“Yeah, I'm a tramp, and who's to balme? 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!”
I know whenever I post about a Pre-code film I usually say it is one of the perfect examples of the genre but with Baby Face it is one of THE prime examples. This is probably one of the reasons why the Code was enforced.
Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) lives in an industrial section of Erie, Pennsylvania. She lives with her father who runs a speakeasy and has a reputation for being easy. Her father is just as slimy as the men who come in after a day’s work. A powerful man in the town comes in looking to get something from Lily. The man gives her father the freedom to run his saloon without interference from the police. Lily wants nothing to do with the man and as he rubs her knee she just stares at him and then pours coffee on his hand. The man chases after her to her bedroom but she gets him out. The man is so outraged that he tells her father that he will have the police on the saloon. Lily’s father yells at her but she does not care she has had enough of her surroundings and him. That night her father dies in an explosion and she is nothing but happy.
After the funeral she goes to a man named Cragg who is the only person in her life who sees the potential in her. Lily tells him that she is heading for New York to start over. Cragg tells her to use men to their advantage that that is the only way she will be able to get anywhere in life if she uses what she has and uses men for all they got. Lily takes this advice right away. She and her friend take a boxcar to the city and a train worker sees them and tells them they have to get off the train or he will go to the police. Lily gives him a look and tells him they can work something out. We see the man take his gloves off and turn out the light.
Once in New York Lily finds work at a banking firm. From the moment she enters the personnel office all the way to the top Lily sleeps her way to better jobs. Once at the top she gets into great trouble when a man named Ned Stevenson becomes obsessed with Lily and his boss and almost father-in-law starts seeing her. When he finds the two together he shoots the older man and himself. The bank sends Lily away to their Paris branch after her lie about her involvement with the dead men backfires. The new head of the bank Courtland Trenholm (George Brent) begins to fall in love with Lily. Lily tries her best not to love him but she does.
No matter immoral the film may be the ending is moralizing. Depending on where you read the reviews you can see it as a weak ending or a good ending. I found the ending to be alright not bad but not that great.
Barbara Stanwyck was unbelievably incredible. She was the perfect mix of tough and sexy. I had my mouth open the whole time there were so many scenes where Stanwyck was drop dead sexy. Stanwyck’s eyes and silence are what make her so cold and so appealing. All she needed to do was give men a look with her big eyes and they came running. When three men in her life are killed her eyes stay emotionless. No could have been better as Lily Powers than Barbara Stanwyck because she was had a reputation for being tough as nails and forceful and that is what Lily Powers is tough and forceful.
I like seeing George Brent in films. In the films I have seen him in he has been the guy who falls head over heels in love with a woman and he also happens to be a wealthy man or a playboy. Trenholm was the only one who genuinely loved Lily and he was excellent especially when Lily really broke his heart towards the end.
John Wayne has a very small role in the film. For his first scene all we really get to see is the back of his head. Wayne was one of the men who was head over heels for Lily the only difference with him was Lily never went him he was too nice. He was cute he was so young.
My favorite aspect of the film is the way the sexuality and immorality is shown out of range leaving whatever happened to our imagination. I love it when films leave things to the audiences imaginations. One of my favorite things Alfred Hitchcock said is that what is not shown is much scarier than what is shown because we allow our minds to think of awful scary things. Well with Baby Face our minds can think of the dirtiest, sexiest things!!
Baby Face is such a great film. My explanations of the film and Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent do not any justice you just have to see the film. Baby Face is such a fantastic Pre-Code film and should not be missed.