The story is about Luci (Linda Hayden) a young teenage girl in the North of England whose mother, the local prostitute, played as a brief non speaking cameo by Diana Dors, commits suicide rather than die of the cancer she has been diagnosed with. Luci is subsequently 'adopted' by former local boy made good Robert Quayle (Keith Barron) who had previously had a love affair with Dors before he left the town to go to Oxford. A grieving Luci suddenly finds herself in London, in the lap of luxury and a new family, Robert his wife Amy (Ann Lynn) and their son Nick (Derek Lamden) But there's no happy ending; Luci holds some resentment towards Robert for leaving her mother and cheating them of this kind of family life from the start. More, Luci's need to be loved for the first time in her life, coupled with her burgeoning wanton sexuality, starts to blur the lines of the physical or familial, distorting and twisting the lives of everyone around her as one by one she bewitches Nick, Robert and even Amy with her advances and desires.
It's a very interesting premise from the writing/producing and directing team of Guido Coen, Michael Klinger and Alasteir Reid (who adapted from the novel by Tina Chad Christian) in that, like the very best of exploitation cinema, it forces the viewer to consider the darkness, a subject matter that could easily be brushed off as sordid, and realise that it is in fact psychologically interesting. Luci is first seen brazenly walking out of school, a crowd of gawping admirers following her, heading towards a gang of boys where she promptly French kisses the leader. Clearly, Luci has learnt life's lessons far too early witnessing her mother in action. Yet in the next scene, when she stumbles across her mother's dead body in the steam filled bathroom - where we presume she's slit her wrists open - Luci suddenly becomes her age, a fearful frightened and grieving little girl. It's this flux, this precarious nature, with Luci trying on different aspects of herself - the little girl and the sexually awakened female - to gain favour, appeal and love from others, that the film concentrates upon. It's a controversial subject indeed, but it is a valuable insightful subject. However, Reid immediately hampers himself into even further controversy by casting Linda Hayden as Luci, who was just 15 years old at the time. A lot of what may be intellectually interesting to explore in exploitation is lost because there inevitably is a charge of whether the film itself is exploiting a minor, in both its subject matter and required nude scenes which Hayden performs.
We also see Vernon Dobtcheff, in another non speaking cameo as a total stranger at a cinema, all sweaty top lip and leering expression as he gropes a surprisingly calm and complicit Luci's bare leg, much to Nick's disgust and, perhaps importantly, his entrancement.
In another scene, Nick takes her to a nightclub ( with a live band called Katch 22 performing the ostensible theme of the film 'Baby Love') and the moment he goes to the bar, Luci is picked up by a young heavy set black man, again causing Nick further disgust and entrancement. It's a strange scene in which, the black man then invites Luci over to meet his friends, each of whom sit around in stony, sweaty spaced out silence. The meaning is clear; they're on drugs. And if it wasn't clear Katch 22 helpfully throw in some discordant thrashing guitars to suggest tripping. It's a weird scene, because the black man suddenly has no interest sexually in Luci, yet Nick barges in and rescues her regardless, to save her curious mind from taking anything (the black man is later seen again in a fantasy of Luci's back at home complete with jungle sound effects which show up the rather stereotypical immature allusions of both the film maker and possibly of the audience at the time) Perhaps the most interesting thing in this club scene now is to spy a young and uncredited Bruce 'Withnail and I' Robinson, as one of the spaced out clique, who gains a couple of glorious close ups that shows his beauty, but also a rather large pimple on the end of his nose.
Towards the end of the film Luci and Nick are ambushed in a lakeside forest by some leering posho rowers who clearly have a bit of sex and violence in mind for the pair. An almost Peckinpah-esque view of rape/sexual abuse occurs, mercifully slightly out of shot and interrupted before it goes too far.
Each of the scenes detailed serve to show just how aware Luci is of not just the feelings towards her from each potential partner/abuser, but principally to those of Nick's, and just how much of a manipulative prick tease she is with him. Yet, it's not always so cut and dried; in an earlier scene in which Amy takes Luci shopping (to Roberto Roma) she is so giddily excitable that she wanders from the changing room across the shop floor in just her pants, bra and tights gabbling animatedly about all the fab clothes she wants to try on. Here, she seems completely unaware of the effect her body and her sexuality has. It is here where she seems like a complete child. There's also a scene where she experiments with make up that shows off her immature nature.
Such naivety doesn't last. Luci suffers nightmares in her new home with flashbacks brought on by steamy baths and water depicting both her mother's death and her 'work' which she's had the misfortune to see first hand from an early age. Amy's natural concern for her mental well being is subtly played upon by Luci until the love starved wife (it's made clear Robert pays little care or attention to her needs) now sharing a bed with her succumbs to hitherto closed off lesbian feelings.
It's perhaps Robert who is the hardest to break, chiefly because he sees in Luci exactly what he saw in her mother all those years ago. Luci remarks that Robert was the only man her mother ever truly loved, but one can't help but wonder if the same is true for Robert? It would certainly explain how he views and treats Luci as Kryptonite to keep at arms length given how much she reminds him of her mother, and would explain just why is marriage to Amy is so cold and dead. There's a strange mix of love, dislike and straight up, albeit coldly, paternal feelings in Robert's character that makes for a Keith Barron I've never seen before. When it becomes clear he's considering sending her off to boarding school, Luci panics that she'll be in another loveless situation and figuring any love is better than no love she throws herself at him, nude in the garden. He spurns her advances, which lead to her injuring both him and Nick in a fit of rage. At the film's conclusion, both Robert and Amy are now totally aware of the malign influence the girl has and are determined that she be removed from the house. But Luci has other ideas, and as the pair head off to a party, she invites herself, dressed in fine clothes and looking more and more like a woman. The film ends there leaving the viewer to make their mind up on what potential outcome their may be in the strange set up.
For all its inherent exploitative issues, Baby Love is still an engrossing look at the darker aspects of life and in turn of cinema at the time. Whatever your opinion of this sort of film, what cannot be denied is the amazing central performance from Hayden. She was clearly at that time a star in the making and it's a shame that star only shone for a brief period in numerous exploitation and low budget features, such as Expose (blogged about earlier in the week) and the Confessions series of films, in the following decade. That she was only 15 at the time of this may be controversial, but it's equally stunning that someone of that age could produce such a mature compelling performance that depicts the deep complexities of mind and character on which the film hangs.