From The Warner Archive: Born To Be Bad, 1950 (dir. Nicholas Ray)

Recently remastered and released by the Warner Archive, Born to Be Bad is an early, but important effort from landmark director Nicholas Ray. The film was released three months after Ray’s breakthrough masterpiece In A Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. While this film seems a lesser effort in comparison, I think much of the fault lies with the studio; Born To Be Bad had five writers and it feels like it. That said, this remaster is beautifully done and the disc comes with the original theatrical trailer, as well as a newly found and restored alternate ending. More on that after the cut.

Nicholas Ray is a director that I respect more and more with each of his films that I watch. Anyone who is a fan of his work will be delighted to see this film.

I have to give a little shout out to the second unit and/or stock shots of San Francisco that are peppered throughout the film. It really is the best city.

This film comes ten years after Fontaine’s Oscar nominated performance in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and nine years after her Oscar-winning performance in his Suspicion. At 33, Fontaine is a bit too old to be playing manipulative business school drop out and wanna be socialite Christabel; unless, she is playing the age she actually is, in which case all her actions in the film make a little bit more sense. Regardless, Fontaine is icy cool as she manipulates her way to the top of the San Francisco social ladder, leaving a wake of destroyed relationships in her path. I’m still not sure what they mean with the film’s tagline: Baby-faced Savage in a jungle of intrigue! Regardless, Fontaine is magnificent in this role.

Christabel’s cool exterior turns boiling hot whenever she’s around novelist Nick Bradley, who, it’s indicated, up to this point was a bit of a ladies’ man. After his first encounter with Christabel, he says to no one in particular, “If she plays her cards right, she might win me.” He gets what he asked for, kind of, before realizing just what kind of woman Christabel is. Ryan, one of the toughest tough guys to ever Noir, gives one of his mostly lively, as well as one of his most tender performances in this film.

Nicholas Ray always manages to get the hottest chemistry from his leading actors and it is no different with Fontaine and Ryan. Although implied, the two leads just ooze sexuality whenever they’re around. At one point Nick pleads with Christabel, who has her sights on better things, that it’s not just a, “sexual attraction.” I’m not sure how they got that phrase passed the censors. Later in the film, after a particularly bad fight Nick walks away from Christabel saying, “I love you so much I wish I liked you.”

Zachary Scott plays the rich pawn Curtis Carey to Fontaine’s scheming Christabel. This part of the story is vey much something that only works in “melodrama land,” but if you just go with it, you’ll be fine. For most of the film Scott’s Curtis is simpering idiot, but towards the end of the film he gets to really explode and when he does, boy you better watch out.

Joan Leslie, who also appeared with Robert Ryan in The Sky’s The Limit, plays Donna Foster, the center of all things: she is Curtis’ fiancé, she works for Nick’s publishers and she agrees to let her boss’s niece – Christabel – stay with her while she attends business school. Obviously, Leslie falls victim to Christabel’s scheming ways, but what is so great about it is she doesn’t do so quietly. Her confrontation of Christabel almost makes up for the crappy end scene between her and Zachary Scott that reeks of studio executive influence.

Possibly my favorite performance in the film is from Mel Ferrer, who plays artist Gabriel ‘Gobby’ Broome, who at one point states, “I have no friends; only creditors.” Gobby is an artist and an opportunist, though not a conniving one a la Christabel; he just observes and then adapts to situations to best suit himself. Frerrer is the film’s comic relief, but his commentary also serves as the film’s subversive backbone.

During the course of the film Gobby paints a portrait of Christabel, which cause much contention, both while it’s painted, as well as after. Who will buy it? What does it mean to have your portrait painted? It raises lots of questions and causes almost as much strife as Christabel herself.


I must insist that you watch both endings of this film and then decide for yourself which you prefer. For my money, it’s the alternate ending, in which the film transforms from a noir-ish melodrama to a straight-up subversive comedy. If you know anything about the Hays Code, you’ll know why this ending got cut. I’m just glad someone had the sense to save it and grateful to the Warner Archive for adding it as a special feature!

Disclaimer: This review is based on a review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on September 14, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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