Baby Face

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Baby Face at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Pre-Code Drama
Director: Alfred E. Green
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker
Rated: NR

For those not familiar with the full range of what the term “old movies” actually encompasses, the early sound era can come as quite a shock. It was a time of bold technical experimentation, a time when a lot of new talent entered the movies by way of the stage, and it was also a time when movies were surprisingly unrestrained in the matter of censorship. Adult material, sin and crime that went unpunished, open sexuality, even glimpses of nudity (which wasn’t that uncommon in silents) and a certain amount of swearing were commonplace. (From 1929 through 1933 “hell” and “damn” were not as unusual as suggested by the 1939 fuss over allowing Gable to say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in Gone With the Wind.) This became known as the Pre-Code era — movies made before the Production Code laid down by the Catholic Legion of Decency in 1934.

One of the most surprising such films is Alfred E. Green’s Baby Face (1933), which has become even more surprising with the arrival of a new print that contains restored footage and original dialogue that had to be overdubbed even in 1933. As drama, it’s no great shakes (there are many better Pre-Code films). It’s not a lot more than the story of Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) who sleeps her way to the top. It’s pretty good filmmaking — the underrated Alfred E. Green keeps it and his camera moving. But its major fame is as one of the most outrageous Pre-Code films out there. It makes no bones about how Lily gets where she’s going, or that her father (Robert Barrat) has been pimping her out since she was 14. It’s also a bit silly — the interpretation of Nietzsche’s Will to Power that starts Lily on the path of using sex to get what she wants is something to behold — but it’s invariably engagingly shocking to audiences who think of old movies as quaint and innocent.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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5 thoughts on “Baby Face

  1. Louis

    How cool is that you reviewed this in Asheville’s best weekly reader?

    How disappointing that not a single person has commented on this movie in the 1.5 years hence?

    This is a must-see movie–even throwing in a young John Wayne in one throwaway scene. The audacity of this flick is staggering by any era’s decency standards. It really moves.

    Pull some strings and bring this to the Big Screen.

  2. Ken Hanke

    How cool is that you reviewed this in Asheville’s best weekly reader?

    Well, you have to give some of the credit to the Hendersonville Film Society for showing it!

    How disappointing that not a single person has commented on this movie in the 1.5 years hence?

    It is sad, but true that 90% of the time it’s the crap movies that get discussed.

    Pull some strings and bring this to the Big Screen.

    Is that a personal request or a public one?

  3. Louis

    Is that a personal request or a public one?


    Actually, whichever is more likely–if the cinephile compadres haven’t seen it I’d love to be the proverbial fly on the seat nearby. If they have, then, well, oh well.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think the cinephile compadres have seen it, so it’s certainly not an impossibility. A public viewing…well, there’s really nothing that’s an ongoing series that it’d fit other than the venue that’s already run it.

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