Pretty Baby (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Tuna's notes in yellow:

Pretty Baby (1978) is a slice of life in a bordello in Storyville, New Orleans in 1917, the last days that prostitution was legal. The story focuses on hooker Susan Sarandon, her 12 year old daughter, Brooke Shields, and a photographer who takes a liking to both of them. As the film opens, Sarandon is giving birth to a baby boy. She eventually marries a john and leaves, but not before her daughter's cherry is auctioned off to the highest bidder. After being beaten, Shields runs away, and goes to live with the photographer. When her welcome there wears out, she returns to the whorehouse to find that it has been shut down. Then, inexplicably, the photographer, who has no sexual interest in women, marries her. I will leave the closing plot twist to those who choose to watch it for the first time.

Pretty Baby was nominated for an Oscar for best music, and won a technical merit award at Cannes. The score, mostly period jazz and blues was brilliant, the atmosphere was exactly right, the  cinematography was wonderful. The story, however, never really engaged me. If writer/director Louis Malle had a point, he failed to make it with me. On the other hand, it was likely an accurate portrayal of the Storyville sporting houses in 1917, was dripping with atmosphere, and had a naked Susan Sarandon.


  • Brooke Shields (age 12 at the time, does full frontal and rear nudity.)
  • Susan Sarandon shows her breasts in two scenes. Her buns are seen briefly from the side, and there may or may not be a fleeting glimpse of her pubic area from the side view only.
  • There is miscellaneous incidental nudity (no pubic hair) and some see-throughs from various other actresses playing  prostitutes.
Scoop's notes in white:

The two factors that make movies great are atmosphere and pacing. It is not difficult to write an interesting story, or to hire competent actors, or even to create interesting people, but it is very difficult to place everything in the right context - sights, sounds, texture, and the most difficult element of atmosphere, tone. It is even more difficult to master pacing, to reach the point that great directors reach, where audiences would not want their movies a minute shorter or longer, and the audience members never find their attention drifting.

Atmosphere and pacing.

If atmosphere were 100% of the game, Louis Malle would be Orson Welles, Kurosawa, Kubrick, and Bergman rolled into one. But it isn't. And he's not.

If you look at still captures from Louis Malle's films while listening to the soundtrack, you'd think he must be the greatest director of all. He isn't.

He is a master of tone and texture, but the man has no sense of pacing at all. You sit and watch this movie liking the characters, finding the premise intriguing, admiring the period reproduction, dazzled by the beauty of the photography, and falling asleep. Sometimes the feeling that overcomes you is worse than drowsiness. It is embarrassment. You see those actors on the screen, and they seem to be wondering why the scene hasn't ended yet, and guessing what they should do next. They never seem to know how quickly to respond to their cues, and they always seem to be looking around, wondering why the camera is on them when they are merely observing the real action, which is transpiring elsewhere. If they were in a home movie, they'd be pointing Uncle Bill to the true cynosure - "no, point the camera over there, not here".

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, superlative transfer.

  • but no features of any kind

I'm giving you the wrong impression. Louis Malle is not a bad director. He's a very good one who should have been great but just seemed to be missing the final ingredient. How can you make a film about a 12 year old prostitute soporific, even though it is beautiful to look at, and the soundtrack is sexy and appropriate?

I don't know, but he did it. It is still worth watching, but you'll be haunted with the feeling that it should have been so much more.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed about $6 million in the USA.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C (Tuna) to C+ (Scoop). The film has so many strengths that you should watch it if you have any interest in artistic historical dramas, but be fairly warned the whole is less than the sum of its parts. (And be advised that it presents a 12 year old naked in a sexual context).

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