In four fabulous years before a strict Motion Picture Code put the cap on audacity, Warner Bros. produced a gallery of rude, saucy films. No actor was as tough as Barbara Stanwyck, and no actress used womanly wiles with an intelligence so cool and cutting. In this invigorating film, Stanwyck escapes to New York from an Erie, PA, speakeasy where her father rented her out to customers. In a big-city bank, she sleeps her way to the top, leaving a heap of discarded men (and one or two corpses). Even in a version pruned for the New York state censors, Baby Face was the definitive pre-Code statement of how the Depression created a new morality of no morality. Now the missing five minutes have been restored, and we see how the movie snarled every bit as brazenly as Stanwyck did. (Note from Richard Corliss, Time.) –AFI
Alfred E. Green inaugurated his nearly five-decade film career as a utility actor at the old Selig Polyscope outfit. He became assistant to Selig’s top director Colin Campbell, working on such early moneymakers as The Spoilers (1914). By 1917, Green was soloing as a feature director at Paramount, putting such luminaries as Mary Pickford, Thomas Meighan and Wallace Reid through their paces. His first talkies, lensed at Warner Bros., were two stagebound but enjoyable George Arliss vehicles, Disraeli (1929) and The Green Goddess (1930). He spent most of the 1930s at Warners, turning out films of decent box-office value but highly variable quality: he managed to direct Bette Davis in one of her best performances (1935’s Dangerous, for which she won an Oscar), but also helmed one of her worst efforts, Parachute Jumper (1933). In 1946, Green directed Columbia’s The Jolson Story, one of that studio’s biggest hits, and the most financially successful of all of Green’s films. Seven years later… read more
Stanwyck plays an unapologetically opportunistic woman who uses sex to gain security. The unvarnished primacy of security (here in the guise of money) as the driving feminine motivation may not sit comfortably with modern audiences, but it is still a very active force in our relationships. The story is a bit of a hit-the-highlights outline, but still effective.
Barbara Stanwyck's character exploits the weakness in men by using her body to climb her way to the top in a manner inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche. Pre-code Hollywood is fun.