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"The Bad and the Beautiful" takes a look at Hollywood. This incisive
take about how movies are made, directed by Vincente Minnelli, dares to
go behind the scenes to show what goes on in the way the film industry
operates. The film adaptation by Charles Schnee gives us a good idea of
that unreal world of fantasy and hype.
At the center of the story is Jonathan Shields, a young man with connections to the industry. He wants to follow his father's footsteps and goes at it vigorously, making friends and enemies along the way. Jonathan discovers he can be ruthless whenever he wants. His first victim is Fred Amiel, the talented director who Jonathan bypasses in favor of a more established one. Jonathan quickly forgets the friendship Fred and his wife showed him before becoming a big producer.
Then there is there is Georgia Larrion, the boozy daughter of a famous actor. Jonathan shows how he wants Georgia to succeed in the business, personally taking care of selling her to star in his big project, only to betray her with another woman, a glamorous bit player. When Georgia discovers the truth, she flees Jonathan's mansion in a clear night that suddenly turns into a torrential downpour and loses control of the car, but she doesn't suffer a scratch!
The last victim of Mr. Shields is the Pulitzer prize winner, James Lee Bartlow, who Jonathan coaxes into leaving his academic life to adapt his own novel for the movies. James is married to the flighty Rosemary, in whom Jonathan discovers a weak link that will do anything to hobnob with the celebrities. Jonathan makes it easy for Rosemary to fall into an affair with the star of Shields' film.
When we first watched this film, it seemed much better, than on this viewing where a lot of things surface to make some of the story much weaker than before. Some viewers have compared this film with the fate of Orson Welles in Hollywood, and there are a couple of references that could be interpreted that way. Whether it was so, or not, it's up to the viewer to guess where the truth lies.
Kirk Douglas gave a strong performance as Jonathan Shields. Mr. Douglas showed he clearly understood who this man was. He runs away with the film, in our humble opinion. Lana Turner, a beautiful presence in any movie, is good, but at times she appears to be overwhelmed by the range of emotions she has to project, especially with that phony car scene.
Dick Powell and Gloria Graham put in an excellent appearance as the Bartlows. Barry Sullivan disappears after Lana shows up, not to be seen until the end. Walter Pigeon is effective as the studio head. Gilbert Roland is perfect as Gaucho, the Latin actor with a lot of charisma.
Mr. Minnelli shows he wasn't afraid to portray the industry the way we see it in the film, not a small accomplishment, knowing well how it could have backfired on him. Hollywood is not forgiving to those who dare to show its ugly side and that's when the parallel with Orson Welles problems with the system and eventual exile can be drawn.
Producer Jonathan Shields is in big trouble on a production and reaches
out to three people he's befriended and betrayed in the past for help.
All three are brought to Harry Pebbel's office where he makes a pitch
for the help of each one. And we're told in flashback the dynamics of
the relationships between Shields and each one.
One thing about Tinseltown, they've never been afraid to show the seamier side of movie-making. Kirk Douglas's Jonathan Shields is a not too thinly disguised version of David O. Selznick. The same drive, the same ambition, the same overwhelming ego that Selznick was legendary for is a part that was tailor made for Kirk Douglas.
The three betrayed people, director Fred Amiel(Barry Sullivan), star Georgia Lorrison(Lana Turner), and screenwriter James Lee Barlow(Dick Powell)all ring very true. One of the things I like about this film is that all three stories, each in itself, could be expanded into a film all it's own.
Lana Turner's role as the ersatz Diana Barrymore is not to hard to spot either. It's so much better here than the film based on her own book Too Much Too Soon. If that voice of Turner's actor father on those 78 rpms she's playing sounds familiar, it's that of Louis Calhern. Turner's was a life lived out all too well in the tabloids and she brings all of it to bear in playing Gerogia Lorrison.
Dick Powell, who was offered the lead as Jonathan Shields, opted to play tweedy professor turned screenwriter James Lee Barlow. This was Powell's next to last feature picture as an actor, it should have been the one he went out on. Powell was always ahead of the industry's cutting edge and he decided to concentrate more on directing and acting for the small screen.
Powell's segment includes Gloria Grahame as his flirty wife. Post World War II Hollywood, whenever it had a part for a tramp, first call Gloria Grahame. Here she responds with an Academy Award winning performance. She hasn't many scenes, but as was said in another MGM picture around that time, what there is is cherce.
I don't think there's ever been an actor who can go from zero to sixty on the emotional scale as quickly as Kirk Douglas. Check the scene when Lana Turner discovers how Douglas betrayed her. The intensity of his reaction alone is frightening and real. Douglas was also up for an Oscar, but it went that year to laconic Gary Cooper in High Noon.
Vincente Minelli put all the pieces together just right and it comes out great entertainment.
