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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

BABY FACE (1933)

The surge of appreciation for 'Pre-Code' Hollywood pics (about 1929 to mid-‘34) is one of the happy off-shoots of the DVD revolution in film preservation. But it’s a pity that this dreary, if amazingly tawdry programmer (with its cop-out ending) has become Exhibit ‘A’ in the Bad Girl genre. Barbara Stanwyck is a small-town gal who dreams of the big city while working in her dad’s tenement SpeakEasy. She puts up with a lot, but when Pop tries to pimp her to keep his police protection, that breaks it. Stanwyck is off to NYC where she rapidly sleeps her way thru the entire executive ranks of a staid bank, leaving wrecked careers, ruined marriages, corpses & even a young John Wayne in her wake. But then George Brent shows up, transfers her to Paris, and she suddenly discovers tru-love & sacrifice. Megger Alfred Green brings little to the party while Stanwyck plays dour in her bad girl phase and only a bit less dour when she warms up. There are scores of better Pre-Code pics (try some of the early Stanwyck/Frank Capra gems) and for something along these lines see Jean Harlow at her best in RED-HEADED WOMAN/’32 or Loretta Young & Warren William in the delirious EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE/’33.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Mick LaSalle has a wonderfully original & knowing ‘take’ on Pre-Code manners & mores in COMPLICATED WOMEN: Sex & Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. I didn’t know he had a follow-up, DANGEROUS MEN, but I’ll be on it ASAP.

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