For Reel

Born to Be Bad (1934)
August 27, 2012, 6:43 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lowell Sherman

Although she was only 21-years-old when she made Born to Be Bad in 1934, Loretta Young had already appeared in a total of 48 pictures. Her career began at the age of 4 when she starred in the uncredited role of a fairy in The Primrose Ring, and she would work regularly until the 1960s, during which time she worked with virtually every important leading man of Hollywood’s golden age. In this pre-Code melodrama, she was cast against type as an immoral woman who is as deceitful as she is seductive. Her one weakness is her love for her son – a rambunctious boy who, despite the genuine affection given to him by his mother, is clearly lacking guidance in his life. The man who crosses her path and falls for her is played by a very young, heavily made-up Cary Grant. Having only two years in the business at this point, he doesn’t quite seem comfortable with himself – considering the career to come, it is a surprise to discover just how unsexy and charmless he was in his earliest roles. Young doesn’t have the sass or resolve as someone like Joan Blondell in similar parts, but she certainly looks gorgeous and is well-dressed by costume designer Gwen Wakeling. The picture was released just six weeks before the pre-Code era would come to an end, but despite being made in a comparatively liberated time in Hollywood history, Darryl Zanuck was forced to reshoot and make cuts, most notably having to exclude several scenes of Young in her underwear.

Born to Be Bad (1950)
February 10, 2012, 12:28 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Nicholas Ray

Joan Fontaine feared that she was being typecast as a noble, passive heroine in the 1940s, and so to provide her an opportunity to play against type, she purchased the rights to Anne Parrish’s novel All Kneeling, later selling it to RKO under the agreement that she would take on the starring role. Despite its title, however, Born to Be Bad does not play as a remarkable change of pace for Fontaine – her character is not simply a gold-digging vixen, but a woman wrought with her own frailties and emotional complexities, layers which the actress had already conveyed magnificently in Rebecca and Letter from an Unknown Woman. Fontaine is so good at making the woman sympathetic, in fact, that the picture lacks an intensity that one might expect from a juicy soap opera of this mold. When she is confronted for her behavior, she is merely pitiable – there’s none of the sense of vindication that audience members might have felt when a woman played by Bette Davis, for example, got put in her place. Surprisingly, the picture ends without any sort of retribution for the home-wrecking Fontaine, and in that sense it feels more akin to some of the pre-Code women’s pictures like Baby Face or Red-Headed Woman. While the film is curiously devoid of the tension that it should muster, the work of Fontaine and Robert Ryan is worth a look.