Born to be Bad (Ray, 1950)

“I love you so much I wish I liked you!”

Novelist and old flame Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan) shoots this zinger at the conniving Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine) and it’s just one of the great lines of dialogue in Nicholas Ray’s Born to Be Bad. Visiting San Francisco from small town America, Christabel slowly and convincingly worms her way into a wealthy existence, planting the seeds of doubt in all involved. She’s quite a dame, a femme fatale working just outside the world of Noir but with the same destructive conviction. Nick and fellow victims Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott) and Donna Foster (Joan Leslie) feel the passive aggressive wrath of Christable, but don’t realize her serpentine approach until it’s too late. Ray uses a devilish female anti-hero for the first time, and Fontaine’s performance conveys a balanced and calculated attack of self-promotion and selfishness. Christabel’s glance is enough to send shivers down the the backs of those in the know, and it’s Ray’s great feat his characters believably ignore her treacherous signs. The scope of the film feels intimate, making the crackling dialogue all the more personal and forceful. Born to be Bad, gives it’s thesis in the title, and Fontaine lives up to the task in spades.

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