Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Born to be Bad (1934)

In the entry below, I refer to the actress Loretta Young as 'dewy-eyed' and in fact she made a long career of playing goody-two-shoes leading ladies and angelic heroines.  It is therefore a rather shocking change of pace to find her as the no-good, more than somewhat whorish lead in this early film.  Made as the pre-code era drew to an end, but not yet quite as restricted as movies would become, the film did face some cuts before it was released -- namely in respect of the full details of Young's character and her somewhat revealing gowns. It remains an interesting product of its time, if not a particularly important film for any of its cast.  Parenthetically it is interesting to consider Young's saintly transformation in the light of her later hushed-up affair with Clark Gable which produced an illegitimate daughter whom Young raised as her 'niece'.

Here she plays an unwed mother who became pregnant at fifteen and who was taken in by kindly bookshop owner Henry Travers (everyone's favourite angel Clarence) before moving out on her own with her now eight or nine year old son and finding that there was a better living to be made as a high class escort, waiting for the opportunity to snare a sugar-daddy. The son, a singularly unwinning brat played by one Jackie Kelk is an early version of one of the Dead End Kids and plays hookey from school, smokes, and drinks -- all with his mother's knowledge.  She seems to love her son, but has absolutely no idea how to raise him.  When he is recklessly roller skating in the street, he is hit by a  truck owned by dairy magnate Cary Grant.  Mother and her shyster lawyer ( a singularly unappealing and very Semitic turn by an actor called Harry Green) see this as an opportunity to play the son's supposed injuries for all they are worth and to sue for huge damages.  In court, however, Grant's lawyers show recent film evidence of the so-called 'crippled' boy skating and leaping about.  Mom loses custody and son Mickey is taken into care.

Neither Young nor her son are happy with this turn of events and she persuades Grant to intervene.  He is happily married to actress Marion Burns (nor me! - not that she had much of a subsequent career) who is unable to have children and Mickey is sent to live with them as a surrogate son.  Despite his new lavish surroundings, the unappealing child keeps trying to run away, packing whatever loot from the household he can swag until he finally begins to be won over by Grant and wife's loving care.  So lawyer Green suggests to Young that if she can seduce Grant and get evidence on a secret recording device, her future will be secured.  She insinuates herself into the household for a few days and uses her wiles to come on strong to her host.  Grant, who is still not quite the dashing Cary Grant we all love from subsequent years, succumbs to her trampy behaviour and is ready to confess his new 'love' to his devoted wife. For once we really hope that Young will receive her comeuppance from a noble Grant, but no such luck.  Mind you all of this action is squeezed into a scant 59-minute running time and we never get to see much of Grant's change from benefactor to besotted lover.

However something happens that finally causes Young to see the light -- or at least a small glimmer -- and she finally realises that it is best to leave her son with this potentially caring couple, telling Grant that he was just another fling and that she is ready for more with other men.  Very like "Stella Dallas" some years on.  Noble mother-love or some such! Although characters at various stages of the film comment on how beautiful Young is, she didn't look all that great to me, and her acting as a tough, streetwise floozy frankly did seem a little forced.  The film was directed by erstwhile silent screen actor Lowell Sherman, who died shortly after it was made, again for 20th Century under Zanuck's watchful eye.  As an example of the cusp of the 30s' film-censorship production, it is historically interesting, but both Young and Grant would go on to far more memorable roles.
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