"Baby Face"-Alfred E. Green-1933
The New York Post proclaimed Lily Powers to be " a vixen of the lowest order>" The reviewer probably hadn't seen the original version which was rejected by the censors in New York. Warner Brothers pulled the original and made quite a few changes. The pulled version remained in a Library of Congress until 2004. When that version was discovered it made its way to film festivals, Turner Classic, and to The National Film Registry within a year.. It has been named "one of the top ten films which called the Production Code to be enforced."
Remember this is the depth of the Great Depression. The entire movie industry was at risk. Warner and other major studios were taking major risks in hopes of finding an audience. Warner Brothers were known for gangster films, but that wasn't the only arrow in their quiver. Films with risky sexuality were another option. The story was written by Darryl F, Zanuck, then production head at Warner Brothers. He sold the story for one dollar; he was making $3500 a week, so it wasn't a sacrifice. Barbara Stanwyck (Lily Powers) starred in several early Capra films "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" and "Miracle Woman" which pushed the Production Code boundaries.
The film opens with Lily Powers working in her father's speakeasy in Erie, PA. He had been selling her sexual favors since she was 14. Her friend and co-worker Chico (Thelma Harris) is a young black woman. The soundtrack makes use of two songs, "Baby Face" and the "St. Louis Blues" beneath the action. When the still under the club explodes killing her father, Lily is at a crossroads. She seeks advice from a local shoemaker and regular customer. He is an ardent reader of Friedrich Nietzsche. Her urges Lily to leave Erie and go to the big city. There she should use her beauty and personality to exploit men and get what she wants. Lily takes his advice; she hops a freight with Chico. However, they are discovered and threatened with 30 days jail time. Lily talks him out of this using sex. We never see the sex, but the implication is clear.
The poster advertising the film shows Stanwyck standing next to a ladder. The implication is clear, she will climb to the top man by man. One of her early conquests at the NYC bank where she finds a job is John Wayne. She ends up some years later with the bank president, Cortland Trenholm (George Brent). Brent was the favorite leading man of Betty Davis. Chico remains with Lily throughout her climb, but she appears as a servant. Thelma Harris had a long career in Hollywood; she was a singer and dancer as well as an actress. This film relationship is outside the Hollywood norm. Stanwyck had the ability to make unlikeable characters come alive often with some redeaming qualities. While her performance in "Double Indemnity" is for me the pinnacle, this take is just below the summit.
Unfortunately, free streaming options require jumping through hoops. If you Have Turner Classic, it is available there, and it can be rented on Prime for two bucks. Highly recommended.
Baby Face does show up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. I have seen pieces of it, but not enough or recent enough to comfortably give an opinion. As far as the pinnacle performances of Barbara Stanwyck, in addition to "Double Indemnity", I would toss in "The Lady Eve" and "Ball of Fire", none of which could be classified as traditional good girl roles.