Kyle Cubr reviews “Baby Face” for Cine-File Chicago

subtext-eyePerhaps remembered best for his prolific output, Alfred Green had a flair for eliciting compelling performances from his lead actors and actresses (witness Bette Davis in DANGEROUS for one example). BABY FACE is no exception. This sultry Pre-Code Hollywood picture finds Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) fleeing her hometown after the death of her father and heading to New York where she uses her sexuality to achieve newfound fortune and power. Very early in the film, Lily is given a Nietzsche book by one of the few men in the world she seems to trust, and we can infer much of the film’s philosophical intentions from there. Be it to sneak aboard a freight train or to land a job as a secretary, Lily has no qualms about manipulating the revolving door of men she comes across to get what she wants, and easily discards them like pieces of trash once she’s outgrown their use. This sexual openness, both implied and realized, is quite shocking even for the laxness associated with Pre-Code era Hollywood (one year later, with the Production Code in effect, it would have been impossible). Stanwyck’s performance is the film’s high point and its one where she approaches the femme fatales of the next decade. Upon release, the film’s original ending was altered to one that was more upbeat in order to appease New York State censors (but the print showing is a restoration of the original uncensored version, thought lost until 2004, followed by the alternate censored ending). More than eight decades later, BABY FACE remains a stirring and timely tale about greed, promiscuity, and the willingness to rebrand oneself in order to get ahead in life.

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