Today we look at one of the more famous films I’ve profiled while mostly ignoring everything that made it famous. We will look at (the furs in) the 1933 film Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck. Yes, Miss Stanwyck’s career highlight may not be until 1938, but she was no slouch in the fur-wearing department in the years leading up to it. The film itself is notable as one of the more “infamous” “pre-Code” films and one of the reasons said Code exists.
Baby Face (1933)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Baby Face – The Film
Why did said Code exist? Because people couldn’t handle a chick sleeping her way to the top, that’s why. Yes, in this film, Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lily Powers, a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. And get it, she does, always off-screen and totally implied. This was still 1933 when the mere idea of a female sexual predator was enough to give fine, upstanding people tha vapors! Lily climbs the corporate ladder, leaving behind broken boyfriends in a heap along the way until she reaches the president of Gotham Trust and thinks her life of luxury is assured. Things actually work out in the end, but only because the New York State Censorship Board (at least they were really upfront with the name) strongly implied the film would never see the light of day if she didn’t.
Baby Face – The Furs
Unlike the scorecard required to keep track of The Mad Miss Manton, this film is almost all Stanwyck all the time. After all, Lily doesn’t sleep her way to the top to dress like a hobo. She’s stuffing the closet with furs and presumably other expensive clothes and jewelry, which I care much less about. Really, shiny rocks? What’s up with that?
Obviously, Lily has made it a few floors out of the basement of Gotham Trust by the time she walks on screen in this thickly trimmed cape and muff combo.
Along the way, she’s taken her friend, Chico (yes, I said Chico), played by Theresa Harris, and kept her on as a rather well-paid maid, as you can tell from the white fox muff and stole.
This is a fairly long sequence leading to a meeting with one of her mid-range boyfriends. We get to enjoy the cape from all angles.
This is the boyfriend du jour; things don’t work out well for him. Granted, this can be said of pretty much all of them.
Later, and further up the food chain, Lily is in Paris and hooks up with the new bank president. She had now mounted the top rung of the corporate ladder… so to speak. Here Barbara Stanwyck lounges, face wreathed by silver fox, an object of raw cinematic desire.
We see a bit more of it before this shorter sequence ends, revealing the collar to be even larger than previously seen.
As you may imagine, things aren’t quite wine and roses from that point on, and the bank president has some problems of his own, some of which have to do with the fact that his new girlfriend is kinda a tramp. In a lengthy sequence at the end of the film, Lily wears this full-length chinchilla the entire time.
Barbara Stanwyck has a brief smoking shot while wearing the big fur coat.
This is a hefty chinchilla, judging by the size of the collar, which wraps around the back, almost as if it were an unused hood.
Sadly, Lily’s main squeeze bank president meets an untimely end, and the results of all her dirty machinations crash down around her.
But wait! There’s more! He really doesn’t die, and it turns out Lily renounces her man-hating ways and decides to settle down and live happily ever after with him!
On the one hand, the tacked-on ending designed to get past the New York State Censorship Board is pretty much a substantial betrayal of everything the film was to that point. On the other hand, there’s another full minute of Barbara Stanwyck in a full-length chinchilla coat… So, I’m calling it even.
Baby Face joins a strong second tier of Stanwyck films with great furs. While not everything she did is worthy of inclusion on its own, this one and a few others are, such as Breakfast for Two and Lady of Burlesque. The ratio is fairly solid, a good 8 minutes of fur in a film that ran a little long for the time and was from the early ’30s as well. The film was Warner Bros.’s response to the film Red-Headed Woman, starring Jean Harlow and also notable for the fur fashions within.
Fur Runtime: approx 8 minutes
Film Runtime: 71 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 11%