A bit of a soap opera, this film was divided into three segments as
people recalled their experiences with "Jonathan Shields," played well
by Kirk Douglas.
"Shields" was a guy interested in making movies and he used people to get to the top. Three of these people tell of their dealings with him, and none of them have too many good things to say.
I liked the first and third segments but didn't care for the middle one with Lana Turner simply because Turner became so melodramatic, too hysterical for me. Barry Sullivan was excellent in the first part and helped get me into the story. He was the director who got "screwed" by Douglas.
Turner was the unknown actress whom Douglas turned into a star while the last part dealt with the key screenwriter for Douglas, played by Dick Powell. I thought Powell was the best of the four main characters of the film but his segment was the shortest, unfortunately. As good as he was, his wife was equally as annoying. She was played by the normally entertaining and alluring Gloria Grahame, who was anything but that in this role. She sounded ludicrous with her fake southern accent. How she won an Academy Award for this role is mind- boggling.
Some classify this movie as film noir, but I dispute that. It's simply a straight drama with soapish overtones. It's well-written, however, and keeps one's interest all the way, so I am not knocking this movie. It has a good things going for it.
Glossy MGM soaper has many things to recommend it, not the least of which is a surprisingly grounded, natural Lana Turner (looking great, even in ordinary jammies) playing a successful movie actress who, along with a top screenwriter and director, help producer-on-the-skids Kirk Douglas stage a comeback. Not especially revealing about Hollywood, which at this stage wasn't quite ready to unmask itself, but still engaging and intriguing. Douglas is well-cast (he spits out his lines with a terse jaw--nothing new--but he's right for this part and is commendable). Turner is a revelation and deserved at the very least an Oscar nomination for her work. Sharp dialogue and gleaming photography are the other major assets. Gets less attention than something like "All About Eve", but it's actually more entertaining. *** from ****
A story of betrayals and misunderstandings in the festering underbelly of
Hollywood; this is Vincente Minnelli's cool expose of the workings of a
producer (Kirk Douglas, as one of the movies' great detestable characters)
and the effect he has on those who come into contact with him: a director
who feels abandoned yet goes on to produce his greatest work (Barry
Sullivan); an actress who is rescued from semi-alcoholism and turned into a
star (Lana Turner, in one of her trademark parts); and a prize-winning
novelist who is uprooted to shape his book for the screen (Dick Powell, in
one of his last film roles before moving into television and film
We see their stories in a series of flashbacks, linked by the three enemies of Douglas coming together in the office of studio biggie Walter Pidgeon who coolly reminds them of the good things the producer brought to their lives along with the bad. There are other good performers in smaller roles Gloria Grahame as Powell's twittery wife, Gilbert Roland as the Latin temptation, and so on. The Bad and the Beautiful', filmed in good old black and white, has plenty of meat to keep you watching. Only the slightly twee ending lets it down, but you can't have everything.
That one line summary makes me sound like I'm calling the Bad and the Beautiful a case in 'tough love', where director Vincente Minnelli wags his finger at what happens to some people (cough, David O. Selznick, cough), while also showing too the joys of working in the business. But it's a business at its most booming time, coming out of the 40s where the producer was king, and the director had to vie for room at times to really get his vision in. Here the producer Jonathan Shields is played by Kirk Douglas as someone with big ideas at first- he even has an idea to help make a scary movie about cats even more frightening by not showing the cats (echoes of Val Lewton). Soon he rises the ranks and becomes big enough to really call the shots all he wants, but it also gets in the way of personal relationships, severs ties, and sometimes even makes him out to be monstrous (there's one shot I remember all the time where Douglas, in a big fit of anger against Lana Turner's character, seems like he's a whole foot taller with the ego almost manifested). The narrative of the film is a retelling by people who knew him, a sexy but soon disillusioned actress, a director who once worked with Shields but then got cut off from him, and a writer played by Dick Powell. Rashomon or Citizen Kane it is not in trying to reveal more grandiose and amazing things about human nature, but rather a supreme rumination on the good times and the bad times, possibly more of the latter. What's great about Douglas's portrayal is that through the stories from the three ex-friends and co-workers and lovers, he becomes a very well-rounded character. At the core, of course, is the producer who at the time had as more creative say than anyone else on the set. This brings some of the great scenes ever shown about movie-making, such as the moment when Amiel, the director, tries to put Jonathan in his place about how a scene should be shot, "in order to direct a picture you need humility". Another comes with the moment when Jonathan and his soon to be 'asistant to the producer' has to object out of just being stunned. But more than Douglas, it's also tremendous, memorable screen time for Lana Turner, perhaps in her most successful performance in just sheer acting terms (not necessarily just in presence or style like in other pictures), and for Dick Powell, who with this and Murder My Sweet has two defining roles outside of his usual niche. With many sweet camera moves, a script that crackles with the kind of scenes and dialog that makes one wish for the glory times of Hollywood's Golden Age, and at least four or five really excellent performances, The Bad and the Beautiful might not be as astounding and near-perfect as 8 1/2 or as funny as Bowfinger, but it ranks up there with the best movies about movie-making, and can make for some fine entertainment even for those who aren't really interested in how movies are made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the way ensemble casts and biopics should work. Similar to
"Citizen Kane" in style (though not quite at that level in quality),
"The Bad And The Beautiful" presents us with the character of Jonathan
Shields (Douglas) as seen through the eyes of four people who worked
I'm not sure who the Shields character was based upon. I believe his character was actually an amalgamation of several producers and directors. You certainly get to see a lot of the traits producers have become infamous for.
