Drama Movies, by Mike Richardson, 02 August 2012

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Stars: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas and Walter Pidgeon

Country: USA

Runtime: 118 min

Release Date:

Language: English

Despite its dreamlike quality Hollywood has a long history of caustic and self-critical films, one of the best is Vincent Minnelli’s 1952 The Bad and The Beautiful re-released this month.

The Bad And The Beautiful

The Bad And The Beautiful

There have been a great number of films made about film making most notably Robert Altman’s The Player but The Bad and The Beautiful is the first great, caustic warts and all look behind the silver screen. It was made in the golden age of Hollywood and is now a classic itself.

The Bad and The Beautiful is a fictional biopic in the style of Citizen Kane, it starts with an unseen, megalomaniac, unemployable and flat broke Hollywood mogul; Jonathan Sheilds desperately trying to scratch together enough money to make his comeback blockbuster. We see a great director, a great screenwriter and a great actress all turn him down by phone (the producer remains off-screen for the set up), before they are brought together by one of Shields’ few remaining friends an old-style Hollywood studio boss (Walter Pidgeon) who states the case that some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other’s’ guts and reminds them what they owe him.
Que three different flashbacks of different aspects of moviemaking; dissecting the value and cost on each of the professions.

Firstly it’s the turn of Barry Sullivan’s director who was sold out by Shields, then the (once aspiring) actress played by Lana Turner who was picked from obscurity and launched to the heights of superstardom and finally Dick Powell’s scriptwriter who has his own reasons for hating Shields.

All three characters owe their careers and their success to Shields but all have their own reasons to hate him and it’s this balance that gives the film its guts, it heart and its soul.

Every aspect of The Bad and The Beautiful is as wonderful and immaculate as the films that it describes within its narrative. Turner, Powell and Sullivan are all perfect in their roles while Kirk Douglas takes the lead as the duplicitous and Machiavellian Jonathan Shields, a man described as “More than a man: he’s an experience. And he’s habit-forming. If they could ever bottle him, he’d outsell ginger ale.”

Douglas somehow manages to make him both lovable and repellent at the same time, as only Kirk Douglas could.
Behind the camera Charles Schnee won an Oscar for his script, as did Robert Surtees for the cinematography and Edward Carfagno for his production design. Leading the charge was Minelli the director who was never better, and overseeing it in Shields’s style is John Houseman.

Despite being a great character study and exposé of the hard-working great behind the dream factory of Hollywood there are also numerous movie in-jokes and homages to tickle the fancy of every cine-phile. For instance the production of the fictional low budget horror film in the Bad and The Beautiful is based on producer Val Lewton’s Cat People.
They really don’t make films about making films like this any more.

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