The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • An unscrupulous movie producer uses an actress, a director and a writer to achieve success.

  • Told in flashback form, the film traces the rise and fall of a tough, ambitious Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields, as seen through the eyes of various acquaintances, including a writer James Lee Bartlow, a star Georgia Lorrison and a director Fred Amiel. He is a hard-driving, ambitious man who ruthlessly uses everyone - including the writer, star and director - on the way to becoming one of Hollywood's top movie makers.

  • Three successful movie industry people - an actress, a writer and a director - are invited to a major studio to hear a pitch from Jonathan Shields, an out of work movie producer to whom they all owe their success. In flashbacks, we learn how and why each of them has come to hate him completely. Fred Amiel, the director, was an assistant director until Shields gave him his big break; when he hires someone else to direct Amiel's dream project, it's the end. For Georgia Lorrison, an actress, Shields made her into a major star. When he pursues other women, it also marks the end of their professional relationship. For the writer, James Lee Bartlow, Shields plucked him out of some sleepy southern college town and turned one of his novels into a hit movie. Once again, Shields steps over the line when he arranges for a famous Latin movie star to squire Mrs. Bartlow around and tragedy ensues.

  • In Hollywood, film director Fred Amiel, movie star Georgia Lorrison, and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow, at the top of their respective professions, each receives a telephone call from Paris from movie producer Jonathan Shields, who they either refuse to speak to or for who they only have nasty, curt words if they do in their estrangement from him. Jonathan, the son of a now deceased but generally disliked head of his own studio, worked his way up the movie business to prominence despite his father, only to fall out of favor eventually to where his name now means nothing in the business. Although he understands each of their justified feelings toward Jonathan, Harry Pebbel, an associate of Jonathan's and still his friend, convenes Fred, Georgia and James together in his office to plead Jonathan's case: he has a new film idea which he cannot get financed on his own, but for which he can get easy financing with Fred, Georgia and James' direct involvement. As Harry gets Jonathan on the phone for him to plead his case directly if the three will listen, Fred, Georgia and James recollect their respective relationships with Jonathan: not only the reason they cut ties with him, but also their professional and in most cases personal friendships with him before those falling outs. The question becomes whether in remembering their entire histories and knowing the reason for Jonathan calling them, Fred, Georgia and/or James will at least listen to Jonathan when Harry gets him on the phone this time around.

  • Actress Gloria Lorrison, director Fred Amiel, and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow are invited to a meeting at a Hollywood sound stage at the request of producer Harry Pebbel. Pebbel is working with studio chief Jonathan Shields, whose studio is in financial trouble and needs a blockbuster hit. If these three names will sign to a new project, he's convinced that there's no way he can lose. But there's a rub -- all three of these Hollywood heavyweights hate Shields's guts. He dumped Gloria for another woman, he double-crossed Fred out of a plum directing assignment, and he was responsible for the death of James Lee's wife. All three are ready to tell Pebbel to forget it, until they hear the voice of Shields, calling from Europe to discuss the project by phone.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Three much-sought-after people in Hollywood--a director, an actress, and a writer--each receive transatlantic calls from one Jonathan Shields. Each one refuses to talk to him. Yet when mutual friend Harry Pebbel asks them to meet him in Jonathan Shields' old office at the Shields studio, they agree, and even agree to share their grievances with Harry. Harry tells them that after two years of financial reorganization, Jonathan wants to produce a picture, and he wants the three to participate in it.

    Fred Amiel, the director, speaks first, having met Jonathan Shields eighteen years ago:

    Fred Amiel accepts a promise of eleven dollars to attend the funeral of producer Hugo Shields--but once there, he can't resist muttering jibes about the elder Shields under his breath. He doesn't know, of course, that he is standing right next to Hugo's son Jonathan. Jonathan tells him straight out that he didn't act like a mourner, so he won't be paid. Later that day, Fred goes to see Jonathan to apologize. Jonathan asks him to stay, and the two talk of their frustrations and dreams.

    For years they get by on what they make by making quickie Westerns on Poverty Row--and then Jonathan proposes to raise a stake to get into a poker game with noted B-movie executive producer Harry Pebbel. Fred and his friends raise the stake, and Jonathan proceeds to run up a debt of over $6,000--to Harry. Jonathan goes to Harry and makes a deal: Harry hires Jonathan, and Jonathan will pay Harry back. Harry does hire Jonathan, and asks him, "Just bring me a picture I can shoot."

    So for a few more years Jonathan produces, and Fred directs, several B movies for Harry. But when Harry assigns them to make a horror flick featuring five men dressed like cats, Jonathan substitutes his own ideas. The result is the best reception that a Harry Pebbel sneak preview has gotten yet. After the preview, Jonathan takes Fred to see the home of an actor named George Lorrison. There Jonathan cuts out a piece of loose wallpaper holding a drawing made by Lorrison of Hugo Shields, depicting him as the devil. They also meet the very resentful Georgia Lorrison--and Jonathan, despite her bitter manner, is fascinated with her.

