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Friday, January 13, 2012

Born to Be Bad (1950)

Born to Be Bad, from 1950, is a fabulously entertaining melodrama starring Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, and Zachary Scott.  Directed by Nicholas Ray, this film features Joan Leslie and Mel Ferrer in supporting roles.  From the very beginning, the "bad" in this film is Joan Fontaine.  In a dramatic turnabout from her vulnerable roles in Suspicion and Rebecca, in Born to Be Bad, she is a manipulating, riches-seeking, people-using schemer.

The niece of a publisher, orphaned Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine) arrives in town and worms her way into the party (and the life) of Donna Foster (Joan Leslie).  Donna is engaged to Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott), and Christabel very quickly seeks to undermine their relationship.

Though Christabel has caught the eye of novelist Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan), her eye is on the wealthy Mr. Carey.   Oh, she'll carry on with Nick and even tease him into thinking she loves him in return...

...but her whole goal is to snag Curtis for herself.  Lying, playing innocent, and hurting others matter little to Christabel.  As long as she gets what she wants, she doesn't care who she steps on or pushes out of the way.

Born to Be Bad is a very interesting, entertaining film, and I must admit, I enjoyed seeing Joan Fontaine take on this kind of role.  She was very good...not at all what I'm used to with her...but it was great to see just how capable an actress she was.  I am a mega-huge Robert Ryan fan, and while I think he excelled at playing the unlikeable, villainous man, I appreciated seeing him in a more likeable role for a change.  I don't believe the film is out on DVD, though it is on VHS, so if you have a working VHS player, you can catch it that way.  Additionally, it is on TCM's January 30th schedule.

By the way, there is a 1934 film of the same name, which stars Loretta Young and Cary Grant.  However, this 1950 film is not a remake of that.  They are two completely different films.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Admin note: Today's post is written by our newest team member Patti from They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To!

My Cousin Rachel, from 1952, is a suspenseful romantic drama starring Olivia deHavilland and Richard Burton.  Based on the Daphne duMaurier novel of the same name, this story has elements in common with another of the author's works—Rebecca—namely, a large manor house, the English coast, and a mysterious death.  This film, though, takes place during the early 1800's.

Phillip Ashley (Richard Burton), having lost his parents when he was but a few months old, has lived with his wealthy cousin/guardian, Ambrose, all his life.  Though the two get along extremely well and are more like father and son than cousins, when Phillip reaches his twenties, Ambrose departs coastal England for the warmer temperatures of Italy.  While there, he meets and marries his distant cousin Rachel (Olivia deHavilland), informing Phillip of the marriage through a letter.

Ambrose seems happy enough, but shortly after the first letter, another letter arrives, this one referring to Rachel as "his torment" and indicating that she is trying to kill him.  Concerned, Phillip heads to Florence to see for himself what is going on.  By the time he arrives, though, Ambrose has already died and been buried, and Rachel has left town.  Although Phillip is informed that Ambrose had been suffering from a brain tumor which had resulted in delusional thoughts, he still believes Ambrose had, in fact, been in danger from his wife.  After vowing to Ambrose's grave that he will repay his cousin Rachel, Phillip returns to England.

Not long afterwards, Rachel, who is younger and more beautiful than they expected her to be, makes a visit to the Ashley Estate. As Phillip and Rachel spend time together, Phillip comes to believe that there was absolutely no truth to Ambrose's letters...that they really were the result of a delusional mind...that Rachel had never done his cousin any harm. Completely in love with Rachel, Phillip refuses to believe stories which indicate she is not what she appears to be.

Since Ambrose's will made no allowance for a wife, but left everything to Phillip, could it be that Rachel is stringing him along?  Perhaps she really did murder Ambrose and will, very soon, find a way to get her hands on the estate and murder Phillip as well.  These are the questions that play out in this mildly suspenseful Gothic drama.

My Cousin Rachel is interesting and entertaining, and while not of the same caliber as Rebecca, it is, nevertheless, a very solid 3-star film. Olivia deHavilland gave a superb performance. She really had a broad range of ability, and I have enjoyed discovering that she was far more than simply sugary-sweet Melanie Hamilton. Richard Burton's performance was "so-so" to me. I never—not even for a moment—felt that his love for Rachel was real. He just seemed lukewarm to me, his passion forced; however, despite Burton's less-than-believable performance, I was interested enough in the outcome to keep on watching.

To my knowledge, this film is not out on DVD, but it is available in its entirety on YouTube (above).