Saturday 15 October 2022

Movie Review: Born To Be Bad (1950)

A drama about a woman scheming her way to the top, Born To Be Bad boasts talent but lacks consequence. 

In San Francisco, Donna (Joan Leslie) works as an assistant for book publisher Caine (Harold Vermilyea), and is about to get married to the wealthy Curtis (Zachary Scott). Caine's niece Christabel (Joan Fontaine), who was raised poor by the ailing Aunt Clara (Virginia Farmer), comes to live with Donna while attending business school, with a plan to take Donna's position at the publishing house once Donna is married.

But Christabel has much grander ambitions. She flirts with all the men in Donna's orbit, including painter Gobby (Mel Ferrer), and starts a passionate affair with up-and-coming writer Nick (Robert Ryan). But her real objective is to cause a break-up between Donna and Curtis, by insinuating Donna only wants to get married for the money. Christable seduces Curtis, but is still not satisfied with her prize.

Four writers collaborated on the Born To Be Bad screenplay (an adaptation of a 1928 Anne Parrish novel), and the result is a 94 minute romp fueled by naked ambition and underhanded betrayals. The machinations are a scavenger class thematic companion piece to All About Eve, although here the material appears culturally stuck in the 1920s with women primarily occupied by their men. A few tasty one-line zingers pepper the drama, and director Nicholas Ray stays out of the way, allowing his willing cast to do the work.

While the execution is crisp, the fundamentals are weak, all the fuss revolving around distasteful and ultimately uninteresting gratifications. Christabel's coveted prize is a jelly-spined wealthy man in the form of Curtis. He displays horrid judgment and non-existant instincts by falling into her clutches and not noticing her lust for Nick. Having worked hard to snare a rich husband, Christable then suddenly undermines all the good (bad) work by ignoring Curtis and engaging in easy-to-spot lies as she pursues sexual kicks. The shabby inconsistencies drain away any potential for engagement.

Joan Fontaine is too good to be bad, and rarely deviates from delivering lines in a hesitant purr with a sideways glance. Effective once or twice, it's beyond remarkable that Christabel can fool so many for as long as she does. Robert Ryan is the one standout in the cast, immediately seeing through Christabel and liking what he sees, at least until she assigns him the lover-on-the-side role. Joan Leslie as Donna is a non-entity and meekly succumbs to the agenda of others, her everything-is-forgiven resolution rather nauseating. One woman is Born To Be Bad, another is a bore to be bland.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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