Short Ends and Leader

'A Woman's Secret'/ 'Born to Be Bad'

Rays of darkness


Born to Be Bad

Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan
Distributor: Warner Archives
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1950
USDVD release date: 2012-9-13

At RKO, Nicholas Ray directed these women's pictures about unscrupulous schemers who temporarily derail other women's romances. Warner Archive has released them with a Film Noir label, which is hardly correct, although they sound like they might pass for it in a chiaroscuro'd room. A Woman's Secret does indeed adopt such expressionist gorgeousness in an early flashback in which Maureen O'Hara takes credit for shooting her protegé Gloria Grahame, but that moment of heightened style is explained by the falseness of the events being depicted.

As produced and written by Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) from a novel by Vicki Baum, this is another movie that uses multiple flashbacks to explore the history of someone famous, in this case a musical star (Grahame) who's been groomed by a retired star (O'Hara). The men in their lives are Melvyn Douglas (an insouciant composer) and Victor Jory (rich pigeon). The movie unconvincingly implies that Douglas and O'Hara are made for each other, but the story only begins to add up if we understand the symbiotic relation between the female flatmates as going a good deal farther than the Production Code would allow, and even then it still makes not a lick of sense that O'Hara falsely claims responsibility for shooting Grahame--unless the final flashback that explains everything is also a lie.

Ultimately, its secrets may never be given away, turning it into a mystery of human behavior. That's also what we have in the more straightforward Born to Be Bad, written by Edith Sommer from a novel by Anne Parrish. With infitnite subtlety and reverse psychology, goody two-shoes Joan Fontaine steals the rich boyfriend (Zachary Scott) of Joan Leslie while carrying on a physical passion for rude writer Robert Ryan.

One of two remarkable elements in this San Francisco tale is that witty artist Mel Ferrer is manifestly coded as queer without any swishy stereotyping. This trait that dared not speak its name must be clearer to modern eyes than it was in 1950, yet Fontaine pegs him as "really not interested in women", to which he responds with a witticism about making husbands think he's harmless--an astonishingly ambiguous line when you think about it. Seeing through Fontaine from the start, he's the only one who appears to sympathize with her eternal masquerade. Their barbed complicity is one of the movie's most curious details.

The second remarkable and even subversive element--which prevents it finally from claiming to be noir--is that the "bad" Fontaine isn't really punished. She emerges from her comeuppance smelling like a rose, or at least a mink. This is the rare studio-era movie that condones divorce. Even more amazingly, this 1950 RKO item has somehow preserved footage of an alternate ending (offered as a bonus) that elaborates even more cynically on the aftermath and essentially turns the film into a comedy of manners. The trailer also has at least one torrid scene that didn't make the final cut, with Scott in his pajamas and Fontaine clutching Ryan's novel.

4

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image