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Film 50: History of Cinema: The Cinematic City

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
3:10 p.m. Baby Face
Alfred E. Green (U.S., 1933)

Restored 35mm print!
Lecture/Marilyn Fabe

This defining example of pre-Code depravity also establishes femme fatalism as both an economic and a philosophical position. “I’m a tramp and who’s to blame? My father!” Thus spake Lily Powers (Stanwyck), who starts as sweetheart of the night shift at her dad’s mangy mill-town speakeasy—“Pay When Served,” reads the sign on the wall—and, after a move to the big city, quickly sleeps her way to the top of the Gotham Trust Company, one floor at a time. (Among her victims there is a very young John Wayne.) The movie was trimmed before its release to appease horrified censors; this print, preserved from the uncut negative, contains plenty of jaw-dropping moments, but probably the most surprising are the repeated references to Nietzsche. A philosophical cobbler sends Lily Thoughts out of Season as a Christmas gift: “Crush out all sentiment.” Sly, glittering, and opaque, Stanwyck’s Lily hardly needs the advice.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola, Mark Canfield. Photographed by James Van Trees. With Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Margaret Lindsay. (76 mins plus outtakes, B&W, 35mm, From Library of Congress, permission Warner Bros.)