“It’s the men who start this. Men are responsible, damn you.”
Dan (Dan Roberts) had a steady job in the open-air until he met Priscilla (Lyn Malone); but following an ill-advised encounter with the aforementioned ‘baby face’ – and the predictable rage of her highly-strung mother – his equilibrium is disturbed by the need to dodge bullets and flee from the law. Battered, bruised and barely recognisable, our his prostrate body is found by two nubile – but not quite as young – women (Amber Hunt and Linda Wong) who proceed to nurse him back to health. Furthermore, sensitive to his predicament and need to keep a low-profile, they fix him up with a job at ‘the training camp’ – essentially, a brothel catering to an exclusively female clientele. Tall, well-dressed and sporting a prodigious moustache, the new-boy is an instant hit with the regulars, but Dan is ultimately to find that life at a stud farm is not without its hazards.
Sadly, Baby Face has been out-of-print in the United States for many years – seemingly due to concerns over its content. While it’s true that the sight of our gigantic leading-man undressing a petite, pony-tailed ‘Cuddles’ Malone is quite shocking, the latter was clearly of age at the time of filming and a plethora of schoolgirl-themed movies were produced around this time, the majority remain widely available. Perhaps the biggest problem is the scene in which Priscilla’s mother, having discovered Dan’s new vocation, visits the brothel intent on exacting revenge. What follows is extremely kinky – even by the standards of the time – and although it’s played primarily for laughs, crosses certain boundaries by mixing hardcore sex with menace and physical restraint . Anyway, leaving the rights and wrongs of (self) censorship to one side, the relative invisibility of the movie is totally regrettable as it’s a bona fide classic – one of the best loved adult films of the 1970’s. Sophisticated without being remotely serious, it’s also an excellent example of the formula that would serve DeRenzy well for more than a decade.
Baby Face isn’t exactly deep and meaningful but succeeds in spades due to the talent of its director. DeRenzy takes a perfectly straightforward tale and creates a memorable movie with a masterful blend of non-linear storytelling and erotic set-pieces. There’s an energy to the film that’s totally infectious, and informs both the narrative sequences and the sexual interludes. As seasoned viewers would likely attest, filming people having sex is not as straightforward as it sounds – the spectacle can be very, very boring – but the assured camera-work, skillful editing and enthusiastic participants ensure that’s never a problem here. Indeed, the obvious joy of the cast – most of whom are unable to act to any meaningful degree – is a crucial factor in the success of the whole. Of course, the accomplished cinematography and wonderful use of natural light also serve to differentiate the film from many contemporaneous productions.
Turning attention back to the narrative, and without wanting to suggest there’s a conscious political agenda at play, one aspect does deserve particular consideration – the centrality of the stud farm. You could argue that the idea of a brothel for women – of men being paid to provide sexual services – is actually a male fantasy, but ‘the training camp’ is indisputably run by a woman (‘the champ’), for the satisfaction of women. Right at the outset, Dan’s told not to come unless asked to – “and only if you’re asked to.” He’s subsequently introduced to a roomful of glamorous women, who instruct him to strip, and feel free to make disparaging remarks about the size of his manhood. Considering the genre is often accused of objectifying and exploiting women, it’s interesting to note that this is one of many classic films to prioritise the satisfaction of the fairer sex. In Baby Face’s most famous scene, the kinetic Kristine Heller – having exhausted two of the studs – engages the entire stable to quench her carnal thirst; and traditional gender roles are further subverted when one of the regular clients – a racing car driver, no less – taking out her professional frustrations by beating Dan with a bull-whip. I’m not sure it’s particularly ethical, but it is thematically consistent with the provision of masculine flesh for the satisfaction of powerful women.
Clearly a superior adult film, I should qualify the abundant praise with reference to my own personal preferences. Baby Face operates successfully on a number of levels – it’s well-paced, well-produced, and enjoyable from start to finish – but it isn’t among my personal favourites. Fundamentally, this is light-weight entertainment – well-executed but without any real depth. DeRenzy directed a sequel (in the loosest possible sense) to Baby Face many years later, but the film that followed it chronologically – Femmes DeSade – is of greater historical significance.
Note: Baby Face has had several, seemingly legitimate US releases since the initial publication of this review, most recently from Vinegar Syndrome.