12 posts categorized "Hollywood"

December 07, 2017


      ColeSmithey.com  Welcome!

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The Millennial Conformist

Or How To Learn To Love A Karen Without Really Trying


ColeSmithey.comBY COLE SMITHEY

Who is Karen? And why are people constantly dropping her name? | Columbia  Basin | ifiberone.comMy name is not Karen, it's Lady Bird. I am a bird, and an idiot. Okay?!

The buck stops here.

If, after reading this article, you think I'm full of shit, I welcome you to watch my Bossa Nova guitar video — look over to your right. As you can plainly see, I put my whole heart into everything that I do.

Some trolling members of the media have attempted to hijack me; that hasn't worked out so well for them. It took Warren Zevon to write, "Time treats everybody like a fool" in his amazing song "Roll With The Punches."

It's a lesson that certain named, and unnamed, members (i.e. trolls) of the so-called media at large could stand to learn from Zevon's lesson in common sense.


Agnès Varda, the progenitor of the French New Wave, famously said, "I fought for radical cinema all my life."

I'm on Varda's side. I too fight for radical cinema. "Lady Bird" is the antithesis of that. I suggest you do a comparison test for yourself.

Any one of Agnes Varda's 32 films mops the floor with Greta Gerwig's filmic turd.

"Lady Bird" is a toxic film, not the least of which is/was the film's ability to infect its viewers with a racist agenda without the victim ever feeling the needle's prick.

Let's get down to business, shall we?

Lady Bird is a KAREN. The fact is indisputable and undeniable. Racist, homophobic, lazy, petty, selfish, sociopathic, disloyal, and dishonest, Lady Bird would make an ideal employee for Donald Trump. It might have taken a while for the Karen meme to catch up with Lady Bird, but the cow is in the kitchen now.

Is/was the Rottentomatoes Tomatometer being/been used as corporate tool to push forward a racist agenda? I think so. Any time you see corporate media parroting the same lie over and over on a critic, you know something is rotten in Denmark.

The cavalcade of KAREN journalists who attempted to silence me after I gave "Lady Bird" its first negative review, are now tarred with their own brush of ignorance, or their own shade of racism. The phony narrative these parroting media dolts created, that I "purposefully lowered Lady Bird's 100%" (this statement is categorically untrue) was at odds with "purposefully" giving the movie a less-than-glowing review is an exquisite example of the wrongheaded logic that Donald Trump exhibits every second of every single day.

I suppose that "Lady Bird" is a perfect piece of right-wing propaganda, considering that the film's obvious bigoted agenda seems to go over the head of so many people. The media lie is that all of the other 4000 film reviews I've written over the past 24 years were without purpose. The premise is idiotic.

ColeSmithey.comMiguel doesn't get much screentime, but he sure does clean up well. 

Was protecting "Lady Bird's perfect 100% score on Rottentomatoes" a dog-whistle expression of racist corporate oppression? It sure seems that way. Why were so many big media editors so vested in protecting "Lady Bird" as an unassailable film worthy of a ridiculous amount of praise?

Think Donald Trump.

Another question is, how many Karens did Greta Gerwig help create with this film? I'm betting, a lot.

RottenTomatoes is owned by Warner Media (25%) and by NBC Universal (75%). I think I'm beginning to apprehend the social significance of the RT 100% score, and you can damn well bet it's linked to systemic racism, and to white supremacy.

ColeSmithey.comLady Bird goes full Karen. Racist much Greta Gerwig?

By the way, there's no such thing as a perfect movie, so get it together people. Unless you are in the film business, no one in their right mind should give a flying fuck about a Rottentomatoes 100% movie score, unless they are acting on some hidden agenda.

When corporate media feign indignation at such an insipid thing, your bullshit detector should hit the red. What precisely was it about "Lady Bird" that required such staunch protection? The message being sent by the media to audiences and critics was clear, don't use critical thought, and don't criticize a female film character who supports Donald Trump's ideology in everything she does. If you do, we'll crush you like a bug.

