The Louis Malle-Polly Platt collaboration on Pretty Baby has yielded an offbeat depiction of life in New Orleans’ Storyville red-light district circa 1917, as experienced by a lifelong resident – a 12-year-old girl. The film is handsome, the players nearly all effective, but the story highlights are confined within a narrow range of ho-hum dramatization.
The time of the plot is just before Josephis Davids, Secretary of the US Navy, closed Storyville as a bad influence; the black musicians who found employment in the brothels there drifted north to Kansas City, Memphis and Chicago, later east to NY, and thereby changed forever the direction and the fabric of American popular music. But that potentially strong film plot is not what’s here.
Instead, Malle and Platt [using material in Storyville by Al Rose] have created a placid milieu in the barrelhouse owned by Frances Faye. There, Susan Sarandon is one of the girls who, in residence, has given birth to a child, in this case Brooke Shields, who gives either an extraordinarily subtle or else a totally perplexed performance as a pre-teenager whose entire world is that of the brothel.
Keith Carradine is cast as a catatonic photographer who only likes to shoot portraits of the girls. Eventually Shields and Carradine live together, but the relationship ends when Sarandon, who left to marry a customer, returns in respectability to claim the underage child. That’s it.
1978: Nomination: Best Adapted Score