Born to Be Bad (1934)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama  |   Release Date - May 18, 1934 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 70 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Loretta Young turns in one of the finest acting jobs of her career in this unfairly neglected drama, which is also a fine showcase for the early range of Cary Grant and a pretty startling movie in general. Born To Be Bad was released by Fox just in time to be initially rejected by the Hays Office for its "low moral tone." And it got released despite a plot line that puts an amoral heroine, played by Young -- devious, greedy, sexually promiscuous -- at the center of the story, and a story that doesn't leave "good" a lot of room for victory. In other words, it's quite a bit more realistic than many of the dramas that followed over the next several decades. Young's Letty Strong is a woman who is prepared to hurt and destroy anyone or anything that stands in the way of what she wants -- even her own young son (Jackie Kelk), born when she was teenager, when she feels he's betrayed her. Cary Grant is unexpectedly restrained, with few of the mannerisms that became his trademark as a comic actor in the years that followed. And the story still finds room for some humor and laughter, even amid a surprisingly cold-hearted drama, in which an unwed mother seems to sink lower and lower in life and drag those around her down as well. The one familiar figure in this movie who is acting in a familiar way is Henry Travers, the kindly bookstore owner who is -- until Grant's Malcolm Trevor comes along -- the one decent adult in Letty's life, and it's startling to see him work as well as he does in this surprisingly frank and gritty drama. The movie will prove a revelation to Young's fans and detractors alike, and on seeing it this reviewer found himself saddened that she didn't get to flex her acting muscles more often in films and roles like this.