Born to Be Bad (dir. Lowell Sherman, 1934)
Former Bristol IMAX, Bristol Aquarium, Anchor Rd, Bristol BS1 5TT
Sunday 20 November 2022, 2pm

Running time: 1hr 2min; Rating: U

Born to Be Bad centres around the story of industrious Letty (Loretta Young), an unmarried mother who sets out to blackmail rich businessman Mal (Cary Grant), president of Amalgamated Dairies, after he accidentally hits her truant son Mickey with one of his milk trucks. In a stark contrast to her later appearance with Cary Grant as the well-behaved wife of a bishop, Loretta Young is such a bad ‘un here, original versions of this film ran into all manner of trouble with the censors even before the Hays morality code came into full effect due to her scanty clothing, her status as an unmarried mother, seducer of Grant and blackmailer.  With an introduction by Lies Lanckman, followed by a Q&A with Lies and Pamela Hutchinson on the Pre Code era of film.

Letty, having been left destitute and pregnant at 15, raises her son under the watchful eyes of landlord, Fuzzy (Henry Travers), and is determined that her son, Mickey (Jackie Kelk), will not grow up to be exploited as she was, so she brings him up to lie, steal and cheat – everything he’ll need to become streetwise.

One of the greatest “street-smart wisecracking little kid” performances of all time. Has all the typical pre code-isms you could ask for. Too short. (LittleTrev)

Born to Be Bad was pivotal in the campaign against “immorality” in American cinema that led to the Hays Code. Young’s character is an unmarried mother who survives by entertaining buyers to secure contracts for her friend Steve (Russell Hopton), leading to the Hays Office rejecting the film not once, but twice before it could be released. They demanded several rewrites and re-filming of scenes so that her occupation is left vague, and shots of Young in her undergarments with thighs exposed also had to hit the cutting room floor.

“This film is thoroughly reprehensible and should have never been made into a feature film” (Mae Tinee, Chicago Daily Tribune, 1934)

A rare opportunity to see this pre code gem, with early performances from Cary Grant and Loretta Young, in starkly different roles from The Bishop’s Wife.

“Pre code LoYo is such a drastic (but certainly welcome) change from her later roles. She’s great in this one!” (Notoriously Nora)


University of Hertfordshire Humanities Staff 2019 © Photography by Pete Stevens

Lies Lanckman is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at UWE Bristol. She is the co-founder of NoRMMA, the Network of Research: Movies, Magazines, Audiences, and co-editor of Star Attractions (2019), an edited collection on methodologies for the study of movie fan magazines of the classic era. The main focus of her research is Hollywood history of the 1920s-1940s; particular research interests include stardom and fandom, fan magazines, issues of censorship, and the career of Norma Shearer.







Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance writer, critic, film historian and curator based on the south coast of England. She writes for Sight and Sound, Criterion, and the Guardian, and regularly appears on BBC radio.She has curated seasons including Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love Again at BFI Southbank and the touring programme Pre-Code Hollywood: Rules are Made to be Broken, with Christina Newland. Her publications include the BFI Film Classic on Pandora’s Box and essays in several edited collections. Her site is devoted to silent cinema.







We are delighted to be partnering with Slapstick Festival  on our pre code series this year. Slapstick Festival, running next year 14-19th February, is one of the world’s leading festivals dedicated to preserving and screening silent classic comedy movies and it’s one of UK’s biggest comedy festivals, featuring your favourite comedians introducing and discussing films that inspired them.



IMAX Accessibility Statement

The Auditorium is accessible via lift. We have space for around 10-15 wheelchair users behind the top row of the Auditorium with no restricted viewing.


Please note for all the screenings at the Former Bristol IMAX, we’re piloting a Sliding Scale – “Pay What You Can Afford” Ticket, as we want to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to see these wonderful films on the largest screen in Bristol!

Free-£15, plus 10% Booking Fee.

Or take advantage of our special ticket offer – all three IMAX Screenings: Full price: £21; Concession: £12, plus £.150 Transaction Fee.

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Cary Grant and Loretta Young stand in front of a grand Christmas Tree, gazing at each other, still from The Bishop's Wife.





With support of the BFI Film Audience Network, awarding funds from the National Lottery in order to bring this project to more audiences across the UK




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With the support of Col and Karen Needham and IMDb


In Association with UWE Bristol Moving Image Research Group



Celebrating Bristol’s status as a UNESCO City of Film, in recognition of the city’s vibrant screen heritage, of which Cary Grant is one of our brightest stars

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