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The Bad and the Beautiful

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The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) Directed by Vincente Minnelli 


The Bad and the Beautiful is a 1952 MGM melodramatic film that tells the story of a film producer who alienates all around him. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars Lana TurnerKirk DouglasWalter PidgeonDick PowellBarry SullivanGloria Grahame and Gilbert Roland.

The film was written by George Bradshaw and Charles Schnee and directed by Vincente Minnelli. It won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Gloria Grahame); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Cedric GibbonsEdward Carfagno,Edwin B. WillisF. Keogh Gleason); Best Cinematography, Black-and-WhiteBest Costume Design, Black-and-White and Best Writing, Screenplay. Douglas was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

The Bad and the Beautiful holds the record for most Oscars won (five) by a movie that was not nominated for Best Picture. It was screened within the official program of Venice Film Festival (1953).

In 2002, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The song, “Bad and the Beautiful“, penned by David Raksin, has since become a jazz standard.

Plot

In Hollywood, screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) each refuse to speak by phone to Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) in Paris. Movie producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) gathers them in his office and begs them to help Shields out.

The backstory of their involvement with Shields unfolds in a series of flashbacks. Shields is the son of a notorious old filmmaker who had been dumped by the industry. He was so unpopular that his son had to hire “extras” to attend his funeral. Shields is determined to make it in Hollywood by any means necessary.

Shields partners with aspiring director Amiel, whom he meets at his father’s funeral. Shields intentionally loses money he does not have in a poker game to film executive Pebbel, so he can talk Pebbel into letting him work off the debt. Shields and Amiel learn their respective trades making low-budget films for Pebbel. Amiel decides he is ready to direct a project he has been nursing along. Shields pitches it to the studio. He gets a large budget to produce the film, but betrays Amiel by allowing someone with an established reputation to be chosen as director.

Shields next encounters alcoholic small-time actress Lorrison, the daughter of a famous actor Shields admired. He builds up her confidence and gives her the leading role in one of his movies over everyone else’s objections. When she falls in love with him, he lets her think that he feels the same way so that she does not self-destruct and he gets the performance he needs. After a smash premiere makes her a star overnight, she finds him with a beautiful bit player named Lila (Elaine Stewart). He drives Lorrison away, telling her that he will never allow anyone to have that much control over him. Meanwhile, the film’s success allows Shields to start his own studio, and Pebbel comes to work for him there.

Finally, Bartlow is a contented professor at a small college who has written a bestselling book. Shields wants to turn it into a film and have him write the script. Bartlow is not interested, but his shallow Southern belle wife, Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) is, so he agrees to do it for her sake. They go to Hollywood, where Shields is annoyed to find that her constant distractions are keeping her husband from his work. He gets his suave actor friend Victor “Gaucho” Ribera (Gilbert Roland) to keep her occupied. Freed from interruption, Bartlow has no trouble finishing the script. Rosemary, however, runs off with Gaucho and they are killed in a plane crash. Shields employs Bartlow to help him produce the film. On the fourth day of filming, Shields disagrees with the director, and decides to direct the film himself. It is the first time Shields has directed a film, and he botches it, which leads to his bankruptcy. Then Shields slips and reveals that he knew Gaucho was going away with Rosemary, so Bartlow walks out on him.

After the flashbacks are complete, all three reject Shields’ offer to work together again. Pebbel sarcastically agrees that Shields “ruined” their lives, pointing out that are all three now at the top of their professions thanks to their work with Shields. As they leave, Pebbel is still talking to Shields. Out of his sight, the three eavesdrop using an extension phone while Shields describes his new idea, and become more and more interested.

Cast

There has been much debate as to which real-life Hollywood legends are represented by the film’s characters. Jonathan Shields is thought to be a blending of David O. SelznickOrson Welles and Val Lewton.   Lewton’s Cat People is clearly the inspiration behind an early Shields-Amiel film.   The Georgia Lorrison character is the daughter of a “Great Profile” actor like John Barrymore (Diana Barrymore‘s career was in fact launched the same year as her father’s death), but it can also be argued that Lorrison includes elements of Minnelli’s ex-wife Judy Garland.   Gilbert Roland‘s Gaucho may almost be seen as self-parody, as he had recently starred in a series of Cisco Kid pictures, though the character’s name, Ribera, would seem to give a nod also to famed Hollywood seducer Porfirio Rubirosa. The director Henry Whitfield (Leo G. Carroll) is a “difficult” director modeled on Alfred Hitchcock, and his assistant Miss March (Kathleen Freeman) is modeled on Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville.   The James Lee Bartlow character may have been inspired by Paul Eliot Green, the University of North Carolina academic-turned-screenwriter of The Cabin in the Cotton.

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