Pretty Baby (1978): Louis Malle’s Melodrama, Starring Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields as Prostitutes

After making a series of acclaimed and controversial films in his native France, director Louis Malle made his American debut with Pretty Baby, a disturbing mother-daughter melodrama.

The story concerns Hattie (Susan Sarandon), a prostitute working in New Orleans’ Storyville district at the turn of the century. She gets pregnant, and gives birth to a daughter named Violet, raising her in the brothel where she continues to work.

Twelve years later, Violet (Brooke Shields) is old enough to attract the attention of the brothel’s customers, but she is still naïve

With Hattie’s consent, Violet’s virginity is auctioned off to the customers.  Violet experiences growing pains when she draws the affection of E. J. Bellocq (Keith Carradine), a photographer who has been working on a photo series about Storyville prostitutes. Violet’s blend of childlike innocence and adult sensuality attracts him, but their relationship becomes problematic, especially after Hattie leaves Violet behind to get married.

Louis Malle followed his American debut with a better picture in 1981, the Oscar-nominated Atlantic City, also starring Susan Sarandon, who was his girlfriend at the time.

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Original Score: Jerry Wexler

Oscar Awards: None

 

Oscar Context:

The Oscar winner was Joe Renzetti for “The Buddy Holy Story.”

MPAA: R

Running time: 109 min.

Directed By: Louis Malle

Written By: Polly Platt

Released: April 5, 1978

DVD: November 18, 2003