Wednesday, April 27, 2011

250 years before Baby Face

No, Hollywood wasn't making movies 250 years before they released Baby Face. I don't think anybody was. Our next selection is a movie that was set a quarter millennium or more before Baby Face, but has similar themes. That movie, Forever Amber, is coming up tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

Amber here isn't the color or the mineral, but a young woman named Amber, played by Linda Darnell. Amber is first seen as a foundling in 1640s England, not long before the English Civil War and the Oliver Cromwell era. Fast forward to 1660, by which time Cromwell has died and the monarchy has been restored. Amber's adoptive parents are Puritans, while Amber has entirely different sensibilities. She realizes she and her parents are incompatible, and much the way Barbara Stanwyck makes her way to New York after her father dies in Baby Face, Amber connives a way to escape her parents and get to London. This is only the start of a journey which sees her go through a variety of roles: actress, Moll Flanders-style thief, and trophy wife to the rich and noble; always, she's using her sex appeal to try to climb her way up the social ladder. One of those men, privateer Bruce Carlton (Cornell Wilde) becomes the love of her life and even knocks her up, but it's a love that can never be permanent. Eventually, Amber becomes a widow and one of King Charles II's (George Sanders) mistresses, while Carlton has gone off to America to make his fortune. Once he does, he comes back to London for his son....

Forever Amber shares a bit in common with the aforementioned Baby Face in that both movies are about women who want more out of life and use sex and lots of lots of men to get where they think they want to be in life, only to find out it's not quite all they thought it would be. There's one huge difference permeating the entire movie Forever Amber, though: the fact that it was made after the introduction of the Production Code. Baby Face could be much more open about its sexuality, and the novel on which the movie Forever Amber is based is apparently quite steamy. (I haven't read it, so I wouldn't know.) But it's fairly obvious that Hollywood couldn't get away with such stuff in the mid-1940s, and the Catholic Legion of Decency was there as well to ensure they wouldn't. The result is something rather watered down, but still interesting.

That interestingness is provided largely by Sanders, who was good in almost every role he played. Linda Darnell does reasonably well, but doesn't have the steely determination in her performance that Stanwyck seemed to have so many times; not only in Baby Face. As for Cornel Wilde, you have to wonder whether this was a role originally conceived with Tyrone Power in mind. He was consistently getting cast in historical movies like this, looked the leading part, had the charisma that Wilde doesn't, and probably would have been able to play the role well. Wilde, however, is the weakest of the main players. The one other key difference between Baby Face and Forever Amber is that the latter is in Technicolor, which is a plus for the movie, as a lot of historical movies are served well by color in a way that modern-day set movies like Baby Face aren't.

Forever Amber doesn't seem to be out on DVD, which is mildly surprising, and a bit of a shame.

No comments: