Insomniac Theatre: “Baby Face”

25 Aug


…Mainly because Jeremy the TiVo: Episode IV: A New Hope is up to 78%, and I have less than six weeks before Fall TV season starts up again.

Turner Classic Movies has done a bang-up job with movies this summer.  In fact, I have taped nineteen movies this year that I have never seen before.  And I’ve taped another five movies that I have seen before, and therefore, will not be reviewed here.  (But do go find Rebecca, The Big Sleep, Big Jim McLain, Strangers on a Train, and a movie with a tie to tonight’s feature, Ball of Fire.)

By the way, if you want to know how awesome Jeremy the TiVo is, here’s how much he’s currently holding:

  • The aforementioned 24 movies taped off of TCM
  • The entire fourth season of Archer
  • 10 episodes of Conan
  • 4 episodes of Franklin & Bash
  • 3 episodes of The Daily Show
  • 2 turtle doves
  • … and the season finale of Hannibal because I JUST CAN’T GET RID OF IT YET YOU GUYS

Here’s how I chose Baby Face to watch tonight: I wrote all the movie titles down on scraps of paper, folded them up, shook them up in my Penguin Martini Shaker of Choosing (because when I drink, I don’t need no fancy shaken drinks.  Diet Coke Lime + Coconut Rum = Fun is about my speed at this point), and Baby Face came out.  Here’s the part where I’d take a photo of everything, but my phone is crap and attempting to charge.  So here’s the MS Paint Reenactment.

it almost looks as if the penguin lost teeth, but those are the unchosen films.

Hahahaha!  Jesus Christ, I’m an asshole.  (Also, thank god The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie wasn’t what came out of the Penguin Martini Shaker of Choosing, huh?)


A young woman uses her body and sexuality to help her climb the social ladder, but soon begins to wonder if her new status will ever bring her happiness.

Two things:

1)      Does anyone else go to here at that synopsis?

2)      The imdb. tells me that if I like Baby Face, then I should also like All About Eve.  Since I’ve seen the latter and not the former, then, ipso facto (if I used that wrong don’t correct me), I should enjoy Baby Face

I love Barbara Stanwyck.  You should also immediately dismiss this statement, as the only full movie starring Ms. Stanwyck I’ve watched is Ball of Fire.  So I guess I should have said that I love the fast-talking, scathing-wit edition of Barbara Stanwyck that I imagine she plays in all of her movies.  Let’s see if my opinion is correct!

Before we officially get into it, here’s some fun historical context that I think I remember from reading something on the Hairpin… yes, it was from the Hairpin!  Anyway, Baby Face was pretty much the reason for the institution for the Hays Code: 

She also bore the brunt of The Hays Office’s decision to finally tamp down on “Pre-Code” films, a.k.a. films that flaunted the existing censorship guidelines. In the original script for Baby Face (1933), she plays a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, stuck in a steel town, exploited by her bootlegger father. She takes up some Nietzschean philosophy and decides to use the big city and big money guys to get what she wants — just like Nietzsche would say she should. So she gets a job at a bank and uses her “feminine wiles,” if you’re picking up what I’m putting down, to make her way up the food chain, seducing one executive after another, before making her way to one who was very engaged … to a big exec’s daughter. And then Daddy Big Exec falls for her, puts her up in a love palace, and gets her a MAID, before original fianced executive finds her there and SHOOTS BIG EXEC AND HIMSELF. Amazing. Just amazing. The new head of the company banishes her to Paris, but she works her magic there as well — and when the new head comes to visit, HE FALLS FOR HER TOO. Barbara!

The bank fails, the new husband is blamed, Barbara refuses to return all her fancy-pants stuff to save the bank and flees to Europe, triumphant. Husband shoots himself, the end. Man-eater in-fucking-deed.

[Guys, if you have some time and love Old Hollywood, Scandals of Classic Hollywood is a fantastic source of information.  I love these pieces, and will totally be buying the book when it comes out.]

