In four fabulous years before a strict Motion Picture Code put the cap on audacity, Warner Bros. produced a garish gallery of rude, saucy films. Tough guys used guns and grapefruit to commandeer the urban nightscape; dames like Dorothy Mackaill and the young Bette Davis lured men to a heavenly Hades. But no actor was as tough as Barbara Stanwyck, and no actress used womanly wiles with an intelligence so cool and cutting. In this invigorating affront of a movie, dreamed up by Warners’ departing production chief Darryl Zanuck, Lily (Stanwyck) escapes to New York from an Erie, Pa., speakeasy where her father has rented her out to the 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.
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