However, these traits are all presented through the eyes of others and, as such, we are never sure what truly made Shields tick. We can only guess by putting together the different viewpoints and that is pretty much true to life.
The cast did a great job with director Amiel (Sullivan) starting things off. The performances were not terribly deep or wrenching, but the story didn't really call for it. Lana Turner was very good as the starlet living in her father's shadow, but I'm not sure why she received top billing. Gloria Grahame did win an Oscar for her supporting role, which was surprising. The role was barely significant enough to be "supporting". She was, as always, very charming in it though.
Overall, an excellent slice-of-Hollywood-life disguised as a biopic. It will make for a fun viewing with characterizations you can think about for weeks to come.
During this time in the early 50s there were quite a number of
Hollywood pictures which scrutinised and often satirised Hollywood
itself. The old studio system had been seriously weakened in the war
years, the young crop of independent producers and writer-directors
were gaining ever more prominence, and the dream factory as a whole had
become a little more introspective, not to mention cynical. But while
Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve (about the theatre, but the point
carries through) and Singin' in the Rain aimed their sights at the
injustice and hypocrisy of the star system, The Bad and the Beautiful
takes on the thorny issue of creative control.
The Bad and the Beautiful is referenced extensively in auteurist Martin Scorsese's 1995 documentary on American movies, as an explanation of the antagonism between a producer's commercial drive and a director's artistic one. However it is far from a validation of auteur theory, for while it emphasises the importance of the director's role, it also points out (quite correctly) the equally crucial contributions of the writer and the producer himself. Incidentally the actual producer of The Bad and the Beautiful is John Houseman, primarily an actor who really only dabbled (albeit quite successfully) in production, and thus someone who could perhaps afford to snipe from the sidelines. Oddly enough screenwriter Charles Schnee would also turn to producing soon after this. He certainly shows extensive insider knowledge of the industry.
The director of The Bad and The Beautiful is Vincente Minnelli, a man whose flowing and extravagant style was put to best use in the musical genre, and although he was certainly competent in drama he does tend to overdo things a little for the form. One typically impressive Minnelli manoeuvre is the lengthy tracking shot at the party about fifteen minutes in, in which the camera is "carried" from one character to the next, while the careful arrangement of extras draws our eyes from one point of focus to another, a woman singing beautifully yet unnoticed in one corner, while a gossipy starlet is surrounded by a gaggle of admirers in another. Minnelli's tendency to keep all the characters in shot together during dialogue scenes means there is no need for back-and-forth editing. When there is a cut it is a meaningful jump, such as the close-up when Sullivan is told he won't be directing Shield's first big picture. Ultimately though the elaborate nature of Minnelli's direction is disproportionate to the needs of the picture, and a more stripped-down approach could have intensified the drama.
Another lesson The Bad and the Beautiful teaches us, both through its plot and its own example, is the importance of the right actors in a production. The majority of players in this large ensemble cast tend towards a uniform competence. People like Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan and Vanessa Brown give steady, solid performances, not outstanding but apt to their characters. Dick Powell has a neat writer-ish cynicism to him, and it is only him and the vivacious Gloria Grahame that threaten to steal the show. A gratingly melodramatic Lana Turner is the only conspicuously bad player. However at the heart of The Bad and the Beautiful lies the powerful turn by Kirk Douglas. Douglas plays Shields with the mix of realism and exaggeration of a larger-than-life character, capturing the producer's boyish enthusiasm and exposing his inner fragility in a way that draws attention and lingers in the mind.