Okay, for timing purposes, y’all should know that it has taken me two and 3/4ths Daily Shows to type up all this stuff / draw a penguin martini shaker in MS Paint.  Give me another few minutes to pour a Coconut Cuba Libre and get comfortable and then we can finally begin the Insomnia.

Heh heh heh I don’t know why I’m being such an asshole tonight, you guys.  But I’m enjoying it and having fun, and isn’t that all that matters?

JOHN WAYNE IS IN THIS MOVIE?  Robert Osbourne, you better not be lying to me!

We begin at a factory.  Or, a factory town, I guess.  A whole bunch of factory workers crowd into a speakeasy, because this was filmed in 1933 and I’m pretty sure Prohibition wasn’t over yet?  Or this takes place before the end of Prohibition?  I don’t know.  Anyway, the speakeasy is run by Barbara Stanwyck’s father (or as she’s called in this movie, Lily).  Lily’s Dad is calling for her, because apparently her pretty face keeps the idiot drunks quiet.  Lily’s Dad is also pretty verbally abusive, and the patrons are pretty grabby.  Lily keeps her cool and only uses her words to keep them away from her, whereas I think everyone who knows me knows that I’d have SMASHSTABbed them into capitulation pretty quickly.

Lily brightens up when she sees this old bespectacled guy enter – which is sad, because there’s this shirtless 1930s Chris Evans-type following her around and asking her to take a walk with him in the quarry, because apparently that’s a fun thing to do in that town.  Sheesh.  Anyway, Lily brings the Old Guy a drink, and Old Guy says she should leave while she can, because she’s got energy and power and she could make something of herself.  Lily mutters, “Yeah, I’m a ball of fire, I am.”  NOT YET YOU’RE NOT, that movie came out in 1941!  But seriously, Ball of Fire is an amazing movie, you should totally watch that.

Later that night, some guy in a suit comes in and gives Lily’s Dad some money, then Lily’s Dad hustles the rest of the customers out, leaving Lily alone with the guy.  Oh god.  Oh god.  That … Lily’s Dad better be burning in the Special Hell, is all I’m saying.

Suit Guy gets fresh, and Lily dumps her hot coffee on his hand as he’s trying to touch her knee.  “Oh, excuse me.  My hand shakes so when I’m around you,” she sarcastically throws out effortlessly.  She goes into her bedroom, and for a moment it appears as if this is a routine, but when Suit Guy follows her, she pushes him out.  Suit Guy insinuates that this isn’t the first time she’s been pimped out, and tellingly, Lily doesn’t deny it, either – just says that he’s not going to experience it. 

And then she goes back out to the dining room and pours herself a beer.  Suit Guy comes up behind her and hugs her from behind in a not pleasant hug, and Lily PICKS UP THE BEER BOTTLE AND SMASHES IT OVER HIS HEAD, then calmly downs her beer.

Bette Davis, you know I still and always will love you, but I think Barbara Stanwyck is my new Spirit Animal.

Oh, Suit Guy runs outside and into Lily’s Dad, and apparently, Lily was exchange for protection for the speakeasy.  Lily’s Dad runs up to tell her off, but Lily says that she hates him because he’s apparently been pimping her since she was 14.  Oh, dear God.  Special! Hell!

Then Lily’s friend the African-American maid (“Chico”) comes in and says that the still is smoking, and when Lily’s Dad goes down to investigate, the whole thing blows up and Lily’s Dad dies.  Good.  May he burn in the Special Hell for all eternity.  Is there anything worse than the Special Hell?  May he burn there.

Lily goes to visit the Old Guy from the bar after she buries her father.  He wants her to use her power and will to become awesome, to utilize men in order to get what she wants, rather than be used by men as a pawn or slave.  Yes.  I agree with that sentiment.  He quotes Nietzsche at her, and … I never studied Nietzsche, so I can’t really talk about having an opinion on the matter.  I can barely spell Nietzsche.  (Thanks, Microsoft Word for the bone-throw there with your Autocorrect.)

