Baby Face Movie Review
Case in point: Baby Face, in which our man-eating heroine Lily (the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck), sleeps her way to wealth while leaving an impressive swath of wreckage in her wake. The Turner Classic Movies DVD actually comes with two cuts of the film: naughty and naughtier. Guess which one you should watch?
Lily is a bar wench in her father's Erie, Pennsylvania speakeasy. Dear old dad is also her pimp, setting up her tricks until a fiery still explosion burns the whole operation down, him included. Lily couldn't care less. Inspired by the philosophies of Nietzsche(!), as explained to her by a family friend, Lily realizes she must learn to exploit men to her advantage and feel nothing as she claws her way to success.
Hopping a freight train (she seduces the conductor to avoid being thrown off), she soon lands in New York and sees out a job in a bank. "Have you got any experience?" they ask. "Plenty," she snarls. From that moment, Lily literally sleeps her way to the top, as the camera pans up the bank's skyscraper façade to symbolize Lily's climb from file clerk to mortgage officer. There are lunchtime trysts in the ladies' room, seductions of department managers, broken engagements, suicidesm, and threats of blackmail until Lily lands in the arms of the bank's new president (George Brent) while simultaneously sleeping with his elderly father in law to be (Henry Kolker), one of the bank's directors. Stanwyck is cold as ice, and her good girl/bad girl routine confounds the men in her life (including a young John Wayne in a small role).
Before long, Lily is a kept woman living in Ginger Rogers splendor, surrounded by gorgeous art deco furniture and draped in furs and jewels. The pivotal questions become whether she can hold her tenuous lifestyle together as her bank starts to spin out of control and whether a woman of her reputation can ever settle down and find true love.
Stanwyck is no typical Hollywood beauty. Even here in her youth, with her hair dyed blonde, she's hard and tough, exhibiting the kind of cojones that you may recall from her work as the butch matriarch of The Big Valley TV show back in the '60s. And yet all the men she encounters melt in her gaze. They can't take their eyes off her. You won't be able to either.
The film is available with other pre-Code titles Red-Headed Woman and Waterloo Bridge on Turner Classic Movies' Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 1.
Come up and see her sometime.