I gotta say right away that I know zilch about this legendary actress except the fact that she used to be in the DYNASTY spin-off, THE COLBYS, in the mid-80s and that she always had the rep of being a lesbian. In the 1933 BABY FACE drama, however, men are what get her motor going. She plays this down on her luck tough broad who manages to sleep her way to the top. All thanks to life coach extraordinaire Nietzsche (!) whose aphorisms push her into the arms of every guy she meets, including a young John Wayne. The film was heavily edited when it was originally released, believed to be too daring for moviegoers, and with good reasons. For its time, BABY FACE is hardly of the saccharine sort, with lines such as "I’m a tramp and who’s to blame? My father!"
The fun kicks in pretty early when Stanwyck, being the speakeasy waitress and floozy that she is, fends off a lecherous bum who happens to be the town politician. When she hits him with a bottle to prove her point, he runs off threatening to close up the joint. Her fuming dad just has time to argue with her before the moonshine operation he keeps next door explodes to smithereens, taking him along for the ride. Orphaned with nowhere else to go except to the street corner, Stanwyck sets out to conquer the world in the Big Apple, and does she.
That’s where she meets all types of influent men who enable her to move up in exchange for a good time in the hay. But it’s rich playboy George Brent who ends up touching her heart. So much so that when he’s facing financial ruin she willingly gives up her newfound wealth to come to his aid. And if you think he’s only using her, well, think again. He loves loves loves her, and for a girl with a past, that’s all that matters, doesn’t it?
The beauty of BABY FACE, besides witnessing its sheer stupidity for 76 minutes, is watching la Stanwyck strutting her way (convincingly, I might add) into society. I mean the girl is shameless with a capital S. It doesn’t matter who she steps onto, or the degree to which she lies to get ahead. She has this fixed agenda and nothing can stop her—not even murder or suicide. Besides, if it hadn’t been for the wisdom of Nietzsche she’d still be in a dump somewhere breaking bottles over sleazy politicians’ heads, and we wouldn’t have that, now would we? On second thought, maybe we should. It sure would have beaten anything involving the moralistic turn the film takes later on.
As mentioned, BABY FACE went trough a bunch of cuts and changes before being finally released to the public. One of which involved the tragic climax which has Stanwyck choosing wealth over love before finding her man dead. A happy ending was reinstated to appease the censors. But even that didn’t stop some theater owners from banning the film. But as you all know, nothing can stop a train wreck from showing up somewhere, with or without changes. And to that I say, many happy returns, BABY FACE.