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William A. Seiter
Christabel fools everyone with her sweet exterior including her cousin Donna and Donna's wealthy fiancée Curtis. The only one who sees through her facade is Nick, a rugged writer who loves her anyway. Christabel also loves Nick, but she loves Curtis' money more. After convincing Curtis that Donna is only interested in him for his money, she tricks Curtis into marrying her. Of course, she still dallies with Nick on the side. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
Director Nicholas Ray managed to take his revenge on RKO's Howard Hughes with this real life "Citizen Kane". Hughes was obsessively pursuing Joan Fontaine whose post WWII career was going nowhere. Like Hearst's intervention in Marion Davies' career, Hughes got Fontaine the lead in Ray's "Born To Be Bad" and then meddled in the production to insure that the film became a promotional vehicle for her.
Whatever Ray may have thought of this it was not a complete disaster. Although the 32 year- old Fontaine is not credible in the role of a young business school student, if you suspend disbelief about the age factor, her performance is the equal of Anne Baxter's in "All About Eve". The same thing could be said of Davies; while her career was mismanaged by Hearst's inappropriate casting, her talent was still able to shine through.
Although not given final cut, Ray somehow was able to turn "Born To Be Bad" into a self- parodying melodrama that reflected much of the Hughes-Fontaine relationship. Even making Fontaine's mark (wealthy Curtis Carey-played by Zachary Scott) into a Hughes look- alike, complete with pencil mustache and a passion for flying.
Unlike Orsen Welles, Ray made a lot of women's pictures, a quality "Citizen Kane" does not share with "Born To Be Bad". Fontaine plays master manipulator Christabel Caine (not Kane), not quite a sociopath but a woman with little sign of a conscience. Unlike most of these women's pictures, it is the men who she has trouble fooling with her innocent act. Cunning gay artist Gobby (Mel Ferrer)) finds her a kindred spirit and novelist Nick (Robert Ryan) is turned on by her greed and lack of moral/ethical boundaries.
Ray has Fontaine play the character in a nice self-parodying style that actually makes her somewhat sympathetic to the viewer, at least for those who can take a guilty pleasure watching her turn on the charm. Unlike her sister, the eternally earthy Olivia deHavilland, age made Fontaine brittle and well suited to villainess roles. With cute little smiles and feigned reaction shots Fontaine keeps the film vicious for its entire length.
Like Ray's "Johnny Guitar", this is a film about two women, one good and one bad (there is no subtlety), who vie for the same man. It is a battle of Joans, as Donna is played by gorgeous Joan Leslie ("Sgt. York"). Donna is a publishing house editor, postwar America was still adjusting to the vocational progress women had made during the war. But the evil Christabel explicitly rejects career opportunities (one can't imagine her contributing to the war effort) in favor of setting herself up for life by landing a rich husband she can set up for a lucrative divorce settlement.
Leslie and Ferrer are especially good in the film. Leslie gives the only restrained performance, which is more powerful because it contrasts so sharply with the overplayed performances Ray gets from the rest of his cast.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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