He tells her to exploit herself in the big city — those are the exact words he uses, “exploit herself” — and tells her twice in the same sentence to use men to get the things she wants.  Again, I agree with that, but to a point.  Maybe.  I don’t know; I’ve always been a shitty feminist.

Lily and Chico hop a train and attempt to Hobo it to New York City.  (There are at least two jokes I can make here, but since Hobo With a Shotgun didn’t have trains, I can’t make the one you’re thinking of.  Instead, I’m going to tell them that they should at all costs avoid having a fight on the roof of a moving train.  It is not as glamorous as it looks.)  The … train watcher? He’s out of uniform, so I don’t think he’s a security guard.  Anyway, the guy that swings the lantern to make sure that there aren’t hobos around (because hobos are scared of light, I guess?) — he looks into Lily’s boxcar and tries to kick her and the friend off the train, until Lily closes the door on him and invites him into her boxcar.  If ya know what I mean. 

What’s really awkward is that Chico goes to the other end of the boxcar and sings a song to herself to cover the sound of coitus coming from the other end.  At least, I assume Lily offers the Train Watcher sex – there’s a shot of his gloves falling next to the lantern, and then his hand turns the lantern off.  I suppose they could just be playing Pattycake, but again, singing to cover the sound of that song, and also, that’s how Who Framed Roger Rabbit got started.

Lily and Chico arrive in New York, and they’re hungry.  Hungry for food, for money, and for power.  Or at least, Lily is for the last two on that list.  But as they’re talking about their hunger pains, they pass the Gotham Bank and Trust.

Now look: I know that Gotham City came from the nickname for New York City, and this movie pre-dates Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #29 by six years (my father, if he were to read this [which he won’t, because he doesn’t use computers] would be so proud of me right now).  But if Lily somehow is how to blame for the death of Batman’s parents?  Holy head!canon, Batman, I would freaking love that!  I’m totally going to make that happen through the power of my words.

Lily likes the looks of the building, and hoping that there’s a lot of money to be had in the Gotham Bank and Trust, goes to the personnel department and pretty much drags a nobody into the boss’s empty office to ‘talk over the prospect of a job,’ which of course meant ‘I’m going to blow you and you’re going to employ me.’  Again, I can’t attest to the veracity of that speculation (THANKS, DODGE I mean HAYS CODE), as it happened behind a closed door and after a fade, but tons of people had walked out of that office jobless before Lily swanned in, and in the next scene she’s working in the filing department.  I mean, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t exactly have to work hard at deducing between those lines.

On the other end of the filing department, two dudes are talking about getting a woman into one of the dudes’ department, but I’m not really listening because YOU GUYS – I found Jason Segel’s doppleganger!  (Again, I’d take a picture, but my phone is crap.  So here’s the MS Paint Reenactment.)

jason segel

[For context on why Jason Segel would be wearing a funk hat, watch the clip here, and also note the Intervention Banner in the background.  Remember: it’s not an intervention if there’s not an Intervention Banner!]

Apparently Jason Segel’s name here is Mr. McCoy.  And apparently Lily is the girl McCoy’s been telling his boss about, and — holy shit!  McCoy’s Boss is the spitting image of Saul Goodman!

better call saul

(I’m not going to MS Paint that, you guys – I can’t go about MS Painting everything.  I’m not the brilliant Hyperbole and a Half.)

Anyway, Lily makes eyes at McCoy/Marshall, and happens to catch Saul/Brody in the cross, and before I can finish typing this sentence, Saul/Brody has hired Lily up into the Mortgage Department — his department.   She brings something over to Saul to sign, and Saul tells her to stay after five.  Two girls in the secretary pool are very catty about how Lily’s been moving up the ladder using her legs and what’s between them, and then McCoy/Segel comes over and —


jason segel edited

himym mind blown


So anyway.  Segel/McCoy asks Lily (whom he calls Baby Face –DRINK FOR THE MOVIE TITLE) to go to dinner with him and she blows him off.  As in, she tries to tell him she has something else going on tonight, not that she … I mean, right there?  In the middle of the office?  Come on, she does have standards for this.

