This week, I got to see Born to be Bad (1934) at the AFI Silver Theatre in Maryland, where they are doing a tribute to Loretta Young's 100th birthday. In this film, Ms. Young is Letty Strong, a woman of 22 with a 7 year-old son (Mickey, played by Jackie Kelk). Abandoned by the boy's father before he was born, she was taken in by Fuzzy (Henry Travers). However, she now supports herself as a dress-model and paid escort. She allows her son to skip school, and informs Fuzzy that Mickey will not live life as naive as she - he knows the realities of life. Here's our first glimpse of Letty:
Enter Malcolm Trevor (Cary Grant), the wealthy owner of a dairy, who Letty tries to bilk. Fascinated by her child, he and his wife adopt the boy, in hopes of giving him a better life. But Letty intends to get the boy back, and enough money to support them - preferably at Mal's expense.
That the film is pre-code is readily apparent. We get some glimpses of Young in her lingerie (with her legs as bare as they can be!). And Letty is never condemned for her actions, neither her present day lifestyle, nor the fact that she is an unmarried mother. Fuzzy, our bell-weather for Letty's actions, is angry with her for her actions as a mother - the fact that she does not teach her son proper values. Though it is apparent he does not approve of her occupation, he does not censure her for it; he remains her friend, and hopes that he can convince her to be a better mother. He regrets she is compelled to do this, primarily because of the example it sets for Mickey. An article on the TCM website offers some insight into the reception that the film received (it wasn't good). The production code was right around the corner. We see here the last vestiges of the pre-code film.
We'll resume our weekly review in a few days.