Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Baby Face

1933, US, directed by Alfred E. Green

More than seventy years after it was released, Baby Face is still remarkable for its blunt attitude to sex: I can't think of many films that take the idea of sleeping one's way to the top quite so literally (and none with anything approaching the wit of the scene where the camera tracks up the length of a skyscraper towards the executive suites).

The film begins in fairly typical Depression-era territory, inside a smoky speakeasy a stone's throw away from a looming steel-plant, where even the employed seem bone-weary; Barbara Stanwyck, though, isn't willing to settle for a job in her father's shebeen and when opportunity knocks she heads for New York and a succession of progressively wealthier men. The pacing is breakneck - the entire story is told inside 75 minutes - with Stanwyck's progression a little too simple (there are coincidences aplenty, and a group of men hopelessly unable to learn from the fates of their predecessors), but the actress is at the top of her game, and absolutely convincing as a ruthlessly ambitious young woman. The opening is interesting for the friendship she shares with a young black woman (played by Theresa Harris, here getting a rare onscreen credit), though once the pair land in New York her friend is quickly condemned to domestic service. It's also worth looking out for an extremely youthful John Wayne pop up as one of the early saps on whom Stanwyck tramples; his voice is absolutely unmistakable even if his attire is an unfamiliar suit and tie.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States