As I’m typing this, Lily proves my point.  The 5 o’clock bell rings and Saul goes right over to Lily’s desk and embraces her from behind.  She jerks away from him and says, “Not here,” then she walks over to an office and tilts her head, and before you can say ‘jackrabbit,’ they’re … well, you know.

Saul’s phone rings.  When Saul doesn’t answer, a bank bigwig goes into the large office area to see if he’s still around.  He doesn’t see Saul, and is about to leave when, as he passes the ladies’ rest room, he sees something to make him stop in his tracks and yell, “Brody?”

Saul Brody comes out of the ladies’ rest room, and he passes a hand through his hair.  Hm.  I wonder who was on their knees this time?  Brody’s boss is outraged.  He says in a monotone, “This is an outrage.  A man in your position.  Get your check at once.”  To quote My Friend Sarah: GIGGITY.  Also, HA!

Mr. Stevens tries to fire Lily too, but she puts on the “sexual harassment” face and cries a couple of tears, and before we know it, she’s moved higher up into the bank’s hierarchy – as Mr. Stevens’ secretary.  She delivers a bill or something to Mr. Stevens, and the other two girls in the office bitch about Lily moving fast.  They also handily mention that not only is Mr. Stevens engaged to a girl he’s crazy about, but that he is also of fine and moral character.

That night, Saul Brody visits Lily in her new apartment.  She doesn’t let him in because apparently, her landlady won’t let her have men in her apartment.  …  …  I’m not going to make a joke about that, because too many people I know read my blog and they know my landlady, and I don’t want anyone to start asking questions.  She tries to appeal to Saul Brody’s better nature about his wife and kids, but when he stutters she shuts the door in his face.

She pulls her silk bathrobe around her tighter, and who else should we find in her spacious New York apartment (HA!) than Mr. Stevens?!  (Nice read, Velma.) 

Some future time at the office, Lily convinces the other secretary to take her lunch then, so she can get a manicure at 1.  Damn.  I need a job that will let me have a manicure in the middle of the workday.  Anyway, Lily takes advantage of the alone time and practically skips into Mr. Stevens’ office, where she makes him kiss her.  As she’s doing so, Mr. Stevens’ fiancée comes in to surprise him, but SHE’S the one that’s surprised.  As Mr. Stevens runs after his crying fiancée, Lily smirks to herself and smokes one of his cigarettes, as if this were all going according to plan or something.

Oh, that’s right – and Mr. Stevens’ fiancée’s father is the vice president of the bank!  That will definitely end badly.  Big Daddy tells Stevens to fire Lily.  But when he tries, her feminine wiles make him decide to give Big Daddy his resignation instead.  Big Daddy offers to take Lily off his hands – meaning firing her, of course.  When she’s called up to Big Daddy’s office, Lily makes some story about how she didn’t know Stevens was engaged, and as she sobs out her story, he says something along the lines of he’ll figure something out.

That figuring something out apparently involves setting Lily up in a better apartment, with a staircase and multiple bedrooms and a large vanity table and fur coats and a ton of jewelry. 

I — I can’t even. 

Okay, here comes the part where Alaina tries to marry her 21st-Century values to that of a movie made 80 years ago.  I am a little uncomfortable at how comfortable Lily is with all the choices she’s made.  And look, I am the last person to talk about doing things for money — if there’s a rich dude out there that wants to spoil me, SHUT UP AND LET ME TAKE YOUR MONEY.  I have student loan and credit card bills to pay, and retail ain’t the moneymaker it’s proclaimed itself to be.  But I don’t know any rich men, so.