And it is here that we can see the picture's real worth. It is all very well making an accurate and incisive behind-the-scenes study of Hollywood's methods and morals, but to have any point the picture should also be an engaging and entertaining piece of storytelling. The Bad and the Beautiful is not especially romantic or funny or suspenseful, and yet it was a big hit, being the second-highest grossing picture of 1952. It seems the best thing this picture has going for it is the very character of Shields himself, who as written by Schnee and played by Douglas is both a fascinating and, yes, sympathetic individual. And the overriding message seems to be that, while producers tend to be a rather dysfunctional lot, it is their drive and efficiency that is behind many of the best things in movies. The picture's original title Tribute to a Bad Man is eminently better than the one it got saddled with. Jonathon Shields is clearly not a nice person, but through its compelling portrayal The Bad and the Beautiful salutes him.
My tribute to the great Hollywood film composer, David Raksin, is long overdue. I only discovered the other day that he died a couple of summers ago at the considerable age of 92. I suppose I had thought that like most of those figures who reached their peak in the middle of the last century he had passed away many years ago. A re-seeing of "The Bad and the Beautiful" fairly recently reminded me of just how outstanding was his contribution to movies of all shades of quality. I first became aware of the uniqueness of the Raksin 'sound' on my original viewing of Wyler's "Carrie" in 1952. It is impossible to define, other than to say that it owes nothing to central European romanticism, the sound of almost all the in-house studio composers such as Newman, Stothart and Steiner, or to the tradition of 20th century symphonists such as Copland and Diamond which fed the imagination of film composers as diverse as Elmer Bernstein and David Amram. Raksin had a sound all his own as did Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa, as instantly recognisable as theirs but I feel his range is wider. He seldom repeated himself as did Rozsa who composed in the same style regardless of genre. ("Double Idemnity", "Ben-Hur" and "Madame Bovary" have nothing common apart from their same sort of watered down Kodaly-like music.) His style is intensely lyrical, conceived with a verve and passion that always transcended the most trivial movies and made them, if not worth watching, always worth listening to. Unlike many of his colleagues he seldom hit the jackpot by working on films of great quality. I think it only happened twice, with Abraham Polonsky's B movie "Force of Evil" which has become recognised as a marvellous example of film noir and of course William Wyler's "Carrie" where he was just one of many outstanding contributors to what I have long argued is possibly the greatest work of art to have ever emerged from the Hollywood studio system. Although it has its passionate advocates, I cannot share their enthusiasm for Vincente Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful". It is certainly very professional in the way it slickly dissects an unsympathetic character through the flashback reminiscences of those he mistreated, but it had all been done before and considerably better in "Citizen Kane" and "All About Eve". However the film is worth watching if only to wallow in Raksin's gorgeous score. And there is plenty of it, particularly in accompanying all those voice-off narrations. And then just as one is beginning to wonder if the marvellous opening credit theme is about to be heard once too often, the composer introduces something entirely new for the Dick Powell narrative, a jaunty section based on a four-note motif (a falling perfect fifth, rising up a major sixth, then down a major seventh). The way this is subsequently developed is truly symphonic. Incidentally if you want to discover a film score that has the length and complexity of a symphony just close your eyes (you won't be missing much) and listen to "Forever Amber". Raksin in excelsis!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Still enjoyable after all these years. This is what Hollywood liked to think would pass for gritty expose' but was little more than a glossy, retelling of hoary industry myth. (For an update on the story see Altman's The Player) Kirk Douglas (at the absolute top of his game here) plays the S.O.B. producer, Lana Turner (in that brief moment between the baby fat and middle age that seemed to overtake her so swiftly) as the cynical, hard-drinking, vulnerable, showbiz outcast, near ex-actress, Barry Sullivan as the neophyte director looking for a break, Walter Pidgeon as the bottomline fixated studio head, and Dick Powell as the Pulitzer prize winning author and font of high quality original material. The supporting cast is chock full of quality types, Gloria Grahame has some nice moments as Powell's wife, Gilbert Roland as a Latin Horndog and the magnificent Elaine Stewart as the current object of his rutting interest. Douglas' Jonathan Shields is brilliant and ruthless, in fact, so brilliant that it's difficult to see how he came to be in such poor circumstances at the opening of the film. But he quickly surrounds himself with the components necessary to move smartly up the ladder and therein, of course, lies the rub. He sees those around him as little more than 'components' and they recognise the opportunity for great wealth and fame he offers them while they luxuriate in the comfortable fiction that their relationships to him are more than 'just business'. Hurt feelings and gnashing of teeth to follow but not before the Turner character has a career again, the Sullivan character has a resume, the Pidgeon character is awash in black ink and the Powell character has banked thousands of relative easy dollars and accumulated enough first-hand material for a blockbuster on Hollywood Babylon. Director Vincente Minnelli delivered a solid entertainment and it should be measured as just that. It is a well-made melodrama that exposes little about the 'real' Hollywood. It does not match the sophistication of All About Eve nor the mesmerising drama of Sunset Boulevard but it will hold your attention for the full running time and amuse you in the bargain.
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