A hypnotic curiosity from the tail-end of pre-Code: less than an hour in length and mad as a march hare, with Loretta Young and Cary Grant, both cast fantastically against type.
Actually, Grant is still in his pre-Code years before his type had been properly established, years that usually found him at Paramount, being disreputable in a tuxedo. Here he's given a normal, real-life type of role, and watching him struggling with it, trying to pretend that he's not Cary Grant, even before he or anyone else really knew who Cary Grant was, is fascinating. He's called Malcolm Trevor and he's the big cheese, so to speak, of Amalgamated Dairies.
Meanwhile Loretta makes an equally vivid surprise, especially if your abiding memory of her is of the host of her eponymous tv series, or of the woman who Joan Crawford quipped left the mark of the cross on her seat when she got up. A gum-chewing tramp in a leopard-skin coat, in sole charge of a son she is raising to lie, cheat and steal... out with a different man every night and lounging around her apartment in her lingerie all day... yes, truly, this is Loretta Young.
If it resembles any other movie I suppose it's Baby Face, in which Stanners learns similarly how a girl from the wrong side of the tracks gets ahead. In both films the girls seek frequent counsel from a benevolent but disapproving old man: in Loretta's case, Fuzzy, played by Henry Travers; in Barbara's, Alphonse Ethier's Adolf.
But far more than it resembles any other film, Born To Be Bad is unlike any other film. It's a film lost in time. Loretta's kid gets knocked down by one of Cary's milk vans, and even though he's not hurt she opts to take Cary to the cleaners by pretending he's crippled for life, enlisting the help of a crooked lawyer played with his customary effervescence by the great Jewish comic actor Harry Green. (Apparently, Green really did practice law before opting to try showbiz.)
But this Fortune Cookie-style scam comes to nothing when Cary has the boy surreptitiously filmed bombing about on roller skates. The suit is dismissed and the court takes Loretta's son away from her, banging him up in a reformatory!
From here, the film skids into a parallel universe. First Loretta turns up at Cary's office and pulls a gun on him, threatening him that if he doesn't get her son back she'll kill him. Then Cary decides to adopt him himself, and takes him to live at the mansion. He soon rather takes to the high life, but when Loretta comes to visit she convinces him to attempt a break-out, locking Mrs Cary in a cupboard and helping himself to some of her silverware en-route. (Cary doesn't even get cross about this, just explains to the lad that he's only really stealing from himself.)
But Loretta's not finished. Next she decides to seduce Cary and capture the conquest on a concealed home-recording phonograph record, in order to blackmail him. The very essence of a decent, upstanding milk tycoon he may be, but even Malcolm can only hold out so long against Loretta in a series of slinky cocktail dresses...
Still, Hollywood is Hollywood, and by the end, she has tearfully decided that the kid belongs with Cary after all.
More happens in 58 minutes of this than in the complete works of Ross Hunter.