ColeSmithey.comThat's right Miguel, I am a fucking racist, and "fucking evil."


Exterminating critical thought was a a top priority for a number of news outlets, and yet there wasn't single a one willing to take my side, namely that "Lady Bird" is not a great movie. Upon closer inspection, "Lady Bird" is a potentially dangerous piece of racist propaganda. Silence speaks volumes. How is it that none of these editors thought I wouldn't come back at them with my own critical truth about a movie that people watch everyday on Netflix. NPR might pretend to do independent journalism, but I do it for real, and I'm investigating this thing to my satisfaction.

So buckle up.

Here is a list of some of the Karen-friendly reprobates who call dare to call themselves "journalists:" Benjy Egel at SacBee News —I followed up with Danny Vandegriff in the McClatchy Publishing Center. Danny was kind enough to forward this article to the SacBee newsroom; they remain deathly silent on the situation. The newspaper's days are numbered. McClatchy filed for bankruptcy in February of 2020.

Time wounds all heels Benjy Egel), Kate Lindsay (Refinery 29 — whose Editor has since resigned over racist practices — coincidence? No.), Hunter Harris (Vulture — this one is special, Harris called "Lady Bird" "hella tight," and refers to mumblecore survivor Greta Gerwig as "goddess divine," reflecting the current state of criticism at New York Magazine — vomiting all of the time now), Olivia Harvey (HelloGiggles.com - yes it's really called Hello Giggles - file under clueless), Zack Sharf (Indiewire —Hey Zack, Here's your posterior anatomy sliced thinly on a cardboard plate. Bon appétit.), Naiper Lopez (The Next Web — Hey Napier, that's a hole in the ground), eternal frat boy Nicholas Thompson (of the union-busting Condé Nast — corporate malfeasance much Nick?), and second eternal frat boy Simon Van Zulen-Wood (Wired — Hey Simon, you were owned before you got owned son.), and Paul Farrell (Irish Central — Hey Paul, Saroise is no peach. Sorry to pop your balloon. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!).

May these unethical useless-content creators meet a fate appropriate to that of their immoral and unethical heroine. And, may none of them ever hear the end of me. Nonetheless, I predict that at least half of these reprobates will be out of a job within the next year.

ColeSmithey.comStanding my ground in the face of a corporate media firestorm aimed at me. I'm still standing fuckers. 

  "Don't you start me talkin' 'cause I'll tell everything I know."


It has become clear in recent years, since the media-at-large's fictitious ire at my "ruining "Lady Bird's perfect score on RottenTomatoes," that "Lady Bird"  (with its Trumpian lead character) supports the same racist, homophobic, disloyal, dishonest, lowest common denominator values as one Donald Trump. Did the movie give Trump boost? It still does, just go watch it on Netflix right now, and tell me what you think. 


Since being drawn toward the magnetic sespool of the Tomatometer to give “Lady Bird” a better grade than this flawed film deserved I had been watching and discussing French Films (“Le Samorai,” “My Golden Days,” “Murmur of the Heart,” “Rendez-Vous,” and “Les Valseuses”) with my podcast partner Mike Lacy on our series LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST). Context, it’s always there.

Each of these French films blow “Lady Bird” out of the water. French Cinema is reliable. Watching “Lady Bird” in the midst of such powerful films was a lesson in hack work vs. quality Cinema. Admittedly, it took a second viewing of "Lady Bird" to catch the part where Greta Gerwig breaks an essential rule of dramaturgy regarding reliable protagonists. Saoirse Ronan's character is reliably unreliable in this department. 

ColeSmithey.comGolly gee Danny, I really hope your sexuality doesn't conflict with my limited world view, you know white-bread and vanilla as fuck. 

In preparation for our podcast discussion of “Lady Bird,” I went to my local 86th Street cinema on the Upper East Side and watched Greta Gerwig's over-hyped movie a second time. I discovered a litany of bogus character traits for the title character that paint a picture of an entitled, conniving, cheating, vapid, disloyal, snotty, conformist white girl going through a phony personality crisis so she can put-on her next “Basic” (à la “Ingrid Goes West”) identity as one more white female college student in New York City with rocks in her head. 

Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) objectives of getting laid and going to college far away from her parents are the plot engines that drive the film’s narrative.

ColeSmithey.comLady Bird is nothing if not a textbook narcissist. 

A red flag goes up during the opening of the movie when Lady Bird jumps from the speeding car her mom is driving because she (Lady Bird) can’t handle having the conversation. Lady Bird isn’t just immature; she’s suicidal. Still, no psychiatric exam, therapy, or medication follows for our manic (possibly bi-polar or manic depressive) high school student with a nasty attitude. You might expect a serious response from a mom (Laurie Metclaf) who works as a shrink, but you will be sorely disappointed.

ColeSmithey.com class=I couldn't have said it better myself. —Cole Smithey

A cast on her broken arm is all Lady Bird needs to judge Danny (Lucas Hedges), a closeted gay boy she briefly dates before abandoning him after catching him kissing another boy. It will [ostensibly] take a few years for Christine (Lady Bird) to purchase her LGBT glasses. In the meantime it's just the "Me, me, me, me, me" all-day song).

She goes on to dump her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) in favor of hanging out with insufferable preps. 

Lady Bird gives up on the school play because she has no patience for Danny's burgeoning sexuality. Never mind that Danny and the school play are the most interesting things Lady Bird has going on in her life. She doesn't have any sense of loyalty to her own best friend. She is a dolt who also happens to be a poor judge of character.

Oh, and the whole poverty thing, it's just a ruse. Who is anyone kidding? This family is not poor in any real definition of the word. The girl goes to a private school for crying out loud.

ColeSmithey.comI'm here to speak to the manager about the butt plug I ordered! It was dirty! Not that there was dirt on it, oh you know what I mean! Dirty in a way that I don't like!

The fact that Lady Bird prefers “dry-humping” to penetration could be a potential deal-breaker for some would-be suitors. "Dry-humping" indeed. Talk about unclear on a concept, chewing gum must take a lot of brain power for Karen.

The biggest coincidence between my own history with grading this movie comes after Lady Bird steals and ditches her teacher’s notebook containing all of his class records. Lady Bird’s expulsion-taunting subterfuge allows her and her fellow students to tell the teacher his or her current grade based on the honor system.

Lady Bird lies in order to squeak her grade from a “C+ or a B-“ to a B. It is this precise lie that allows Lady Bird to get into college. You couldn’t exactly call Lady Bird a model student, “bad animal” is more like it. She isn't even a narcissist for a good cause; Lady Bird's super-objective is to be the ultimate conformist. Her taste in music speaks volumes. Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews tells you all you need to know.

ColeSmithey.comColeSmithey.comSo, you know, just be really really snotty 'cause you are the shiznit. Keep your hands on your hips. Supremacy, we need to show supremacy! You go gurl! Dominion baby.

The story is set in 2002, before there were surveillance cameras everywhere. If Lady Bird pulled such a stunt in 2017, she’d be expelled from school and going to community college in her parents’ back yard.

So it is that narrative cracks spread far and wide in our anti-heroine of limited ethical and intellectual abilities. Lady Bird earns our disrespect when she insults her Ivy League-graduated step-brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) after being accepted into UC Davis. Rather than being happy about getting accepted into such a respected college, Lady Bird throws a spoiled brat temper tantrum and tells Miguel that the only reason he got accepted into Harvard was because he was a minority.

Miguel rightfully calls Lady Bird a “racist,” as the film goes permanently off the rails. Why is the audience being asked to empathize with a racist? There's something fishy going on here.

ColeSmithey.comNo friend of Karen will be a friend for long.

Nobody can say all that they know. There are many more defects in "Lady Bird" than I have mentioned here, but alas those secrets are safe with me since I'm evidently the only film critic around who sees "Lady Bird" for the misguided film it is.

I suspect that many audiences who return to "Lady Bird" will be disappointed at how the movie stands up on a second viewing. It's a much worse movie the second time around, I promise you.  

