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The Bad and

The Bad and the Beautiful
1952 / B&W / 1:37 / 118 min.
Starring Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Elaine Stewart, Ivan Triesault.
Robert Surtees
Art Direction Edward Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Film Editor Conrad A. Nervig
Original Music David Raksin
Writing credits Charles Schnee from a story by George Bradshaw
Produced by John Houseman
Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

In 1952, with the Hollywood system reeling from the first punches that would bring it down, MGM produced this ultra-glossy, hard-hitting 'exposé' of what in Women's Day might pass for the truth of Hollywood. About as dangerous as an official press release and confirming the greatness of Hollywood traditions that even then had become extinct, this is basically a front office-approved take on Sunset Blvd.. Fortunately, it's also a great deal of fun, what with actors chewing the scenery even behind the scenes, writing that assures us that the truth of every character can be grasped in a single cliché, and direction that keeps it all exciting -- and occasionally even insightful.


A famous star, writer, and director are called to the studio by executive Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) so he can try to convince them to make another movie with exiled producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas). In lashbacks, we learn that Shields and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) were fast friends learning the business working on B-pictures, until Jonathan filched Fred's script and concept and leapt into A production without him. Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), the daughter of an earlier screen great, was a boozing mess until Jonathan turned her into a star, helping her through her problems by feigning a love relationship -- until the film was in the can. And writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) was wooed from a University in the South to bigtime Hollywood, only to lose his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) to the temptations of tinsel town. Will they turn their backs on the most hated man in Hollywood, or acknowledge their debt to him?

The Bad and the Beautiful has so much fake behind-the-scenes material that it's constantly being used as a source for stock footage, from the crane shot to the woman sprawled on a bed, to the montage of film cans being rushed off to a studio preview. It's a picture that makes an honest stab at unmasking the evils of the studio system -- up to a point. The highest rank of executive it's willing to tar and feather is the semi-independent producer. Jonathan Shields is a go-getting What Makes Sammy Run? type who charms and bamboozles everyone in his path, getting his first producing job by running up a gambling debt, no less. But real studio heads are kept out of the picture. The benevolent mid-range executive (Pidgeon) spouts mild Goldwynisms ("Give me a show with a kiss at the end and a ledger in the black!") but the picture we get of Hollywood in general is incredibly benign. Honors and the quality of one's work determine all. Shield's career isn't squashed out of jealousy or fear by the higher-ups, Bartlow's talent isn't dissipated in hackwork, and starlet Lorrison's loose morals are attributed to her personal problems, not the studio system that kept starlets as salaried escorts on demand.

Familiar Hollywood lore is co-opted to lend the proceedings a ring of truth. Shields and director Amiel replay the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur Cat People legend of creating movie monsters out of simple darkness. Of course, the story is pushed back to 1935 or so, and the sweet, very un-Hollywood Lewton becomes more of a pushy Stanley Kramer type. Lewton loved his B pictures but Shields and Amiel treat them as some kind of nasty ghetto to be left behind as soon as possible, to get to the power positions with posh addresses and gold cigarette holders. In a nice twist, the story of Lana Turner being discovered in a drugstore is mirrored in a scene she films with the galavanting Latin lover Gaucho (Gilbert Roland). Shields is revealed to have David O'Selznickian limitations when he presumes to take on the mantle of director, and lays an egg.

The (enjoyable) pulp factor of The Bad and the Beautiful is evident in plot twists that end in the kind of trashy headlines that would be perfect for the cover of Confidential Magazine. Star finds Producer Lover in Nest with Starlet! Writer's Belle Lost in Getaway with Ladykiller Star! Director Minnelli hypes the scenes nicely, until it's time for the big Oscar moments. Here you'll find the worst 30 seconds in Kirk Douglas' entire career, when he grabs Turner and tells her off after the big premiere. It's not even funny, it's so bad. Lana Turner was a truly mediocre talent who made very few good films. Strangely enough, her career highlight comes just a scene later, thanks to Minnelli's delirious one-take on her hysterical fit, spinning out on a rainy road in the Hollywood hills. That scene has a ring of truth.

The uncredited cast is fun to watch out for. Little Sandy Descher screams her lungs out as a victim of the Doom of the Catmen, readying up for her big role to come in Them!   Kathleen Freeman, Steve Forrest, Madge Blake and Kaaren Verne have nice bit presences. Beaver's mom, Barbara Billingsley, has a great four-line bit as a snippy costumer. Best of all is Ned Glass (West Side Story) as a weary wardrobe man doing an A+ sales job on the terrible Catman costumes. He's the highlight of the film.