    The next day, Jonathan and Fred get their next assignment: a sequel to the B movie they just made. Fred balks, and shows Jonathan his outline for a movie based on a novel that three studios have refused to adapt for film. Jonathan pitches it to Harry, and at first Harry refuses, and then tells Jonathan to go ahead and make the film and take the consequences if it fails. Jonathan and Fred polish their outline, and after Fred directs twelve disastrous screen tests for a leading man, the two agree to approach Victor "Gaucho" Ribera, a much-sought-after Latin actor. Gaucho agrees, and suddenly Harry has arranged for a million-dollar budget, a Vera Cruz location--and a director other than Fred Amiel. Fred, outraged, accuses Jonathan of stealing his idea--and that is why Fred resents Jonathan.

    After listening to that story, Harry reminds Fred that all that Jonathan did was to force Fred to make his own way--and, a happy marriage and family and two Oscars later, he ought to realize that Jonathan helped rather than hurt him.

    Georgia Lorrison speaks next:

    Five years after the encounter with Jonathan in her father's broken-down house, Georgia is a drunk and a tramp playing bit parts around town. Jonathan Shields casts her in a bit role and then surprises her by appearing in her apartment when she comes home at four a.m. Jonathan asks her to do a screen test for him, and then roars at her to stop living in the past and learn to laugh at live, as her father used to. Georgia goes through the test, which is atrocious, but Jonathan insists that she has star quality and casts her in a leading role anyway.

    Although he supports her in every way--even telling a worried costumer, "Miss Lorrison will hold herself like Miss Lorrison!"--the night before shooting is to start, she goes on a bender and vanishes. Jonathan agrees to let Harry Pebbel (who now works for him) sound out the talent agents for another actress, but when press agent Syd Murphy lets slip that Georgia often locks her door for days at a time, Jonathan rushes to her apartment, kicks in the door, and finds Georgia in the one place no one thought to look. He takes her back to his estate, where he throws her into a pool to shock her out of her fog, and then accepts her professions of love for him. He then tells Harry by telephone, "I know just how to handle her now."

    Shooting is by turns an ecstatic and a grueling time, made worse by Jonathan's perfectionism and endless retakes. But eventually the shooting gets done, and Georgia gets to have her first opening-night party with herself as the honoree. But Jonathan is not there--so she goes to visit him at his home. And there she discovers that Jonathan has taken a lover--a truly cheap woman who snidely says, "You're business; I'm company." Jonathan bellows at her that she hasn't the right to decide what he's like, and throws her out of his house--whereupon she gets into her car, drives into a heavy driving rain, and almost crashes until she finds the presence of mind to pull over and stop.

    Harry Pebbel gently reminds her of the day that she broke her contract--a legally actionable act that Jonathan did not sue her for--and of the millions of dollars that she since made for another studio--where Fred Amiel has been the star director.

    James Lee Bartlow now tells his own story:

    James Lee Bartlow, professor of history at the University of Virginia, has sold a novel about early Virginia history. He is surprised at its brisk sale, and even more surprised when Hollywood buys it, and Jonathan Shields himself calls him and offers him an expenses-paid trip to Hollywood. At first James Lee refuses, but his wife Rosemary wants the trip so much that he goes anyway. There James Lee is very much impressed by Jonathan, in spite of himself, and eventually he finds himself signed on with Shields Productions to write a screen treatment of his novel. But whenever he tries to get any work done, Rosemary always interrupts him with a wish to see some tourist trap or other.

    Finally, Jonathan has had enough, and he asks his old friend Gaucho to "squire" Rosemary around town, while he and James Lee take off for a cabin on a lake so that they can work without interruption. The treatment completed, Jonathan and James Lee return--and then James Lee reads the shocking news that Gaucho and Rosemary have died in a plane crash. Syd Murphy suppresses the flight plan that clearly shows that Gaucho was flying Rosemary to Acapulco to get a quickie divorce. Jonathan denies any knowledge of the affair that Gaucho and Rosemary were having, and insists that James Lee get to work on writing the script.

    With the script finished, James Lee tries to interest Georgia Lorrison in it, but she refuses--and also denies his suggestion that she is still in love with Jonathan. Then, four days into shooting, Jonathan has a falling-out with the director and decides to direct the film himself. The result is a disaster, and Jonathan, mortified, orders the picture shelved, though this means bankruptcy. James Lee offers to have Jonathan join him in another mountain retreat while James Lee writes his second novel--but in that conversation, Jonathan lets slip that he tried to stop Gaucho from making the fatal airplane flight. James Lee punches Jonathan in the jaw, and Jonathan, refusing to retaliate, insists that Rosemary had been a fool who wasted James Lee's time and wasted James Lee himself.

    James Lee perhaps has the best reason to resent Jonathan, but Harry still reminds James Lee that the professor does, after all, have a Pulitzer Prize under his belt and is now the most sought-after writer in Hollywood.

    Jonathan Shields is now on the line from Paris, France, and Harry asks the three straight-out whether they will participate or not. They refuse, and leave the office. But Jonathan will not stop talking, even though a transatlantic telephone call costs a fortune. Outside, Georgia, true to her habit, picks up on the other extension and starts to listen--and not long after that, all three are listening to Jonathan's pitch.

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