Friday, November 28, 2008

Baby Face (1933)

Let me start with how much I thoroughly loved this movie. What a treat. I am going to take a different path on this and make use of a wonderful review by my friend Jenny where she describes the plot much more cleverly than I could. So click here and read that first, don't forget to read the comments below, then we will get started dissecting the details I want to talk about. :-)

Stanwyck getting ready to adjust a man's attitude with a beer bottle

I love the tagline that is listed for this movie: "She climbed the ladder of success - wrong by wrong!" ha ha.

I wanted to focus this blog about the two different movie versions. The version that had been known to the world prior to 2004 was the original theatrical release. Meaning it is the version that was cut up by the New York State Board of Censors after they demanded many changes and cuts. In 2004, someone in the Library of Congress happened to notice that of the two reels of "Baby Face" one of the reels had more footage. They investigated and realized it was a duped copy of the movie as it was meant to be, prior to the censors getting their fingers in the mix. So, more than 70 years later, the pre-release version was found and finally viewed.

I find it really surprising the number of cuts and changes that were made. Yes, some of them seem rather obvious, but the number of cuts of seemingly rather innocuous lines surprised me. For anyone interested, click here for a document from Warner Brothers, detailing all the changes that were made due to censor demands. Don't worry, I will go over some of the more obvious ones if you don't want to click and read the whole document.

One of the most obvious cuts they would make is to what I affectionately call the "exploitation" scene where Cragg the cobbler tells Lily to use what she has. The un-cut version goes something like him saying: "Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities. Use men. Be strong! Defiant. Use men to get the things you want." In the theatrical version it is: "There is a right and a wrong way. Remember the price of the wrong way is too great. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities. Don't let people mislead you. Be clean, be strong, be defiant and you will be a success." Pfft.

In the theatrical version, they also took out her "paying" her and Chico's way to ride in the rail car. It is a shame too because I really loved how Chico just smiled when she realized what Lily had in mind, and walked to the other end of the car singing a nice song.

Also, in the un-cut version, Cragg the cobbler sends her another Nietzsche book for Christmas. He calls her attention to this passage: "Face life as you find it, defiantly and unafraid. Waste no energy yearning for the moon. Crush out all sentiment." In the theatrical release, they instead show a written letter from Cragg chastising her for choosing "the wrong way". He tells her she needs to regain her self respect and use the book to guide her right. Of course, they never show any descriptor of the book that is supposed to guide her right as Nietzsche would not be the book they would have in mind.

The biggest difference is the ending. So yet again, if I haven't already completely spoiled it for you, the ending will be discussed so skip if you don't want it to be known.


In the un-cut version, the last scene is of Lily and Courtland in the ambulance where she says the money in the case doesn't matter and the EMT tells her he has a good chance.

In the theatrical version, they toss in the most absurd and depressing scene in the whole movie! The cut from the ambulance to the board of directors office at the bank. They make it clear that Courtland survived and that he and Lily are happy together. They say that Courtland and Lily gave up all their money and possessions to help get the bank running again. Then they moved to Pittsburgh so Courtland could be a steel mill worker.

Now, is it just me, but didn't she hate being across from the steel mills when she was in the speakeasy? Why on earth, now that she knows better, would she ever go back there? Even penniless they could have found opportunities elsewhere. It is the worst possible ending for Lily. I think she would have rather used Courtland's gun to put a bullet through her own brain instead of being dragged back to that horrible life.

******************************END SPOILERS********************************

I really loved everything about this movie except the part of Lily dumping Chico at the end. That seemed really unforgivable and unnecessary. I loved Stanwyck's gritty acting and bravery at playing such a bad girl. I love the emotion when she told her father what she thought of him. "Yeah, I'm a tramp, and who's to blame? My father. A swell start you gave me. Ever since I was 14, what's it been? Nothing but men! Dirty rotten men! And you're lower than any of them! I'll hate you as long as I live!"

It is interesting to see both versions back to back, but of course, I highly recommend the un-cut version. I can't believe such a great movie was cut up and ruined for so long. Shame on them.


kda0121 said...

Since this was a pre-code movie, I wasn't aware of all the changes made. I've never seen the cut up version. I like Baby Face a lot also. Stanwyck was the perfect actress for those roles. That same year she was in Ladies They Talk About, which had Barbara in prison. Another hard as nails role for her. I enjoyed that one quite a bit too.

AbbyNormal said...

Karl - I can send you a copy of the cut-up version if you are truly interested from an academic stand spoint. I wouldn't advise watching it for enjoyment.

Unfortunately, "Ladies They Talk About" isn't out on DVD so I will do my best to try to catch it on TCM sometime. If it is a hard as nails role for Stanwyck, I am sure I will love it.

Jennythenipper said...

I haven't seen the censored version of Baby Face. I think it's really crazy because even uncensored I don't see her character as horribly amoral. I think she mistreats a couple of men, but most of the time she turns their exploitation back on themselves. She uses them the way they want to use her. She is merely acting like a man. She is cruel a couple of times, but how many men out there have an entirely cruelty free romantic life? Given her messed up and abusive home life, I think her reaction to her predicament is pretty healthy actually. Of course Baby Face was a prime example of the sort of movie the code was meant to eliminate--a movie which might give poor people and women especially the idea that their might be some other way of living outside the bounds of what was deemed acceptable behavior.