I have to say before I even start today’s write up that I’m not that into Joan Fontaine. She doesn’t have much going on in the way of curves and is a little too sweet and girly for my taste.
I wasn’t all that jazzed at the idea of a Joan Fontaine double feature, but hey, it’s Noir City. I trust Eddie and Alan. Plus I love having a chance to check out films I’ve never seen.
In the end, I enjoyed both these films and I loved Joan in them. She is sweet and girly all right, but only when other people are watching. Behind those coy smiles and batting lashes, she’s the ultimate scheming bitch. Times two.
First up, BORN TO BE BAD.
(Because I’ll be discussing variant endings, there will be spoilers in this write up. You’ve been warned.)
Before the movie started, host Eddie Muller told us all to stay in our seats after the credits for a first-time-ever screening of an alternate ending, originally banned for it’s low moral tone.
Low moral tone? Sold.
Not that the tone of the whole rest of the movie is much higher. Fontaine plays Christabel Caine, a she-wolf in little lost lamb’s clothing. She shows up on the doorstep of her cousin Donna, an editor who works for Caine’s rich uncle, and immediately goes to work on pretty much every man in sight. She toys with a cynical painter (Mel Ferrer) and seduces a smoldering hardboiled writer (Robert Ryan) before going in for the kill on Donna’s rich fiance (Zachary Scott.)
Once she gets Donna out of the picture and lands the rich fiance for herself, she cuts him off from her charms, leaving him increasingly sexually frustrated while she swans around planning charity balls and playing the perfect upper class wifey. Meanwhile, her own growing sexual frustration has her pining for her hardboiled lover.
In the end, Christabel’s lies catch up to her and she winds up cut off from both sex and money, out on her ear with nothing but a pile of minks and a bad reputation. Blue-balled hubby crawls back to the saintly Donna, the writer goes back to his typer, and the artist uses the scandal to make a few extra bucks off his portrait of Christabel. Not exactly a downbeat noir ending, but our anti-heroine doesn’t die or go to jail, so she sort of gets away with her bad behavior. Though, to be fair, she never actually breaks any laws. Just hearts.
Of course, we still had that alternate, low moral tone ending coming. And, while it wasn’t really any more dark and noirish than the first, I thought it was a thousand times better.
After Christabel drives away with her minks, we see her crash her car and drive over a cliff. For a second I thought, wait, if she gets punished for her sins, how can this ending be lower in tone than the original?
Well, she doesn’t die in the crash. She gets rushed to the hospital, where she meets a handsome doctor. Even battered and bandaged, she is still able to seduce the good doctor away from his wife, causing another huge scandal. Of course, she needs the help of a lawyer, who doesn’t let his marital status stop him from taking his favorite new client out for cocktails. The impression that we are left with is that she’s just going to keep at it indefinitely, like a clever parasite moving from one host organism to another. Meanwhile, the film repeatedly cuts back to the artist, upping the price on his portrait each time our pretty little heartworm gets her hooks into a new victim. Brilliant!
Fontaine is fantastic, but I have to say Ryan steals the show for me in this film, and not just because I vicariously enjoy the notion of a sexy writer character. He also gets all the best lines, including “I love you so much, I wish I liked you.” Though I have to admit I was a little shocked when he tells Fontaine that what’s going on between them isn’t real love but just a “sex attraction.” I mean, there’s no doubt that’s the case, but I’m not used to hearing it spoken out loud in such frank (!) terms in films from this era.
Side note: The novel on which this film was based is called ALL KNEELING. If I ever write an autobiography, I’m stealing that title.
Next, Fontaine continues her bad behavior and ups the ante in IVY.
This one was a bit of a hard sell for me because I’m not a real fan of the fashion and style from 1909. The occasional western notwithstanding, I tend to prefer my Film Noir set in its own era. I still haven’t completely recovered from the shock of seeing Noir City favorite Charles McGraw in period drag in REIGN OF TERROR! However, unlike the previous feature, this one promised to deliver actual murder. So, hey, I’m in.
Our eponymous scheming bitch starts off this film with a visit to a fortune teller, who advises her to ditch both her husband and her lover to make room for a new man in her life. Of course she leaves out all the bad luck, doom and ruin, sending the smiling and carefree Ivy off to her dark destiny.
In this one, her three suckers are the young husband she’s already bankrupted, an obsessed doctor who won’t take no for an answer, and a rich mogul who’s engaged to someone else. So many men, so little time. What’s a femme fatale to do?
Ivy’s plan is to steal poison from Dr. Desperate and use it to off the sweet but already used up hubby. Once hubby’s dead and the doc framed for his murder, she’ll be free to marry the mogul. Only this is Noir City, honey, and nothing ever goes as planned.
This film is dark and nasty in all the right ways. I love that she doesn’t just poison her hubby in one fatal dose, she kills him slowly with repeated small doses, pretending to care for him while watching him get sicker and weaker. Also, if you can see past the big feathery hats and rococo decor, there are some beautiful and visually striking moments, like the one pictured above where she starts to poison her husband. I was also impressed by the fact that, while both films were based on novels written by women, this one also featured a female screenwriter. If you don’t mind branching out of the mid-century ghetto we all know and love, you might want to check this one out.
Tonight, we’re off to France, by way of NYC with TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN and RIFIFI.