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Baby Love (1968) | Linda Hayden is a knockout in this dark and disturbing British sex drama

Baby Love DVD cover

Would YOU give a home to a girl like Luci?
When her mother Liz (Diana Dors) commits suicide, 15-year-old Luci (Linda Hayden) leaves the Lancashire slums to live with Liz’s former lover, Robert Quayle (Keith Barron), and his family at their posh Hampton Court home. Haunted by her mother’s death and overawed by her new surroundings, Luci swings between depression and excitement, but her arrival also brings out deep-seated fears, guilt and desires within her adoptive family whom she seduces and ultimately destroys…

Baby Love (1968)

Sex, class and teenage fury!
Adapted from a novel by Tina Chad Christian, Baby Love was released in the UK at the same time as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, and both share the same central theme of a stranger who destroys a family and its societal values from within. Fuse that with a disturbing Lolita-styled story, a cracking cast and excellent colour photography and you have one helluva film. When it was released in 1968, it was the UK’s 11th most popular film of the year. Today, it’s ripe for rediscovery.

Baby Love (1968)

The opening titles certainly lets the viewer in on what to expect. It starts with droplets, followed by a trickle, then the viewer is showered with the full force of its fury in an explosive finale which is set in motion with the chilling line: ‘Don’t you want to play with your little doll?’ And the doll in question is Linda Hayden, who brings great depth and sensitivity to her troubled character, Luci, who alternates from being a lost child yearning for love to a sensual young woman testing the boundaries of her burgeoning sexuality. Hayden, who was herself just 15 at the time, would go onto star in the cult horror classics, Taste the Blood of Dracula for Hammer (1970) and Blood on Satan’s Claw for Tigon (1971), as well as the Confessions… sex comedies for Michael Klinger, the producer of Baby Love. But this is her finest hour.

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Every scene builds an atmosphere of tension, and that’s down to the imaginative direction, tight editing and evocative camera work. Diana Dors’ death scene in a steamed up bathroom and the cat paws dripping her blood will stay with me forever. Director Alastair Reid later won a Bafta for Traffik (1990), while editor John Glen is best known for his work on eight Bond movies and veteran cinematographer Desmond Dickinson for his luminous lensing of Olivier’s Hamlet (1948).

Class and sexuality intertwine in the dark and disturbing drama. The artifice of British middle class values is ripped apart (most noticeably in a scene involving a drunken pool party in which Dick Emery plays it straight and very sleazy), while Luci’s exhibitionism is an overt comment on the sexual revolution happening in Britain at the time.

Baby Love (1968)

And it’s through sex that Luci discovers she can get what she wants, and its best summed up in the line: ‘I’m going to paint my face and paint and paint and be utterly evil’. She’s a tease to Robert’s son Nick (Derek Lamden), and stirs something forbidden in Robert’s wife Amy (expertly played by Ann Lynn). The secret sexual liaison that develops between them is disturbing (for the viewer), but liberating (for Amy). Although avoiding being exploitative, the film’s treatment of lesbianism follows that of The Children’s Hour (1961) and The Killing of Sister George (1968) – as something tragic. But Luci’s ultimate goal is Robert (Keith Barron at his brittle best). Luci resents him for abandoning her mother. Everything could have been so different for her. But is this really all for revenge sake or does her presence just reveal the fragile cracks that already exist in the Quayle household?

Released on DVD in the UK as part Network’s The British Film collection, Baby Love is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original elements and includes an image gallery and press materials in pdf format.

Sir Christopher Wren’s former home in East Molesey stands in the family’s Hampton Court home, while the film also makes effective use of Richmond Lock and Twickenham Bridge, as well as London’s Bond Street and Hanover Square. The film’s theme song is performed by 1960s soft rock band KATCH22 during a disco scene, and was released on the album Major Catastrophe.

* photos courtesy of The Michael Klinger Papers, University of West of England

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