ColeSmithey.comKaren haircut, check. I will now burn a hole through your African American mind with my shitty attitude! See?! Do you see it in my cold blue eyes?!

ColeSmithey.comListen here little bitch, that shit don't fly in my office. I got cops trying to kill me and my family, and you think I'm going to put up with your silly-ass shit, you got another thing coming.

Let there be no confusion about my grading of “Lady Bird.” It is a movie that fails on the most important level of maintaining empathy with its faux non-conformist protagonist of dubious intent. The film's failings are masked by an obtuse use of music, quick-cutting, and some over-leveraged emotional gesturing between the mother and daughter to play to a viewer’s heartstring as the lasting theme of the movie. Deceit is the actual theme of the movie.

How embarrassing for everyone involved.


Don’t believe me? Watch “Lady Bird” twice like I did, and you will see everything I’ve expressed here.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d give “Lady Bird” ZERO STARS. What a waste of time


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity helps keep the reviews coming!



Mike holds Cole's feet to the fire as Cole lays out character flaw after character flaw for Saoirse Ronan's asinine persona in what is already one of the most overrated films of all time.

MAGIC HAT BREWING'S #9 provided a nice buzz to the discussion. You can read the print essay (THE MILLENNIAL CONFORMIST — OR HOW TO LEARN TO LOVE STUPIDITY WITHOUT REALLY TRYING), watch the video essay, and listen to the podcast. Since Cole is the only film critic to spell out "Lady Bird's" flaws, at least he doesn't hold back. 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and follow us on SOUNDCLOUD. And tell your friends! 

Screen Shot 2023-06-02 at 4.40.54 PM

Here is my original review of Lady Bird.


Although dramatically flat, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age directorial debut covers its Mumblecore tracks with jabs of humor and a breeze of earthy authenticity.Set in Sacramento, California (Gerwig’s hometown), the story focuses on the fraught relationship between Lady Bird (a.k.a. Christine — played by Saoirse Ronan) and her overworked mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), whose emotions run hot or cold. Marion’s Scorpio tendencies are exacerbated by the family’s unemployed father Larry (wonderfully played by Tracy Letts in a thankless role).

The armpit city of Sacramento will forever be indebted to Greta Gerwig for making it seem like a much better place than it is to live.  


It’s Lady Bird’s senior year at a private Catholic girls’ high school from which our self-named heroine attempts to assert as much independence as her small town surroundings will allow, which is to say more than any kid living in 2017 should expect.

Participating in the school play sets up a romantic endeavor with Lucas Hedges’s Danny, a boy with a secret. Talk about being mad about the wrong boy, Lady Bird is no judge of character or of sexual affiliation.


Other social opportunities arrive as predictable let-downs for our girl-with-a-problem. Even losing her virginity occurs with a whimper. Lady Bird (“Amelie” reference — check) wants/needs to get as far away from her mother, and Sacramento, as possible. You can’t blame her one bit.

But to be clear, "Lady Bird" is far from a perfect film, it's just not the mumblecore disaster you'd expect from Greta Gerwig — one of the mumblecore movement's prime progenitors. There are dozens of coming-of-age films that far outweigh this lightweight contender. Think "Kes" or "Murmur of the Heart." Greta Gerwig has a long way to go as a filmmaker before she can pretend to approach a Ken Loach or a Louis Malle, much less Céline Sciamma's tour de force "Girlhood" from 2015.


If Lady Bird were true to her character, she'd never speak to her mother again after asking mom for the "number" that represents the amount of money she spent raising her so that she (Lady Bird) can pay her back and have nothing to do with her ever again. Lady Bird's mom earned that amount of disgust from her daughter; she deserved it. Lady Bird doesn't have the courage of her convictions after all. If ever there was a signature mumblecore trait, this is it.

"Lady Bird" is a mediocre film about moving toward institutional conformity. I the words of the poet/singer/author Jim Carroll, "It ain't no contribution to rely on the institution to validate your chosen art or to sanction your boredom and let you play out your part."

