Saturday, August 22, 2009

Movies: Born To Be Bad

The deliciously evil female is a character missing from films in last 50 years, perhaps because no one could possibly top Joan Fontaine’s Christobel in Nicholas Ray’s 1950 Born To Be Bad, or perhaps because women are too busy managing their careers these days to bother with wealthy husband stealing.

To be sure, there aren’t many saps like Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott) around any longer—a big-eared, kind-hearted magnate deep in love with the capable, attractive, and ethically-sound Donna Foster (Joan Leslie). A man so prone to self-doubt and susceptible to the machinations of the pretty vultures around him (not only Christobel, but also her main gay, the type-cast-but-brilliant-nevertheless Gobby Broome (Mel Ferrer), a society portraitist cast from a Jamesian mold) wouldn’t survive long in today’s business world.

But even if the plot and its stakes are dated, and the characters terribly typecast (the central group is rounded out by writer/adventurer Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan), the tough-talking romantic whose raw masculinity ensnares Christobel’s passion), the film is fantastic, filled with arch one-liners, choice bit-parts (an insistent jewelry salesman; a sickly great-aunt), and a punishing ending for the gold-digger (who keeps the furs and the convertible, but has to give back the key to the house). I have a soft spot at the movies for things I can’t stand in real life.

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