Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Bad and the Beautiful

"The Bad and the Beautiful" (Vincente Minelli, 1952) Hollywood movies about Hollywood generally stink; the best ones (and they're usually by Howard Hawks) make their odd collections of professionals in a field of endeavor working toward a single goal act as a metaphor for a film-team. But, when Hollywood hits the nail on the head it's usually with a gilt sledge-hammer, giving off the air of bitterness and back-stabbing lit by klieg lights—as opposed to merely doing it behind the scenes. "The Bad and the Beautiful," produced by John Houseman, could be about many Hollywood inmates, one can see allusions to Houseman's old partner (and bitter enemy) Orson Welles here—the structure is basically that of "Citizen Kane," (also produced by Houseman) with the story told by the principals in multiple flash-backs. Louis B. Mayer (the former head of the studio that produced "The Bad and the Beautiful" seems familiar in the penny-pinching sanctimony of studio head Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), Irving Thalberg (who would be the model of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Last Tycoon") could be part of the personality of demon-producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), but it's also a bit of Darryl F. Zanuck. You could drive yourself gossipy in this guessing game.

Three toilers in the Hollywood Valleydirector Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), box-office sensation Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) and screen writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) are summoned to Shields Productions by studio head Pebbel. He wants to take them to task for avoiding the phone-calls of Shields, whom they've all had run-ins with. Shields is responsible for their success, but it has always come at a cost. Amiel had a dream-project taken from him by Shields, Lorrison was promoted and prepped for stardom by him, but rejected becoming romantically involved with her, and Bartlow still blames Shields for the death of his lusty wife (Gloria Grahame), while he and Shields were on a screen-writing retreat.

All of these stories are told in flashback sequences that recall the ones in "Kane" by the surviving partners and wives. But where the "Kane" stories interlock and enhance each other, the ones in "The Bad and the Beautiful" sir apart with little connective tissue between them. It plays like "The Three Faces of Jonathan Shields" as opposed to the stories being facets of the same character, building to a whole. In "Kane," the stories are all aspects of Kane's quest for love. In "Bad..." what unites them is that
Shields is a manipulative producer—one would think that would go without saying. Amiel's story hints that Shields has "Daddy" issues owing to his Father's resentment in Hollywood ("I'm going to take the name of Shields and ram it down their throats!"—you can hear Douglas saying that). There may be something of the "sins of the Father" storyline here, but even that is undercut by the film's ending, a contrivance that makes a mockery of everybody's motivations.

"The Bad and the Beautiful" won five Academy Awards: best Supporting Actress for
Grahame's fine work, and for the Black-and-White categories of Costuming, Art Direction and Cinematography (Robert Surtee's work is amazing in this), as well as a screenplay award for writer Charles Schnee (presumably in black and white, as well). Why this ad hominem pot-boiler would win Best Screenplay is beyond me.

But, that's me. "The Bad and the Beautiful" was one of the 2002 selections for inclusion in the
National Film Registry.


The Floating Red Couch said...

One of my favorite lines of all time from this film. I haven't seen it since sophomore year in college (98) but it remains with me whenever I make my owns stuff... something to this effect:

Director: I could make every scene a climax, but doings so would make me a bad director.

(it's been a while and I'm totally paraphrasing -- this is not on IMDB quotes)

Yojimbo_5 said...

A-yup. Welcome to the Comments section, Couch. Stop by often.

Tickle the young man for me.