Some time ago Cinema Club presented the astonishing NIGHT NURSE, a film that not only entertained us, but also gave us some surprising insight into the minds and hearts of our great-grandparents' generation. Now we're bringing another Barbara Stanwyck "pre-code" wonder to the screen, BABY FACE, about the rise and fall of a poor girl who learns to use her sex appeal to get what she wants. University of Texas Professor Caroline Frick will be joining us to introduce the film and participate in an audience discussion afterward.
Before the censorious Motion Picture Production Code went into full effect in 1934, filmmakers had a great deal of freedom to explore subjects that would later be taboo. Sexuality was a frequent topic of course, as was criminality and violence. Although the industry was not yet policing itself, films still had to face local and church censorship boards Artful obfuscation and double entendre were often artfully employed but there's never any doubt what the films are about.
BABY FACE is about sex and class. Stanwyck plays a young woman, brought up in a speakeasy, who learns a bit about Nietzsche (!) and decides to climb the ladder of life by manipulating men with her sexuality. From her subterranean gin mill, she makes her way to the big city, where she gets a job on the ground floor of the Gothan Trust company. Many men later, she makes her way to the executive suite on the top floor.
Unbelievably raunchy even by today's standards, BABY FACE is endlessly entertaining. Stanwyck is always likeable, and we are on her side even as she discards men left and right. She uses the men before thay can use her and, for a while anyway, she triumphs. Always the favorite of cynical urbanites, Stanwyck never disappoints. She is street all the way and she's never been more hard-bitten and tough than she is here.
Though BABY FACE was not subject to production code interference, it did suffer from a run in with the New York State Censorship Board, which removed some of the more salacious bits. The rediscovered version of BABY FACE we'll be watching restores the film to its original conception. Professor Frick will join us to discuss both the film and its long journey back to the screen.