July 16th, 2012: Baby Face (1933)

Cast and Crew:  Daryl F. Zanuck (Story); George Brent

What It’s About:  Lilly Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) is a barmaid (and more) at her pimp and father’s (Roger Barrat) Speakeasy.  When he dies in a still explosion, she takes the advice of an old German cobbler named Adolf Cragg (Alphonse Ethier), the closest thing Lilly has to a real father figure, and reads Nietzsche.  Lilly moves to a nearby city with her friend Chico (Theresa Harris).  There she begins sleeping her way to the top of a bank, leaving a string of ruined (and dead) men in her wake.

Why Watch it Today?:  Star Barbara Stanwyck was born one hundred and five years ago today.  She is most known for her later screwball comedies and Film Noir roles, but in her early, Pre-Code career, she played even more hard-boiled characters.  Today’s movie was, even in the Pre-Code era, heavily censored before release, including a tacked on happy ending, the references to Nietzsche and her father selling her at 14 removed, a scene of Lilly locked in a room with a banker by her father cut and scripted, but not filmed, scenes of Powers dancing at stag parties.  A negative found in 2004 restored many, but not all the cuts.  A must see for fans of Stanwyck and anyone who enjoys seeing what Studio films were like before  the censors really got their hooks in (and to see John Wayne as one of Stanwyck’s most clueless conquests).

Where to Get It: Amazon and iTunes; Netflix (DVD)

Other Choices:  See Stanwyck as hard-boiled as ever in Double Indemnity; as a hysterical hypochondriac in Sorry, Wrong Number; or in over her head as a proto-Martha Stewart in Christmas in Connecticut.

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