And I don’t want to say that I’m uncomfortable with how Lily chooses to move up the ladder.  Well – maybe.  Hold on.  Let me back up.  I guess what I mean is, I don’t think I’m above batting my eyelashes to get something.  I can play the “Oh sorry Officer, I didn’t realize I was speeding – I was just listening the music, you know how it is!  I’m so sorry!” to get out of a speeding ticket, but that’s as far as I personally go.  I won’t trade my … feminine mystique, if you will, for a chance at a better job, or better pay, because my belief is that when you work hard at something, no matter how hard you work, it will never be good enough for the higher-ups, giving you a crushing sense of failure no matter how successful you’re becoming, and there are definitely days when I just wish Richard Gere would pull me out of the gutter, but then I realize two things: 1) I’ve never seen Pretty Woman, and 2), I do not like Richard Gere.

Anyway.  Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps is supposed to be the way to success, or so I’m told.  (Not that I’ve ever seen this happen in real life.)  And I value hard work.  (This is a true fact.)  Not that doing old guys for money isn’t work (or so I’ve been told) — it’s just not the kind of work that validates me.  NOT THAT I DO THAT KIND OF WORK AND HAVE A REAL-LIFE APPLICATION FOR oh shit, I’m blocking this entry from my mother, she’s going to start asking questions that I will answer but she won’t believe me for some reason.

*AHEM.*  NO, I DO NOT HAVE SEX FOR MONEY.  LET ME MAKE THAT CLEAR.  Because if that were a thing that was happening, I’d hope to be a lot richer than I am right now.


Where was I?  Oh right.  Stomach contents.  Anyway.  I guess my sense of discomfort comes from the fact that Lily knows she’s disrupting families, and that is a big NO NO NO on my moral compass.  Being the ‘other woman’ is not a title to which I aspire.  Now, it’s one thing if a guy at a bar makes a forward pass and it becomes complete and “I” find out after that he’s either married or in a long-term relationship – he didn’t disclose that information and willingly sought a partner outside of that committed relationship, and “I” was the rube.  But I wouldn’t ever willingly enter into a relationship with a man who is in a committed relationship.  I just … couldn’t.

And knowing where my moral compass lies is what makes this movie uncomfortable for me.  And I get that Lily was abused, and pimped out by her father, and that this is probably the only way she knows to get ahead.  And again, I’m looking at this 1933, pre-Hayes-Code movie through my 21st Century eyes.  Knowing what I know about movies made in the ’30s, Lily will get her comeuppance and justice will be done, and she will not be allowed to ride off into the sunset with John Wayne.  (Firstly, that was Gary Cooper, asshole.  Secondly, HE MISSED HIS CHANCE.)

Okay, so … that was a rant and a half, and I probably pissed off a ton of feminists and misogynists and people I know in real life alike, so let’s go back to the movie, where Stevens has just arrived at Lily’s apartment, realizes she’s become a kept woman by someone, but doesn’t realize she’s been kept by his father-in-law.

He barges in, and Lily is entertaining Big Daddy (no, not like that!).  He asks Lily to marry him and threatens to kill himself if she won’t, because the boy is sick in the head.  She tries to kick him out, but instead he sees Big Daddy’s brandy glass and half-smoked cigar, and barges into her boudoir.  When he sees Big Daddy, he shoots him with the gun he was hiding in his pocket (REALLY NOT A EUPHAMISM, FOLKS) and then he turns the gun on himself.

Oh, and this all happens on Christmas.

Lily enters the room and surveys the damage, physical and emotional.  She calls the 1930s equivalent of 9-1-1 and waits for the fallout.

The bank calls a meeting of ministers or whatever, and they elect George Brent – “Trenholm,” whatever – head of the bank in the absence of Big Daddy, who is now deceased.  They mutter that they must take care of this Lily Powers story, and Lily comes waltzing in right on time at 10 a.m.  She tells them that she’s so embarrassed and agonized over “Baby”‘s death (what she called Big Daddy, which just sends me down a horrible, horrible path of deviant behavior that I do not want to educate anyone on), and she knows she can’t stay at the bank any longer – she must leave town.  Oh, and since the New York Times or whatever offered her ten thousand dollars for her diary, she tells the quorum of managers that $15,000 surely has to be the true value of the information.

