Wednesday, August 20, 2008



If you want wicked pre-code content, look no further than Babyface. Barbara Stanwyck plays Lily, a young woman trapped in a sexual slavery in her father's speakeasy. One of the customers a German professor, tries to get her to read Nietsche. (For a little while I thought this was going to turn into the Blue Angel, but no...) Eventually his lectures sinks in and after her father is killed in an accident she and the maid, Chico (Theresa Harris) flee to the big city. On the way Lily offers herself to a railroad worker in order to prevent being thrown out of a boxcar and arrested. From then on a pattern emerges: Babyface sees a man with something to give, she gives him a come hither look, drags him to an empty office or in one case, the ladies room, gets whatever favor she needs in return for hers and then moves on, ruthlessly. She "works" her way through a banking empire, including a very young John Wayne, this way until she marries the president, Courtland Trenholm (George Brent). This is where the movie goes south a bit, because I didn't really buy the love story between Lilly and Courtland which is given very little screen time. She doesn't really seem to care any more for him than she does any of the others. Also I was annoyed that after so many years of faithful service and companionship Chico gets abandoned on a boat so that she can rush home to her husband. The turn about was too sudden and I kept asking myself, "what about Chico?" at the end.


kda0121 said...

This might be my favorite Stanwyck precode. Quintessential precode Barbara, hard as nails, been around and movin' up.

I love the symbolism of her literally sleeping her way to the top of the company by showing the exterior of the building after every conquest and panning the camera to a higher level floor than she was on previously...till she finally makes it to the top.

I wasn't let down by the ending at all. I'm a sucker for bad girl goes good and knew the maid was industrious enough to find her way back.

One of the big surprises for me in watching precode movies was discovering what a capable actor George Brent was. I had always pegged him as rather dull and stiff, but the guy really held up his end and didn't get in the way the leading lady's histrionics.

Jennythenipper said...

I think that they laid the groundwork for her change of heart when she was in Paris and she was actually working at her job. The idea that she meets a man who doesn't roll over for her in ten seconds starts her in another direction. I liked that. I guess I just thought Brent was too stiff and dull and that the story moved almost too quickly after they got married. Maybe a couple more scenes would have helped me make the leap with the film.

AbbyNormal said...

I am really looking forward to this one. It is in the queue and I am hoping to have it within a week. Will let you know if I catch anything different from you clever lot.

AbbyNormal said...

I just finished with this one (both versions of it, actually) and loved it. What a treasure this one is!! I like this so much better than "Night Nurse".

I will start by agreeing with Karl - I loved the visual symbolisim of her going from floor to floor. It reminds me of an 80s movie called "Head Office" where Jane Seymore says "I wouldn't be a very good executive if I slept my way to the bottom." Great stuff.

I will disagree with Karl and agree with you Jenny, that I was really miffed about Chico. Chico was kind and loyal to her. To have Lily just yell at her to shut up, then run out of on her without a word or explanation is unforgiveable. What exactly was Chico supposed to do? Didn't Lily care at all about what happened to Chico?

I hope you don't mind, but I think I have to write a blog about this one. I made several notes of points I want to expound upon. I love it too much to let it go yet. :-)