Rated R. 94 mins.

This review was amended on 1/24/18. 









I was surprised to discover my name popping up in a Wired Magazine article online.

Wired Magazine said, “A couple of years ago, an approved critic named Cole Smithey, who writes for Colesmithey.com, bragged about intentionally tanking Lady Bird's then-100 percent rating with a negative review.”

That sentence is a lie. What I tweeted in my public response to all of the social media hullabaloo over my film review of "Lady Bird" was, “Context is everything. I had to consider whether to cast “Lady Bird” as Fresh or Rotten in the context of a perfect score that people were using to trumpet “Lady Bird” as the all-time best reviewed movie on RT. A "B-" does not an "A+" make.”

Why is corporate media so happy to punch down on a film critic? 

I lived in San Francisco from 1985 to 1997, so I was hip to Wired Magazine from its launch in 1993 when I decided to become a professional film critic. Wired is a Condé Nast publication, and it just so happens that I take tourists by the Park Avenue building where Condé Montrose Nast lived for decades. Hilarious, I know. But not so funny is the lie that Wired editor-in-chief, and eternal frat, boy Nicholas Thompson endorsed when his fact-checkers found nothing wrong with his editorial malfeasance after I brought it to their attention, and to his after I left him a phone message about the situation.

So, I sent Nicholas Thompson the following letter to the editor. Bon Appétit.

Hi Nick,

Until now I thought Wired was a good publication with responsible editorial oversight. But my opinion has changed since dealing with your fact checker over problems with the following graf in SimonVan Zulen-Wood’s Wired article, "Behind the Scenes at Rotten Tomatoes."

“These changes took place in tandem with a parallel overhaul of its critics' criteria, designed to make its Tomato­meter more representative. Prior to August 2018, Tomatometer-approved critics were almost exclusively staff writers from existing publications, who tended to be whiter, maler, and crustier. Since the site changed its policies, it's added roughly 600 new critics—the majority of whom are freelancers and women. But that also means there are now a stunning 4,500 critics, some of whom inevitably will be terrible. A couple of years ago, an approved critic named Cole Smithey, who writes for Colesmithey.com, bragged about intentionally tanking Lady Bird's then-100 percent rating with a negative review.”

In response to people making a big deal out of coincidence over substance, I made one tweet at the time in which I stated, “Context is everything. I had to consider whether to cast “Lady Bird” as Fresh or Rotten in the context of a perfect score that people were using to trumpet “Lady Bird” as the all-time best reviewed movie on RT. A "B-" does not an "A+" make.”

How my honest description of my critical process gets twisted into “bragging” is gilding the lily, to say the least. Simon isn’t even paraphrasing what I said. The least Simon could do is use my quote. I don’t say anything about affecting Lady Bird’s score on RottenTomatoes. This sentence is fiction, “bragged about intentionally tanking Lady Bird's then-100 percent rating with a negative review.” On that I hope we can agree. BS is BS.

Simon ignores the fact that I wrote an editorial follow-up to my initial review, The Millennial Conformist Or How To Learn To Love Stupidity Without Really Trying which might have informed Simon more as to my detailed analysis of a Trumpian, openly racist, female character bereft of loyalty, honesty, or social regard for a humanist vision. All Cinema should be humanist. Sadly, it is not so anymore.

Simon infers, in the context of the graf, that I was one of 600 new critics added to RT in 2018. In fact, I have contributed to Rotten Tomatoes since 2005. I began reviewing film in 1997 for alt weekly The Independent in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina.

