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This was great. Stanwyck holds the spotlight in this tale that really enjoys its pre-code freedoms while they lasted. It's like a female, suggestive version of Mr. Deeds goes to Town. You don't see female characters like this again until Blaxsploitation or a Tarantino flick.
Also features a really early appearance by John Wayne.
my first pre-code. absolutely perfect! barbara stanwyck is incredible here
There are two standard reasons to watch Baby Face, and they're standard for good reason. One is Barbara Stanwyck in the lead role of Lily, a woman who gets sold on Nietzschean philosophy and embarks on a life of getting what she wants by using sex to manipulate men. She's smoldering, commanding the screen with a look and a smile, pitched just so. The other is that there's a thrill to be gotten from pre-Code movies that deal with subject matter you don't associate with old Hollywood films, and Baby Face has a lot of suggested sex, and some violent moments besides. What's most adult about it, however, is its moral ambivalence. The censored version the public originally saw had warnings about her chosen lifestyle up front, and a "learned her lesson" epilogue, but the original rediscovered in the early 2000s makes me wonder what the script thinks of itself. Lily sleeps her way to the top, but eventually meets her match and risks actually falling in love. At some point, love must win over selfishness (or Nietzsche's self-reliance, but it's the same thing… a modern version might use Ayn Rand instead), but even if we're meant to then think, ah, Lily was wrong and now she's paying for it, there's no literary naturalism sending her back to the gutter. Her exploitation of herself and of men is still shown to be effective. There's also the matter of the black character in the story, the best friend who only plays at being the maid in white company, which feels progressive, but her scenes get more and more servile until she's made irrelevant. Here again, I wonder how much thought was actually put into this, or if it's just trying to push unwritten cinematic rules as a much as it can. I'm not entirely convinced either way, but Baby Face is certainly a strong conversation piece, made just before the Hays Code came into effect, and certainly one of the most influential to the Code's design.
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Currently in 3 official lists, but has been in 4