joke, then is in pain from her experience. Belloq observes and is not happy.

Hattie comes in one day and announces she is going off to St Louis and will be getting married, and she would send for Violet later. Violet begins to show playful affection for Belloq. Because she is precocious Violet gets a whipping, she packs her things and goes to meet Belloq, asks him if she can stay with him. He assumes the role of a foster parent, even though she asks if he will be her lover and buy her nice things. Mostly she behaves like a brat, Belloq gets angry when she destroys some of his photo plates, public outcry closes Storyville down, Belloq marries Violet, but Hattie shows up later, she and her husband take Violet home with them, and the last show is of Violet dressed in fashionable clothes of the time, waiting for the train.
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8/10
A Film about Lost Innocence, best viewed through "Innocent Eyes"
FrankDamage6 July 2011
This now infamous film, directed by Louis Malle, is without a doubt one that may shock and disturb many who view it. Even more so now than by the 1978 social standards when it was released. However, those who will not succumb to the possible knee-jerk and reactionary "puritanical outrage" that some of the imagery might invoke and can understand how it significantly contributes to the story itself, will come to witness an interesting and beautifully toned glimpse into the final days of legal prostitution within the red light district of pre 1920s New Orleans.

A young Brooke Shields delivers a convincing, yet subtle and sincere performance as Violet, the underage prostitute whom the story centers around. Keith Carradine's loose portrayal of famed Louisiana photographer E. J. Bellocq (who was an actual photographer of the time that captured images of the prostitutes in this particular district) was an excellent incorporation into the storyline and adds a certain sense of credibility to the film, in relation to it being set within the particular era.

The additional acting talents of Susan Sarandon and Antonio Fargas also do well in bringing this tale, based on the true accounts of a young New Orleans prostitute who worked in the actual Storyville district, to life.

It's so authentic in it's "flavor" in fact that it won the "Technical Grand Prize" at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.

This sad and true to life film guides us through not only a more primitive time in American history; one when many children (not only those subject to lives of prostitution) failed to even have the option of any childhood at all, but through the eyes of innocence and all the love and beauty and memories that those eyes found even within what many would only see as the most unforgivable of environments for innocence, or even hope.

It's through THOSE eyes one must look to see the true beauty and love that went into the crafting of this historically memorable film.
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7/10
PRETTY BABY (Louis Malle, 1978) ***
Bunuel19766 May 2006
This was Louis Malle's first American movie and another one - like ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960), MURMUR OF THE HEART (1972), LACOMBE LUCIEN (1974), BLACK MOON (1975) and AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987) - which dealt with the world of children. It was also a notoriously scandalous film because of child pornography issues (the setting is a New Orleans brothel), which makes it a surprising choice for DVD release in this age of political correctness - although Paramount basically just slapped it onto disc, as it's a no-frills release (with not even a trailer to go with it)!

However, despite a notable cast (Keith Carradine, Susan Sarandon, Barbara Steele and Gerrit Graham), the film only really comes to life - after a rather wandering first half - when the Lolita-esquire elements of the Brooke Shields character take center stage. As a matter of fact, Shields became an international superstar with her role in PRETTY BABY - which is similar to the one played by Jodie Foster in TAXI DRIVER (1976). Malle does not shrink from showing its protagonists (especially 12 year-old Shields) in the nude - but it's always tastefully presented, i.e. in a non-exploitative manner. Besides, the film's period reconstruction is impeccable...
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8/10
Disturbingly Realistic!
Sylviastel18 September 2013
Brooke Shields became a household name for her performance as twelve year old Violet, a prostitute's daughter, raised in a New Orleans whorehouse. Susan Sarandon does a terrific job playing her mother, Hattie. Frances Faye is a scene stealer in her final film performance as Nell who owns and operates the whorehouse. Keith Carradine plays a photographer who takes a serious interest in the women and girls as more than objects. Brooke Shields' Violet is the pretty baby who is surrounded by sex and knows nothing else. The scenes in which Violet's innocence, youth, and virginity are exploited by Nell and the others who live there as a suitable way to make a living is disturbing. Violet's virginity is auctioned off as a commodity to the highest bidder is definitely something that would shock film audiences of 1978. Nell says "there are two things to do in New Orleans on a rainy day and I don't like to play bridge!" Is a classic film line. Violet's life in New Orleans is tragic and sad but she manages to understand and comprehend her surroundings.
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Beautiful, intelligent, evocative
dragonfly7717 August 2004
Louis Malle did an amazing job of portraying the Storyville life (red light district), and the lives of the women caught up in it. He gets the finest work out of his cast, and demonstrates what it makes him a master filmmaker: not someone who just makes movies to impress other directors, but someone who touches an audience.

He begins and ends the film with the camera slowly closing in on the wide eyes of its child-lead, making you wonder how her life will proceed, having seen what she's seen. It makes you wonder whether marriage, in those times, was any different for a woman than prostitution. Mostly, you have to wonder how Violet could adapt to normal life, with the strange perspective she's had on it so far.

The petulance and "spoiled"ness described in the review below, are merely her childishness, to illustrate that she is an ordinary child in bizarre circumstances. For those not carried away by Shields' appearance, this made the film very poignant -- this child doesn't even know that there is any other way to live.

And the viewer can put away concerns for Shields herself: the nude scenes were done by a body-double, despite what is listed in the "trivia" section of this listing. (I know someone who later worked with the body double.)
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