The weird thing about The Bad and the Beautiful is that as a script it has a definite point, which the movie presentation blunts. Jonathan Shields is a total ass. He lies and cheats. He callously uses the people who believe in him. He deceives and abuses the unstable Lorrison. And worst of all, by sic'ing Gaucho onto the writer's naïve and susceptable wife, he pretty much guarantees the breakup of their marriage. He takes it upon himself to judge others and manipulate their lives. On paper, this must read like a full condemnation of the take-no-prisoners killers who do whatever's necessary to scale each rung of the Hollywood ladder. The usual self-justification among the vermin I've met, is that they perceive Hollywood as a place without ethics, and that anyone who enters the game has to be ready to take the hard knocks. With the corporate sensibility now fully in control, apparently the whole working world is like this, so maybe The Bad and the Beautiful is a visionary statement.

The shock is that The Bad and the Beautiful endorses Jonathan Shields and his methods. He's what Hollywood greatness is all about -- nerve, daring, uncompromising quality. We have to take the uncompromising quality part on faith. The Proud Land,  1 Dick Powell's antebellum epic, looks as if it's supposed to be Selznick's Gone with the Wind.

The film works too hard to insist on the 'good' things that come out of Shields' perfidy. Harry Pebbel says the word Pulitzer at least four times. He also calls Georgia Lorrison a tramp (to her face!) more than once, to stress that Shields somehow made a decent woman out of her. From what we see, Shields left Georgia a total mess. If she persevered to maintain her glorious star image, it's none of his doing. The same goes for director Amiel, even more so. Harry Pebbel says Shields made Amiel a big director, when he actually abandoned him at the B level. Despite what opportunities Shields gave him to perfect his craft, we aren't told how Amiel broke into A picture work, and Shields wasn't around for that. Finally, big author Bartlow is supposed to owe his whole life to Shields, for enticing him into the relatively sleazy realm of screenwriting (compared to his previous status) and weaning him away from a wife who took up too much of his time. Poor Gloria Grahame actually turns out fine -- she winds up reincarnated as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Forever Amber- like book. Hollywood was full of great writers who went there to die (Faulkner) or got caught up in the machine (A.I. Bezzerides). This we-made-you, why-aren't-you-grateful attitude must have put a tear into Louis B. Mayer's evil eye.

Shields constantly spouts Citizen Kane- like proclamations of high artistic ideals and lofty goals. It was probably a new thing in 1952 to have a producer declare himself above crass moneygrubbing, and talk about his factory output as if he were a maker of Art films. If Shields is modeled after Stanley Kramer, remember that Kramer talked a good line while making four gawdawful pretentious losers for every classic he produced. Shields' noble artist act is now such a built-in aspect of Hollywood bullshit, that he should seem much more transparent. The movie assumes that making Oscar-caliber entertainment is the highest ambition possible, and it justifies grinding up people along the way. That unstated moral was probably heartily endorsed by both Louis B. Mayer and Dore Schary at the embattled MGM of 1952. Mayer's idea of dedication to the ideals of Art was a six-day work week and no Unions. Naturally, after a show of denying the louse who 'ruined' their lives, the three talents are eager to hear about Jonathan's new movie idea. On paper, they must have been meant to be hypocrites worthy of James M. Cain. In the film, it's just business as ususal in glamour land.

Evidence of The Bad and the Beautiful being a puffed-up valentine from MGM to MGM can be seen in the overhyped opening credits, each name heralded with a music sting. Billy Wilder mocked this self-aggrandizing style by imitating it in The Apartment, when C.C. Baxter tries to watch a classic movie on television.

Warner/Turner's DVD of The Bad and the Beautiful is beautiful, not bad. By the early 1950s Black & White studio photography had a silky smoothness that transfers well if the source materials are well-prepared. Equally alluring is David Raksin's great score, one of Hollywood's most beautiful. A selection of recovered music cues from the film are included as an extra that soundtrack aficionados will appreciate. I suspect the guiding hand of Turner special projects whiz George Feltenstein had a hand in this -- he's been busy for years making sure that whenever original scoring is found in the vaults, it's brought out for us to enjoy. Also included are trailers for this show and Minnelli's 1962 2 Weeks in Another Town, which is often called a sequel, but is not.

On the flip side of this two-sided disc is a feature-length docu on Lana Tuner that aired on TCM last Fall, Lana Turner ... A Daughter's Memoir. It's an entertaining, slick production that covers Turner's career from a softening, affectionate point of view. The show successfully portrays the realities of starting as a naive girl, who, it is claimed, had no idea she was going to attract so much attention in that tight sweater. Being an MGM starlet was no picnic and most of Turner's allegedly wild private life is not shown. Her relationship with mobster Johnny Stompanato (as celebrated in L.A. Confidential) is addressed, which gives us an opportunity to read between the lines. The docu uses fictional restagings, with stand-ins for Turner and Stompanato, that visually fill out the show but also drag it down to the phony standards of reality televison. They're nicely-shot, but a bad idea.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Bad and the Beautiful rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailers, docu, music scoring cues
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: February 28, 2002


1. Shields shelves The Proud Land, but it seems to have done all right anyway. In the next year's The Band Wagon, it's playing on the NYC Marquee seen when Fred Astaire's entering his stage door. His show goes on the road, comes back, and The Proud Land is still playing!

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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