ColeSmithey.comSince then I have been responsible for writing weekly film reviews and entertainment features for the national alternative newsweekly market and regional and international magazine market — including such print outlets as Arkansas Times, Arriviste Press, Bellingham Weekly, Boise Weekly, Boston’s Weekly Dig, CT Slant (Hartford, CT), C-Ville Weekly (Charlottesville, VA), Charleston City Paper, Chico News & Review, Cineman Syndicate, CityBeat (Cincinnati, OH), Colorado Springs Independent, City View (Des Moines, IA), Drill Magazine, Eugene Weekly, Flagpole Magazine (Athens, GA), Folioweekly (Jacksonville, FL), Illinois Times, The Improper Magazine, The Independent Weekly (Durham, NC), Jest Magazine (Manhattan, NY), The Jewish Magazine (Toronto, CA), L.A. Weekly, Las Vegas Weekly, Maui Time, Metro [Manhattan daily edition], MetroActive (San Jose, CA), Monterey County Weekly, North of the James (Richmond, VA), Northern Express (Traverse City, MI), Nuvo (Indianapolis, IN), New York Press, Oklahoma Gazette, Orlando Weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander (Spokane, WA), Seven Days (Burlington VT), Style Weekly (Richmond VA), Tacoma Reporter, Toledo City Paper, Unleashed Magazine, Upscale Magazine, Valley Scene (Los Angeles). I have contributed to such online outlets as DailyRadar, Forbes, and aNewDomain, for whom I covered the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

I hope you will have the journalistic integrity to correct these errors that mischaracterize me, my career, and my sense of journalistic integrity.

I should also add that Tim Ryan is my colleague; we hung out in Cannes together. Should you desire a character reference, you can vet me through Tim.

On a brighter note, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you on my film and fiction walking tour of Carnegie Hill, “5th & Park.” I’m happy to comp you and yours on this film and fiction adventure that meets in front of the Guggenheim Museum, and ends at the steps to the Metropolitan Museum of Art — a great excuse to visit the Met. The tour is available daily at 3 p.m. Just let me know a week in advance so I can reserve the tour for you.

Thanks much for all.


-end letter-



September 17, 2016



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!


ColeSmithey.comYou know you’re in trouble when momentary flashbacks from previous films in a franchise make you wish you were watching one of them instead of the dreary cinematic rendering before your eyes.

It’s debatable which one’s holding up better — Colin Firth or his nine-years junior co-star Renee Zellweger, but watching Patrick Dempsey break character as a passive-aggressive third wheel is enough to turn your stomach. If you didn’t figure it out; Bridget won’t know which one is the dad until the baby is born and a DNA test can be done. Oh the problems of the upper class.


Bridget is none too saddened by the recent death of her former boytoy Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), whose plane “went down in the bush.” She might be lonely, but Bridget’s female co-workers are busy with gangbangs and threesomes at handy dandy London sex clubs. Never mind, this movie doesn’t dare go there. Committee screenwriters Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer, and Emma Thompson would rather take their target audience of white-ladies-who-lunch on a foray into an imaginary music festival land of weekend glamping in yurts. Naturally, Bridget wears an all white outfit with six-inch spike heels. If you are male, and have made it this far in this review, you’re work here is done.


If, on the other hand you are a non-white female you will have your work cut out for you to not run for the restroom to vomit at the disgusting patronizing yet condescending tack this film takes in making romance seem like a dump you take after being constipated for five days.


Director Sharon Maguire (helmer on the franchise debut “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) — at least they got the punctuation right — spares no excuse to crank up the most obvious and outdated musical cues in the history of modern-day Hollywood. Sitting on the couch alone: cue “All By Myself.” Having a pity party for one: play “Jump Around.” What would a party scene be without “Gangnam Style”? And the musical atrocities go on, and on, and on, and on, and on. Don’t believe me? Well, there’s “Fuck You” (by Lily Allen) during a fit of pique. And what cheesy rom-com would be complete without “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” paired with “Up Where We Belong.” Talk about on-the-nose telegraphing, it’s like a nervous tic.


And, why a baby? With a movie as stillborn as this one, there’s no point in trying to pretend humor. There is not one joke, pratfall, or line of dialogue that will induce even a brief smile. If you’re 60, white, and female, you’ll chuckle for no good reason, but you already do that anyway. I’m sure the screenwriters laughed plenty at their own not-funny jokes. For the rest of us, there is no boredom less compelling than sitting through this irredeemable piece of cinematic trash.

