Movie Critique - The Bad and the Beautiful

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A tale of one person who betrays every person he comes across and in the end gets away with it; a tale that has so much less moral compass once the show biz hits your senses and drugs you on it.

The Bad and the Beautiful is a 1952 American melodrama directed by Vincente Minnelli. Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan and Gloria Grahame among the lead cast. Written by George Bradshaw and Charles Schnee, it was adapted from a 1949 magazine story "Of Good and Evil" by George Bradshaw. 

The film focuses on Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields (portrayed by Kirk Douglas) who has alienated everyone around him. And years later, director Fred Amiel (portrayed by Barry Sullivan), actress Georgia Lorrison (portrayed by Lana Turner) and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (portrayed by Dick Powell) are called into the office of producer Harry Pebbel (portrayed by Walter Pidgeon) to discuss a project with Shields. All three of them having been hurt and almost destroyed by Shields have their own apprehensions to take up to work with him again.

The original story revolves around the will and testament of a New York theater producer who tries to explain the three people - an actor, a writer and a director - how he had wronged them or behaved badly with them and the why of it. The movie goes around the same lines only that the producer is very much alive. 

Kirk Douglas's Jonathan Shields is a very complex and complicated character. He has weaknesses just like any human, is brutally honest even with himself, and very tough on everyone around him including himself. Kirk's iconic scene comes when he throws Turner's Georgia out. You can see every bit of what the character Shields was supposed to be in that one scene.

Even though Kirk had made a name for himself by then, Lana Turner gets top billing as she was on top of her career then. Incidentally when Turner started her career in the 1937 film A Star is Born, she played an extra. In this film also they show her character Georgia Lorrison starting her career as an extra in movies. As always Turner gave an excellent performance as the drunk bit player who is pushed to become a great star. 

I recognize Barry Sullivan for his voice on two episodes of The Saint as Simon Temple that I have been listening on the Old Time Radio podcasts.  Barry Sullivan's Fred Amiel is a true Director in his role. Although his part was smaller compared to the other two burned out by Shields, it showed what kind of man Shields was, how the ruthlessness began and how he would not hesitate to sacrifice anyone for the name Shields to shine. 

Dick Powell's James Lee Bartlow is very sedate and yet a very reluctant character. And actually looks the part of the author that the character plays. But I couldn’t remove him out of my mind as Philip Marlow from the 1944 hit movie Murder, My Sweet.

Gloria Grahame's Mrs. Rosemary Bartlow was the shortest performance at 9 minutes 32 seconds to win an Oscar. The record held until 1976 when Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for 5 minutes of her performance in the film Network that year.

Prior to Gloria, perhaps Claire Trevor's performance in the 1937 crime drama Dead End, was the shortest to get a Oscar nomination. She had a total of 5 minute role in that film. I may be mistaken though. 

When the movie opens, each of the main characters are focusing on one item from Harry Pebbel's office - one looking at a drawing of a cruel looking man holding a dagger; one gazing at an Oscar; and the last one looking at a book. That one scene gives away everything about the plot and the characters. Brilliantly shown.

The movie is told in first person narration by each of the characters that Jonathan Shields impacts. However, is it good if the person plays you like pawns on a chess board, moving you around, for their little games, with the end result that you would achieve the highest you can? Even if that nature beaks you and hurts you and makes you want to work more harder and prove different, is that good? Or is it plain cruel? That is the bottom line of the entire film, the premise behind the plot.

No matter how much Pebbel explains that by being rude or cruel to them or make them assume he loved them, Shields gave them their real chance and real career. In hind sight yes perhaps. But what if they had turned the wrong way and didn’t get success? Instead they went on a downward spiral and killed themselves? Shields took a huge chance with everything in the name of success, in the name of making the Shields name shine. Oh what a moral dilemma filled plot. 

The film was nominated in six categories and bagged five of them - Best Supporting Actress; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Art Direction - Black-and-White; Best Cinematography - Black-and-White; Best Costume Design - Black-and-White. And the biggest part was it was not nominated for Best Film or Best Director but yet bagged big ones.

Several locations shown in the film of making films by Shields were actual MGM studio locations. The end credits appear after "The End", showcasing the cast members with the role they played. The film has a theme song "The Bad and the Beautiful" aka "Love is for Very Young" written by David Raksin. This song has since become a jazz standard. Listen it here

There is a scene where Georgia comes from a celebration to Shield's home to celebrate her success with him. But she finds him with another bit actress and throws her out. A similar scene was penned by Nalini Singh in her 2015 book, Rock Redemption, the third book in the Rock Kiss series. She has the hero Noah do a similar thing to the heroine Kit when she was just a bit artist and he was an upcoming singer. Nalini has her reasons for the characters do that, which are totally different from this movie. But I couldn’t help but compare that. 

Even with the fame the film got, it had to go through rigors of the censors because of the six times the word "Sex" was mentioned in the movie. It definitely wouldn’t have been a big deal in today's filmmakers.

I still couldn’t agree to anything that Pebbel gives as reasons for how Shields behaved with them even though it ended up getting them success. It is utterly immoral, highly improper and above all heavily unethical. And yet the three characters eventually end up being intrigued on Shields plans. I would have liked a much better ending of Shields, like dying or showing remorse or something. 

A tale of one person who betrays every person he comes across and in the end gets away with it; a tale that has so much less moral compass once the show biz hits your senses and drugs you on it. A movie that shows how show business works for real, makes you think more than once to enter that trade. No wonder an Oscar winner, and despite my bias, worth watching.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The same team who made this film - Director Vincente Minnelli, Producer John Houseman Screenwriter Charles Schnee, Composer David Raksin, Actor Kirk Douglas and MGM Studio - made another film 10 years later, the 1962 Two Weeks in Another Town. The song "Don’t Blame Me" also gets repeated in this film but Leslie Uggrams sings this time. Also The Bad and the Beautiful scene is shown in Two Weeks in Another Town where the cast are watching the film. 

b. Walter Pidgeon comments that he had celebrated his 60th birthday 5 years ago in the film. At the time of the making of the film he was only 55 years old.

c. In their earlier career Shields-Amiel make a film called The Doom of the Cat Men. The inspiration used in the movie comes from the 1942 American horror film Cat People.

d. Note the marquee announcing the movie Anna Karenina starring Greta Garbo and F March on the movie theater where Shields-Amiel were presenting their first horror film. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In George Lorrison's house, Jonathan cuts a drawing from the wallpaper and holds it unrolled, but the very next scene it is half-rolled in his hands.

b. When Jonathan is shining his flashlight at the girl in the attic, at one point she drops the ladder and when he tries to grab the flashlight is facing away from the girl, and yet the light is still focused on her legs. 

c. At the end of the shooting of a picture, Jonathan mouths "nine" to Georgia but shows only "8 fingers".


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