The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)


Charismatic and ruthless film producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas, Spartacus) will stop at nothing in order to achieve success in Hollywood, even if it means ruining the personal lives and careers of his most devoted friends.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was rare for studios to raise the veil of illusion and let audiences have a look into the dream factory. Stars were impenetrable, and studios safeguarded their film secrets like some confidential formula for a high-tech weapon. With the end of the studio system in the 1950s, Hollywood was free to explore other topics that were taboo a decade before. The creation of TV also forced the film industry to expand their horizons.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Bad and the Beautiful provides a rare cinematic opportunity for movie buffs to see what really happened behind the closed doors of the all-powerful studios, and a chance to understand the dynamics and interaction of the people responsible for making movies during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Directed by Vicente Minnelli (Gigi) from an original screenplay by Charles Schnee (BUtterfield 8), The Bad and the Beautiful is a perfect example of the less rosy new era in filmmaking that emerged during the ’50s. This excellent film exposes some of the behind-the-scenes conflicts that were taking place during the hey days of the studio system, finally putting under suspicion the “magical” world of Hollywood — this is a no-holds-barred, unflattering depiction of the world of show business.

Director Minnelli had an uncanny understanding of the visual capabilities of the medium and this film is no exception — the movie is an interesting mixture of the slick, high gloss texture that MGM was famous for during the ’30s and ’40s, and the moody, dark, and brooding visual style of the Hollywood postwar era. Minnelli and cameraman Robert Surtees (Ben- Hur) use markedly different approaches from one scene to the other — from the lavish Hollywood mansions to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the studio sets — and that’s interesting in itself.

The acting is splendid too. Kirk Douglas is simply electrifying, one of his very best performances. However, I thought Lana Turner (Peyton Place) was the real surprise here. She’s what you may call a “talented movie star.” Turner’s range is limited, but under the right circumstances, she can be effective, even great. Turner’s B-movie actress is perhaps her best role ever. Especially memorable is the scene in which Turner is about to wreck her car. The sequence was obviously filmed in a studio, using a dummy car, but Turner’s thrilling effectiveness makes the sequence work.

You’ll also have fun trying to figure out the inspirations for the characters. Douglas is supposed to be a cross between producers Val Lewton and David O. Selznick. Turner plays a character based on Diana Barrymore, John’s troubled daughter. I really enjoyed Leo G. Carroll (North by Northwest), who is clearly parodying his friend Alfred Hitchcock (Kathleen Freeman’s character was based on Hitch’s wife, Alma Reville). Gilbert Roland’s (Juarez) self-parody is wonderful too.

The cast also includes Walter Pidgeon (Mrs. Miniver) as the head of a movie studio, Dick Powell (Murder My Sweet) as a writer, and Barry Sullivan (Payment on Demand) as an ambitious filmmaker. Gloria Grahame (The Greatest Show on Earth) won a well-deserved Oscar for her sly performance as Powell’s greedy wife. 

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Bad and the Beautiful has the distinction of being the film that has won more Oscars (five in total) than any other film that was not nominated for Best Picture, re-establishing the fact that everyone involved with the film should receive an A+ for their efforts. Great direction by Minnelli, an extraordinary cast, superb camera work, and all the high gloss that MGM could buy help put this hard-hitting drama up among the best movies about Hollywood. B&W, 118 minutes, Not Rated.

8 responses to “The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

  1. Thanks for a great account of a movie that, I think, is too often forgotten. And I’d agree with you wholeheartedly that this is Turner’s best role. I usually have very little time for her, but she’s tremendous here.

    Liked by 1 person

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