Great character study. Joan Fontaine’s Christabel is a despicable manipulator, nearly ruining the lives of those closest to her. She’s creates a constant state of chaos: luring her cousin’s (Joan Leslie’s) fiancee (Zachary Scott) away while simultaneously attracting his friend (Robert Ryan). Born To Be Bad goes deep enough into behavioral patterns that it becomes a study of personality disorders.
Christabel keeps interfering with good relationships and friendships because she can’t stand for others to be happy; her jealousy demands that she’s the center of attention. We’re given the background that, as a poor relation, she missed out on the status and .money of those around her. The story depicts her relentless effort to make up for lost time–a journey undertaken without any scruples in her baggage. It’s almost painful to watch her gossip her way along, planting rumors and innuendo to sabotage Curtis, Donna, and Nick with dizzying speed and effect.
She’s not even above using her aunt and uncle to prop up her schemes. It becomes clear that she really can’t cash in on her various successes. She’s incapable of being happy; not able to trust anyone, she runs away from genuine affection and love. Stability scares her, as Nick intimates when he comments that she can’t deal with “getting real.” The odd thing is, even though everyone else survives emotionally to patch things up, she apparently has learned nothing. Leaving Curtis’s house and their marriage, she seems oblivious to Gobby’s (Mel Ferrer’s) comment that she’s mercenary enough to take the fancy furs that Curtis has given her.
The other characters, though each very distinct and different, seem very compatible and deal fairly and honestly with each other. Christabel, on the other hand, will always be an outsider. This is worth a look or two for some convincing performances and a pervasive psychological tone. 8/10.