Jens' Review of Baby Face
"Yeah, I'm a tramp, and who's to blame? My Father. A swell start you gave me. Ever since I was fourteen, what's it been? Nothing but men! Dirty rotten men! And you're lower than any of them. I'll hate you as long as I live!"
Ten years before Barbara Stanwyck portrayed the legendary femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, she played the exact same type of woman in Baby Face. The only difference is that here Stanwyck is the protagonist, the character we emphasize with, no matter what she does, and I think I love this Barbara better, who's even hotter, sexier and with a stronger independent attitude.
Baby Face is the story about Lily (Stanwyck), who has lived with her abusive father her whole life, working as a prostitute since she was 14-years-old, in her father's speakeasy in Erie, Pennsylvania. But one day her father is killed in a still explosion and Lily is finally a free woman. She has no idea of what to do next, but one of her closest friends, an old cobbler tells her that she as a young attractive woman has the gift that no man has, that she have to use men to get what she want. Lily and her black co-worker, Chino then goes to New York and applies for a job at a bank, where Lily sleeps her way to the top.
Baby Face is a so called pre-code movie, which means it's was made before the Hays code kicked in, in 1934. A moral censorship, which forbade to show any kind of violence or nudity or emphasize with the criminals. Baby Face is the definition of pre-code movies. With a lot of sexual overtones of prostitution and adultery. Even Lily's father was her pimp. My favorite scene in this film must be the scene where Lily and Chico hops on the train to New York, but a railroad worker catches them and threatens them with jail. But Lily is calm, and she closes the door, she lies down in the hay. Then cut to the floor where the worker's gloves is thrown down, next to a lantern that is blown out. What a seduction.
This is certainly one of Stanwyck's greatest and sexiest performances. Playing a strong woman character who have what "it" takes to get "it", as a trailer for this film says. We emphasize with her, no matter what terrible things she does. But of course we see the damages she causes, all the hearts she brakes. She even turns down a young John Wayne who have bought theater tickets. She only wants men with power and money, that sometimes has fatal consequences. I guess we can call her a femme fatale after all. Plus it doesn't need to have a negative meaning. She's simply a product of the male dominance. Which certainly is something more fascinating than telling this from a man's point of view. Even though Baby Face as a "Hollywood Ending" it's something I choose to ignore, even though I think it would have closed the deal by having a dark ending. I just have to accept that it was a different time back then, and Baby Face pushed the limits back then, which is what I love about this film. Thumbs up.