Rated R. 122 mins.

1 Star


Cozy Cole



August 12, 2016



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!



In podcast episode #17 of LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST), the great Thelma Adams joins Mike and I to discuss "Baby Face," an amazing Pre-Code film staring Barbara Stanwyck. while drinking MAUI BREWING SWELL IPA.


ColeSmithey.comBased on a story written by Hollywood studio maverick Darryl F. Zanuck (head of 20th Century Pictures), co-screenwriters Kathryn Scola and Gene Markey create a satirical exploitation picture teeming with social currency. This politically challenging piece of dramaturgy could have come straight from New York’s Group Theatre, whose lead playwright Clifford Odets incited theatre audiences of the era with activist plays such as “Waiting for Lefty.”

Darryl Zanuck was on a career tear with a string of successes when he wrote “Baby Face,” which Warner Brothers and Vitaphone produced. The Jazz Singer (1927), The Public Enemy (1931), and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) were all Zanuck-produced films.


With its outré sensibilities around sexual power wielded by a woman, “Baby Face” (1933) became a lightening rod for the Hays Code, which effectively blocked [empowered] female characters from appearing in American movies once the policy took hold on July 1, 1934. Although the code was created in 1929, no heed was given to it until ’34.


Barbara Stanwyck is off the charts as a streetwise woman from Erie, Pennsylvania whose father has turned their home into a speakeasy and brothel, featuring Lily as a combination of man-pleasing waitress and prostitute. Stanwyck’s confidence as her character melds with her utter mastery of acting craft.


“Baby Face” is possibly the only film in the canon of American cinema where a father (played by a cigar-chomping Robert Barrat) pimps out his own daughter. Still, Lily doesn’t pull any punches when a customer’s advances are unwanted, regardless of his social standing. A local politician gets a cup of hot coffee poured him, as well as a bottle to the head when he comes on strong after following her into her bedroom.


Lily’s conscious adjustment of attitude and ambition comes from Cragg (Alphonse Ethier), a Swedish Nietzsche-quoting cobbler who briefly mentors Lily after her father’s untimely death. Gragg advises Lily to use her sexual power over men to get what she wants. “You must be a master, not a slave,” he tells her. Gregg goes on to read from Nietzsche’s “The Will to Power.”

“All life, no matter how we idealize it, is nothing more nor less than exploitation.”

Lily takes to the cobbler’s advice like a fish to water. In Stanwyck’s subtle facial expression we see the penny drop.


It’s telling that for years the only available version of “Baby Face” was one that edited out this scene’s trenchant ideological dialogue. Even so, the film’s thematic-reversing climax reneges on Nietzsche’s position by valuing sentimentality over calculated ambition.

Director Alfred E. Green graphically presents Lily’s climb up the corporate ladder with exterior shots of the bank building’s high-rise walls on whose windows are painted with the title of each branch. Lily works her way up from the filing department to the accounting department and on, leaving behind her the men whose lives she has ruined, some more so than others.


A key character element comes though Lily’s fluid ability to learn on the job. She is never anything less than good at each position she ascends to. Moralists of the day would surely have called Lily a slut, but Stanwyck’s Lily proves smarter than anyone she comes into contact with — man or woman. Regardless of how morally superior every corporate man she meets, pretends to be, it’s always a front to get what they want, sex from Lily.


Lily’s transition from lower class tramp to high society dame succeeds via Orry-Kelly’s sensual, if extravagant, costume designs. Ever the master of dramatic beats, Stanwyck works every thread of the enticing dresses and furs she wears as if she were born in them. Lily transforms into a goddess for the audience to worship.

The film’s closing moral message is as right wing as they come. Patriarchal advice proves reliably flawed, no matter the validity of its philosophical intention.    

America Cinema has seldom witnessed such a powerful self-possessed capitalist as Lily. Here is a blatant affront to generations of American provincial female teachings that value virginity over sexual freedom. Lily likes giving it away, for a cause — herself. The men are only too happy to pay without even being asked.

Not Rated. 73 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole



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