Monday, August 18, 2008

Breaking the glass ceiling

Opening credits of The Jeffersons

Avid TV viewers will recall the 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons, and its theme song:

Well we're sleeping our way (sleeping our way)
To the top (sleeping our way)
To a deeeee-luxe apartment in the sky-y-y

We're sleeping our way (sleeping our way)
To the top (sleeping our way)
We've finally got a piece of the pie

Well, that's not exactly how George and Weezy got to that "deluxe apartment"; they actually worked legitimately for it, unlike the lead in our next movie, 1933's Baby Face airing at 3:15 PM ET on August 19 on TCM.

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lily Powers, a woman who hasn't had a very easy life. She's working in a speakeasy literally on the wrong side of the tracks in a small town, not only serving liquor to the men, but also being expected to "serve" the men in other ways. Indeed, Lily hates her father because he's been pimping her since she was a teenager. Fortunately for her, though, an accident happens that causes the place to burn down, killing her father in the process. One of her few male friends (Alphonse Ethier) gives her a book by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, telling her with a wonderful German accent, "Use men... to get the things you want!"

Lily immediately takes him up on that advice, going to New York, getting a job in a bank, and sleeping with every man in the building -- as long as it's somebody who will help her advance up the career ladder. (One of the interesting scenes details this progress by actually showing a shot of the outside of the building, moving from a window on a lower floor to one on a higher floor.) Eventually, she falls for the fiancé of the bank president's daughter, but things go wrong when he storms into her apartment while she's with the president, leading to both men's deaths.

Unfortunately, the film starts to bog down here as it develops into a more conventional love story. Bank president Courtland Trenholm (played by George Brent) sends Lily to the bank's Paris branch to hush up the controversy, but eventually ends up in Paris himself, falling head over heels for her, and using money that could be better used by the bank to buy her expensive gifts.

Even if the ending is a bit weak, Baby Face is one of the most fun pre-Codes out there. It's filled with implied sex, and other topics that just a year later couldn't be talked about at all. Even so, the original version of the movie was controversial enough that some cuts were forced. The missing footage was found a few years ago and restored however. The restored version has been released on DVD, as part of the first volume of the Forbidden Hollywood collection. (I've mentioned Volume 2, which contains Stanwyck's Night Nurse, before; that movie is airing at 10:00 AM on the 19th.) Watch Baby Face carefully, to see a brief scene with Nat Pendleton, and another about 20 minutes in with John Wayne.

No comments: