||Baby Love was a big movie back in 1969, when it saw its major release. Not big in budget, or even particularly big with stars, but it was a substantial hit, landing just outside the top ten moneymakers for its year. Not bad for a film that featured its biggest celebrity in its cast in a role that required no dialogue whatsoever: Diana Dors was in the very first scene, and recurred occasionally in nightmare sequences throughout the rest of the running time, but the real draw was fifteen-year-old Linda Hayden. Not long after Lolita had been such a success for Stanley Kubrick, teenage sexuality had become of an interest to movie producers and audiences alike.
Now, looking back on the British cinema of the late sixties into the seventies, it can appear that thanks to the relaxed censorship rules, the whole country had turned into a land of perverts as far as the eye could see, as if they had all discovered sex and wanted as much of it as possible. But Baby Love, despite its reputation, was not one of those salacious sex comedies that Hayden would appear in as she grew up, it was more along the lines of the serious dramas like Twinky, where teenage Susan George marries decidedly non-teenage Charles Bronson, or All the Right Noises, where teen Olivia Hussey has a May to December romance with Tom Bell.
However, it was even more perverse than those examples that at least aimed for some respectability, and many over the years have drawn comparisons with Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema, which had Terence Stamp as a mysterious, Christlike figure entering a rich Italian household and seducing the family and their maid. Not that Hayden's Luci was anything messianic, she was more an agent of chaos who was not quite aware of the damage she is doing, yet at the same time knowing the power of her sexuality is the only route she has in her life to any form of control - some would term that manipulation as well, but we are on Luci's side.
Although she was introduced French kissing a fellow pupil while her classmates gathered around after school, this was intercut with Dors as her mother committing suicide, unable to face the terminal cancer diagnosis she has, so not as racy as many who came to the film were expecting. Or hoping for, for that matter. However, Luci's mother has written a letter to Robert (Keith Barron) pleading with him to take care of the girl, since they used to be close growing up and he has done very well for himself as a Harley Street consultant, sending the mother a lifeline with the odd cheque in the post every so often to keep her head above water.
Luci's arrival in the consultant's household is seismic: she starts to alternately tease and reject Robert's teenage son, making him feel neurotically inadequate, and then starts on just about everyone who pays her any notice. In a different movie, she would have been the villain, in fact considering the way cinema was going she would have been revealed as the Devil, but Baby Love was based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Tina Chad Christian (a pseudonym for a young writer who slipped from the limelight after the fuss over her book died down) and therefore almost uniquely for the era, Luci's tale was told from her perspective.
The most controversial aspect, aside from Hayden's nude scenes, was the fact that she seduces Robert's wife Amy, played by Ann Lynn, who finds her latent lesbianism awoken by Luci's twisted need for affection and support. A consistently undervalued actress, Lynn could be seen in many key cult movies of the sixties, so much so that you may have seen her in a number of things without making the connection that she was in them all, though these days she's best known as Paul Nicholas's mum in eighties sitcom Just Good Friends. Here she was as excellent as ever, and you could see her lifting the inexperienced Hayden's performance.
Baby Love was a Michael Klinger production, and he would more or less specialise in exploitation flicks for his career, but while this was written off as one of those, it had a weird integrity that landed it more as one of his arthouse experiments like Repulsion. There would be a scene which was near-comedic, as when Luci and the son visit the pictures and she is felt up by one of the aforementioned perverts, all to the ironic soundtrack of an agricultural documentary (!), and then one far more sinister, as when she is nearly gang raped by a gang of rowers during a boating trip, which she half-encourages, but all the way through you would be caught off guard. You can completely understand why a lot of people would be immediately put off by the mere premise of Baby Love, but it was very well acted and sympathetic to a character many movies would never consider worthy of sympathy.
[Baby Love is released on Blu-ray by Network, with an image gallery as an extra. Click here to buy from the Network website.]