Baby Face (1933)

Baby Face (1933)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“What’s going to become of you? It’s up to you to decide.”

Inspired by a philosophy-spouting mentor (Alphonse Ethier) and accompanied by her servant (Theresa Harris), an ambitious young woman (Barbara Stanwyck) climbs her way out of poverty and into the arms of increasingly influential men — eventually becoming embroiled in a fatal love triangle that sends her to Paris, where she romances a wealthy playboy (George Brent).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Stanwyck Films
  • Femmes Fatales
  • George Brent Films
  • Social Climbers
  • Strong Females

It’s truly puzzling that Peary neglects to include this acknowledged Pre-Code classic — one of the primary movies cited as motivation for enforcement of the Production Code — in either his GFTFF or Alternate Oscars. The smartly scripted, swiftly moving storyline shows us in no uncertain terms how easily men-in-power can be manipulated through sex, flattery, and outright deception. (“She climbed the ladder of success – wrong by wrong!” barks the original tagline.) Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance grounds and propels the film: she portrays a woman so embittered by mistreatment as a young girl — when she was prostituted by her abusive father (Robert Barrat) — that her sole purpose in life has become the attainment of material security at any cost. We do see a single glint of humanity poking through her serpentine veneer, as demonstrated by her loyalty to Harris — an indication that all hope for redemption is not completely lost; yet this is essentially a tale of a ruthless vamp, the type of woman “ordinary” females have every right to fear, given that she’s playing by an entirely different set of rules.

Note: A fully restored version of Baby Face was uncovered in a Library of Congress film vault in Dayton, Ohio in 2004; click here to read more about the differences between the two releases.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Stanwyck as Lily
  • Orry-Kelly’s costumes

  • Theresa Harris as Chico
  • Fine direction by Alfred E. Green and cinematography by James Van Trees

  • Plenty of zingy Pre-Code sass:

    Brent: “I’m sure your apartment is attractive.”
    Stanwyck: “I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.”

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable classic of the Pre-Code era — and for Stanwyck’s Oscar-worthy performance.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Baby Face (1933)

  1. A once-must, for its ‘scandalous’ place in cinema history, and for Stanwyck’s performance.

    I watched the 76-minute, restored version (you know me: if I’m promised four extra minutes of ‘filth’, I’m going to take the offer 😉 ). What’s most startling to realize is that, when put back in place, the ‘objectionable’ elements now appear so innocuous that you may be hard-pressed to determine exactly where they are.

    More than a little amount of ‘indecency’ is suggested in the early part of the film through Stanwyck’s way of talking. Once she is told to “Use men!…to get the things you want!”, that’s exactly what she does…and everything she says to men is said with the ooze of soft but blatant sexuality.

    Actual sex never gets beyond a visual hint: a seduced railroad worker dims a lamp before ‘doing the deed’; a bank official is shown into Stanwyck’s bedroom at night but the camera stays outside the door as he enters…the light in the outside room then shifts from night to early morning; etc.

    Essentially, the film belongs to Stanwyck all the way. She cemented her career early on with memorably gutsy turns…and this is certainly one of them.

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