Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Born to be a Rebel

It was very strange watching Nicholas Ray's 1950 film Born to be Bad. It is a very old fashioned movie with it's unimaginative black and white photography, typical and boring music cues, its neat cutesy punchline at the end and its dreary lead performance by Joan Fontaine whose passive aggressive routine is nice for a while, before it becomes dull and I sat there wishing Joan Leslie would come back into the picture.

This style of filmmaking was on its way out if I'm not mistaken, but I've seen enough movies of the sort to let it slide to the back of my mind with defenses of "It was the 1940s/50s! It can be forgiven!" But watching Born to be Bad play the way that it did was strange because just five years later director Nicholas Ray would go on to make one of the most modern films audiences in the 1950s were to ever see in the form of Rebel Without a Cause. It must be said that Bad amounts to nothing more than a B-grade All About Eve. How Fontaine's character supposedly got so many people to fall in love with her is beyond me. So it's interesting to wonder how Ray went from that to the startling and powerful Rebel just five years later. One is innovative, the other is like a well-worn shoe. It slides on comfortably enough, but you'd really prefer something better and new.

How Ray coaxed such a career-defining early performance out of James Dean (even if his life wasn't cut so short it would be a defining moment) as well as strong supporting turns by Oscar-nominees Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, yet out of Joan Fontaine - an Oscar winner for Suspicion in 1941 and so good in films like Rebecca - all we get is a weak doll routine. I'm sure that was the intention of Fontaine's character, but much like Anne Baxter's Eve in the afore-mentioned All About Eve it is hard to see how she became so powerful and disruptive to everyone around her.

Meanwhile I kept finding humorous homosexual subtext within the character played by Mel Ferrer (who sadly died just recently on June 2) and wondering why Joan Leslie never became a huge star. She was gorgeous and gave a wonderful performance as the Margo Channing to Fontaine's Eve, even if it is ridiculous to even bother comparing the two. C

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