At this point, one of the bank dudes says, AND I QUOTE, “Well, we won’t quibble over a few thousand dollars.”  Ladies and gentlemen: the reason for bank failures everywhere.

George Brent is clearly not under Lily’s powers, because instead of permitting her to run away with fifteen thousand, he instead arranges for her to be transferred to their Paris branch with a job waiting.  Lily is disappointed that she has to work in Paris.  CRY ME A FUCKING RIVER, ARE YOU SERIOUS?  She is the catalyst for one man losing his job and two men dying over her, ALMOST LITERALLY, by the way, and instead of getting what she deserves, she gets flown FIRST CLASS to fucking PARIS!?  Jesus jumped-up Christ, does her vagina grant wishes?!

Trenholm visits the Paris branch and is shocked to find Lily working.  As in, actually working.  At her job.  Trenholm is impressed, and apparently smitten.  He gives her a ride home in the rain and blatantly attempts to be invited into her apartment, but she cattily refuses.  The next day, he sends her a memo that tells her that a car will be picking her up at 8, and they will be dining and dancing together that night.  SERIOUSLY.  MAGIC VAGINA.

In three days, Trenholm has fallen madly in love with Lily, to the point where he actually locks it down and marries her.  It comes out that he marries the woman who was responsible for the deaths of two men back on the ranch, and oh yeah, there’s a financial crisis brewin’ at the bank.  Hubby and wife return to New York to manage the business.

Well, he manages the business; Lily lies around admiring her jewelry.  Until Trenholm comes home and asks for everything he’s ever given her, because he’s being indicted.  He needs to have all the money he’s given Lily because he needs it for bail.  Lily won’t give him the money, and she gives him this speech about how her life has been hard and she’s worked her way up from nothing to have everything, and she won’t give up her material objects for some dude.  She orders Chico (who is still around, and still a maid, because after all, she didn’t have to trade up like Lily did) to pack everything up and head to the pier, because they’re sailing to Paris tonight.  Trenholm watches sadly for a moment, because in his words, Lily is all he has left.  But he realizes he can’t stop her, so he quietly exits the scene.

When they get to the boat, Lily pulls out a record and record player from somewhere (don’t even know, guys) and over the tune of what almost sounds like the theme to “Little Orphan Annie,” the faces of men overlay the spinning record: the train dude; the nobody who gave her the job; John Wayne; Saul; Stevens; Big Daddy; and finally Trenholm.  But when she gets to Trenholm, she remembers him telling her that he loves her in spite of all her previous partners.  (And look, let’s be real here: I’m sure there were more than what was on the record.)

And finally, in a fit of … something, Lily realizes that she loves Trenholm too, I think?  And she races off the boat, leaving poor Chico and 90% of her luggage behind.  That’s awkward.  She runs home, and when Trenholm isn’t in the apartment, she runs down to the office, and JESUS CHRIST THERE’S ANOTHER ONE.  He tried to shoot himself, but apparently he missed.  Somehow.  Anyway, she calls an ambulance, and he’s apparently enough of a poor shot to survive, and they’re going to live happily ever after, apparently.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?  I — Okay.  I don’t know.  I don’t even know.  Being able to live happily married is not the comeuppance I was expecting.  Again, 21st-Century perspective.  I — *sigh*

I’m going to go to bed.  And seriously, everyone: go find Ball of Fire.  It’s super cute, Barbara Stanwyck is awesome and most certainly does not trade sex for money, the talk is quick and witty and funny.  It’s awesome.  Way better than Baby Face.

I mean she doesn’t really have a baby face what does that even mean … 

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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Insomniac Theatre


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