[Film Review] The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

The Bad and the Beautiful poster.jpg

Title: The Bad and the Beautiful
Year: 1952
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenwriter: Charles Schnee
base on the story by George Bradshaw
Music: David Raksin
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Cast:
Kirk Douglas
Lana Turner
Barry Sullivan
Dick Powell
Walter Pidgeon
Gloria Grahame
Gilbert Roland
Paul Stewart
Sammy White
Vanessa Brown
Elaine Stewart
Ivan Triesault
Leo G. Carroll
Madge Blake
Ned Glass
Rating: 7.8/10

The Bad and the Beautiful 1952.jpg

Unfolding as a triptychal recollection of a Hollywood bigwig producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas), Vincente Minnelli’s THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is a quintessential, sharp-edged critique of the studio system’s problematic modus operandi, with an egocentric producer ruling the roost, who is always getting his own way to produce a movie by hook or by crook, creating clashes and dissensions with a director Fred Amiel (Sullivan), a movie star Georgia Lorrison (Turner) and a screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Powell), respectively.

Through sequentially trifurcating streams of flashback, Jonathan’s unscrupulousness escalates in every stage, he betrays Amiel to produce the latter’s pet project with a more eminent director in the helm, since that is the terms for the studio to green-light the deal, it is an underhanded maneuver, but if Amiel’s credit is given a fuller acknowledgement, they might still maintain on speaking terms.

For Georgia, Jonathan is keen to make her a legitimate star, as he sees her mainstream appeal even though she might not fully realize that, getting wimped out before her breakout role accorded by him, Georgia is somewhat a damaged good desperately needs the nourishment and affirmation of romance to plough on, and Jonathan astutely seizes the opportunity, playing the prince charming to woo her during the production, he is patiently panders to all her whims, only to elicit the best performance of her, then, after the movie’s successful premier, a new star is rising, but a bogus romance fizzles out inevitably, as for the ilk like Jonathan, who has been in the glitterati since day one (he is the son of a notorious movie producer), going to the altar with a high-maintenance movie star is a crying clichéand he rather prefers another sort of female companion, the low-hanging fruit.

Finally, a good script for a producer is like honey for a ravenous bear, after successfully cajoling Bartlow, a university professor, into the Tinseltown to write for the film adaptation of his bestselling novel, Jonathan smells blood that James Lee’s southern belle wife Rosemary (Grahame), who is inconveniently tagging along, retards her husband’s writing process, so it doesn’t take him much seconds to ask a rakish matinee star, the Latin lover Gaucho (Roland, a pleasurable skirt-chaser) to sweep her off her feet, so that James Lee can be glued in front of his typewriter without her incessant interruptions, but when a catastrophe occurs, he has no guts to confess his complicity in it to James Lee, only to let up a Freudian slip in a later time, that closes the deal of their friendship.

Be that as it may, what makes the film stand out from the crowd is that it also elucidates a trenchant message, through the mediator Harry Pebbel (Pidgeon), a B-movie producer who gives Jonathan a crack in the business and later cunningly rides on his coattail as his business partner, that the careers of three of them, Amiel, Lorrison and Bartlow, embark on an easy ride after the bumpy start with Jonathan, which avows that although they all have been at the receiving end of some form of deception from Shields (but at the very least, he doesn’t leave them in the lurch or being blood-mindedly vengeful), it eventually stands them in good stead, indeed, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, which graces the film a topical sagacity that we are not always able to divine what is a blessing in disguise or a real hammer blow.

Notably winning 5 Oscars among its six nominations, the film still holds the record of the most win for a film is denied the top honors (neither BEST PICTURE nor BEST DIRECTOR), Gloria Grahame’s BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS victory looks like a fluke in retrospect, a stock impression of a shallow, corn-fed wife that doesn’t have enough screen-time to pack a more profound punch except for being completely hailed from a different planet from the rest of cast. In fact, it is Lana Turner who bowls audience over in a tailor-made character that makes the best of her swinging between self-destructive and heartbroken out of her usual poised glamor, only the first-billed star cannot humble herself to contend in the supporting actress category, as in those bygone days, star powers prevails over the size of a role.

The late Kirk Douglas, received his second Oscar nomination, is in his usual macho, forceful screen image and emotes grandly in the key scenes, facing off a devastated Turner, Shields is a ruthless go-getter whose monstrosity is rooted deeply in the fact that he is born into and fed off on the money-seeking business, there is no humility left in him to be empathetic to others, as his botched attempt as a director acutely attests, only the unquenchable appetite for fame and profit and a disproportionately deflated ego are his lifelong companion, though the former is a touch-and-go gamble. Supervised by Minnelli’s dexterity in the rein, and emblazoned by a streamlined mobility of the camera and David Raksin’s enchanting jazz standard theme song, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL might rightly be Golden Age Hollywood’s best self-reflective melodrama of its own business, warts and all.

referential entries: Minnelli’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950, 7.1/10); Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER (1992, 8.2/10).

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