In the same year which saw Anne Baxter star as the manipulative Eve Harrington in "All About Eve" there was also "Born to be Bad" another movie about a manipulative woman, this time Joan Fontaine playing Christabel Caine, a game playing social climber. "Born to Be Bad" is not in the same league as "All About Eve", it is much more simplistic but none the less enjoyable with some entertaining performances especially from Joan Fontaine and Joan Leslie, two very different women.
Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine - Letter from an Unknown Woman) arrives at the home of Donna Foster (Joan Leslie - The Sky's the Limit) as arranged by her Uncle and Aunt so that she can stay there whilst attending business school. But Christabel has ulterior motives and as a young woman with a desire to climb the social ladder sets her eyes on Donna's rich boyfriend Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott), playing games to not only split them up but make Curtis fall for her. But at the same time Christabel falls for writer Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan) who can see that behind the innocent facade which she puts on Christabel is anything but.
"Born to be Bad" is a simple movie from start to finish as it purely revolves around Christabel's game playing to climb the social ladder none of which is complex. The various ways which Christabel goes about charming Curtis and making him end it with Donna are not by any means clever or moments of masterful skulduggery. But they work and it all leads to Christabel basically wanting the best of both worlds, the stature and money from Curtis whilst the raw passion she has with Nick. It also of course leads to Christabel getting her come-uppance of sorts which is a pleasant twist on maybe what you are expecting.
Now that may sound like I am not that fussed by "Born to be Bad" and whilst not the most memorable movie it is entertaining. Director Nicholas Ray keeps things moving so it never becomes drawn out or repetitive and there are some amusing subtleties to proceedings. One of those is artist Gabriel 'Gobby' Broome, brilliantly played by Mel Ferrer as whilst it is never stated that he is gay it does enough to suggest it. Yet at the same time because Gobby is savvy enough to realise that Christabel is not as innocent as she makes out you wonder whether he also is a bit of a game player himself.
Aside from Mel Ferrer there are good performances through out with Robert Ryan delivering machismo but in a tamed way so that he is not a wild man but much more exciting than Zachary Scott's Curtis. There is also Joan Leslie who as Donna plays the put upon girlfriend quite brilliantly, refusing to stoop to the level of Christabel as she maintains her dignity but gives Christabel what for when the time comes. But "Born to be Bad" is really all about Joan Fontaine as Christabel and once you get past the obvious issue over Fontaine being too old to play such a young character it is an entertaining performance. Fontaine plays Christabel simply, in keeping with the rest of the movie so that when she does get her way there is no over the top gesture of success just a look of glee in her eyes at what she has achieved.
What this all boils down to is that "Born to Be Bad" is an entertaining little drama which to be honest is not overly memorable but well worth a watch thanks to the entertaining performances of both Joan Fontaine and Joan Leslie.