1933. Two versions: before and after the cut for release. Needless to say, watch the first one.
Barbara Stanwyck plays a working class urchin, Lily, grown up into a speakeasy prostitute, manged by her brutal dad. He gets blown sky-high by his malfunctioning still, and after the funeral, Lily goes to see Cragg, one of the customers, but the only man who takes her seriously. He’s a shoemaker who gets high on Nietzsche, and he fills her head with the idea of The Will to Power. Her lack of drive disgusts him so he gives her advice: “Use men to get the things you want!”
Lily takes the advice and makes it to New York, sleeping with men all the way to get what she needs and wants. She does quite well for herself. Near the peak, she gets a set of books from Cragg, back in Erie, NY. One of them gets her attention.
She takes her philosophy seriously, very seriously. And she puts it into practice too!
The high point of the film comes when Lily is interrupted with her latest sugar daddy, the president of the bank where she was working. Her former lover, the vice president, and the prospective son-in-law of the president, can’t stand not having Lily anymore after she jilts him for the big guy. He knows he’s been replaced, but he doesn’t know by whom. Look at that dress, one of many outrageous getups she wears!
He tells her to sit down, “I just like to look at you.” And more, I bet.
He runs in, throws Lily aside, barges in, sees the old man…
…and plugs him.
Left behind in the main room, Lily calmly waits to see the outcome. She hears the shots, then hears one final shot…
She goes to investigate. She finds one man…but where’s the shooter? The following sequence goes on for what seems like quite a while. It’s silent, and very still. She moves slowly through the rooms, looking, contemplating…
Pretty nice outfit for police work…but she hasn’t found him yet. She moves on.
There he is…
Still silent, no words…nothing. It’s eerie, and very powerful.
Slowly she opens the door wider to get a better look, while we just see her bare back, obscuring the view. The sound gets louder here, as though the bathroom window is open and letting in traffic noise, but I don’t know if that’s intentional, or just a quirk of the old film material.
She shuts the door on the body…
…and we get a very, very long shot of her head, in profile, barely moving.
Finally, she calmly picks up the phone. “There’s been an accident. You’d better call the police.”