Combustible Celluloid
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With: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker, Margaret Lindsay, Arthur Hohl, John Wayne, Robert Barrat, Douglas Dumbrille, Theresa Harris
Written by: Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola, based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck
Directed by: Alfred E. Green
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 76
Date: 07/13/1933

Baby Face (1933)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Saving 'Face'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Pre-code era occurred during 1929-1934, before Hollywood established the Hays Office and a set of self-censoring rules intended to keep the puritans happy. For several years now, Pre-code film festivals have sprung up, dedicated to this lurid, enticing period. Many masterworks emerged during this time, such as Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise or Howard Hawks' Scarface (both 1932) and even the original King Kong (1933). But one film epitomizes the entire Pre-code experience more than any other: Alfred E. Green's Baby Face (1933). Last year, film archivists found the original Baby Face that was considered too intense, even by pre-code standards. New York censors ordered Warner Brothers to make certain cuts and changes so that the characters appeared less morally questionable. Now it's back in all its glory, playing for a week at the Balboa (3630 Balboa Street, SF). Barbara Stanwyck stars as the daughter of a bootleg saloon keeper, who after an accident, runs away to the big city, her sidekick Chico (Theresa Harris) in tow. Using a tip from Nietzsche, she uses her looks and feminine allure to land a job at a bank, then uses same to advance through the ranks, sleeping with and manipulating any man who can help her. She's so darn tough she even turns down a young John Wayne for a date! In both versions, Baby Face stands as an example of sheer studio craftsmanship, telling an engaging story efficiently. Inarguably one of the greatest screen actresses of the century, Stanwyck gives one of her strongest performances here, all fire and hunger and pain; the rest of the cast has no choice but to live up to her expectations.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video has finally released this ground-breaker on DVD in a great, two-disc set. Baby Face is available in its edited 72-minute version, and its new 76-minute version. The set also includes Jack Conway's Red-Headed Woman (1932), with Jean Harlow, and James Whale's amazing Waterloo Bridge (1931), starring the astonishing Mae Clark in one of the decade's great screen performances. A must-have.

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