When I first heard about this film, I thought it was a live action version of Beauty and the Beast. Instead, this film tells the story of a real woman, a biracial girl raised by her father’s family. She is an heiress, but as a biracial woman, she cannot eat dinner with her family. Her adoptive father is an important judge, a judge who rules on an important case in the history of abolition.
There are moments when I feel anger at Hollywood and this is one of those moments. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dido Elizabeth Belle with grace and feeling. I had never seen this actress before but she was tremendous. However, the dearth of opportunities for women of color in Hollywood means that I will not see this actress to the extent that we deserve. I hope I am wrong. However, in the meantime, watch this film and marvel at a stupendous young actress and then demand Hollywood feature her again.
2 No 4 Street of Our Lady
The star of this movie never really appears in the film. No 4 Street in Our Lady celebrates a woman and her secrets. In World War II, this German-Polish woman kept a tremendous secret from her neighbors; she has a Jewish family hidden in her barn. And another Jewish family in her attic. And a Jewish man in her basement. She keeps this secret from her neighbors and does not even tell the families about the others that she is protecting. In a sense, she did not stop keeping this secret after the war. The families she helped would send her letters and gifts for the rest of her life and she hemmed and hawed when her children asked about them.
The woman’s courage lives alongside the courage of the families she saved. The survivors tell the stories of their sufferings and the unending peril in which they lived for years on end with no relief. One particular moving scene is where the woman’s daughter returns to her mother’s home; the home where she hid the families. She embraces another person with tears in her eyes and says simply, “Thank you mom.” She can hardly believe her mother’s courage and goodness, and it is truly moving.
Babyface is a film that everyone should see twice. I say this very specifically because there are two versions of this film starring Barbara Stanwyck. In both films, Barbra Stanwyck travels to the big city after the death of her father to start a new life and sleep her way to the top. However, because of the censorship at the time, the director edits the film and changes a key scene drastically. He also removes all references to Nietzsche. The original “director’s cut” was discovered decades after the movie was released and shows great insights into the sensibilities of the time.
This film is remarkably entertaining; my mother watched this film and loved it and kept remarking how impressed she was with the film. Barbra Stanwyck throws herself into the role completely and I couldn’t help but chuckle at how successfully she manipulates the men around her. I recommend watching the theatrically released one and then watching the “director’s cut” version afterwards. Either way, you’ll also be humming the jazzy theme song.