Born to Be Bad (1950): Nicholas Ray’s Noir Melodrama, Starring Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott

Born to be Bad, the trashy, stylishly entertaining melodrama, is neither a highlight in director Nicholas Ray’s career nor a significant feature in the film noir genre.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Born to Be Bad (1950) cinema poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Based on the 1928 bestselling novel All Kneeling by Anne Parrish, it qualifies the label of women’s picture, centering on one manipulative femme, played by Oscar winner Joan Fontaine in an effort to change her previously dominant image as a nice and sensitive woman.

Fontaine lays Christabel, a scheming social climber, who benefits from the generosity of her aunt, Donna Foster, who takes her into her San Francisco home, while she attends business school.

Christabek flirts with Donna’s fiancé, the wealthy Curtis Carey, at a party for Donna’s friend, painter Gabriel Broome. She also attracts the interest of aspiring author Nick Bradley.

When she is asked by Curtis to come to a jeweler, she is disappointed to find out that he merely seeks her advice in buying Donna an engagement ring.  

Christabel makes Donna feel guilty by suggesting that accepting the lavish gift will give the impression of being after his money.

Christabel then manipulates Curtis by proposing a pre-nuptial agreement, which offends Donna, leading to a breakup, as she had wished.

As Curtis is available, Christabel rebuffs a marriage proposal from Nick, whose novel is about to be published by Caine. Christabel marries Curtis and becomes a high society lady, but she is still attracted to Nick, dating him on the side.

Her lie is exposed by Caine, her uncle, and Curtis reunites with Donna. Christabel gets into an accident, and at the hospital, she begins a new flirtation with her doctor.

The over-the-top melodrama is sporadically entertaining due to its bitchy and campy nature.

Reel/Real Imoact

In 1973, the 13th episode of the 7th season of The Carol Burnett Show featured a take-off of the film, “Raised to Be Rotten,” with Carol Burnett as “Christinabel,” Ruth Buzzi as “Darlene,” Richard Crenna as “Buck,” and Harvey Korman as “Kirk.”


Joan Fontaine as Christabel Caine Carey

Robert Ryan as Nick Bradley

Zachary Scott as Curtis Carey

Joan Leslie as Donna Foster

Mel Ferrer as Gabriel ‘Gobby’ Broome

Harold Vermilyea as John Caine

Virginia Farmer as Aunt Clara Caine

Kathleen Howard as Mrs. Bolton

Bess Flowers as Mrs. Worthington


Directed by Nicholas Ray
Screenplay by Edith Sommer, Charles Schnee (adaptation), Robert Soderberg (additional dialogue), George Oppenheimer (additional dialogue), based on the novel All Kneeling by Anne Parrish
Produced by Robert Sparks
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Music by Frederick Hollander
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: July 15, 1950 (US)

Running time: 94 minutes