The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is director Vincente Minnelli’s (and producer John Houseman’s) quintessential movie about Hollywood and moviemaking. MGM’s popular hit, with David Raskin’s soundtrack and Robert Surtees’ great B/W cinematography, was an entertaining, noirish melodrama. It tells the steamy story of the ruthless eighteen-year rise and fall of a tyrannical, manipulative Hollywood movie tycoon – told in flashback and from multiple perspectives (from the point of view of a director, actress, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer).
The brilliant film about the behind-the-scenes machinations, workings and atmosphere of the celluloid world was written by Charles Schnee and based upon a short story (in the February 1951 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal) by George Bradshaw titled “Tribute to a Bad Man.” The film’s original title was changed because it didn’t make any reference to the female star, Lana Turner. [The central character, a recently-deceased, scheming, unscrupulous Broadway producer, was shifted to a living, megalo-maniacal Hollywood producer seeking a comeback.]
It was one of the first in a long succession of films (some cynical and critical) that satirized, skewered or examined the makings of films in the tawdry ‘Hollywood’ dream factory, including Show People (1928), A Star is Born (1937), Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), the same year’s and studio’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952), A Star is Born (1954), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife (1955), The Goddess (1958), Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), The Oscar (1966), Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust (1975), The Last Tycoon (1976), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), and many more. Trailers, however, described this picture as “not the Hollywood of yesterday, but Today’s Hollywood, showing the working of both a great motion picture Studio and behind-the-scenes of what makes Hollywood tick.”
Viewers and critics have enjoyed the inside jokes and guessing the possible associations between the fictional, prototypical characters and real-life movie personalities:
- Kirk Douglas as film producer Jonathan Shields (the “Bad” of the film’s title) = Darryl F. Zanuck and/or David O. Selznick (whose father was Lewis J. Selznick, similar to Shields’ father), and/or Val Lewton (B horror-film producer of Cat People (1942)), and/or Orson Welles (“genius boy”); Selznick had a similar Svengali relationship with starlet Jennifer Jones (the Lana Turner character), and made a similar costume drama (Anna Karenina, or The Scarlet Empress) and Civil War epic (Gone With The Wind (1939) = The Proud Land)
- Lana Turner as actress Georgia Lorrison (the “Beautiful” of the film’s title, although originally “Bad” herself) = John Barrymore’s tragic daughter Diana
- Walter Pidgeon as studio executive Harry Pebbel = Herman Mankiewicz, or Harry Rapf (B-film production chief at MGM)
- Leo G. Carroll as British director Henry Whitfield = Alfred Hitchcock
- Dick Powell as screenwriter/Southern novelist = William Faulkner, or F. Scott Fitzgerald (who was married to a Southern belle named Zelda Sayre who died in a conflagration rather than a plane crash)
- Ivan Triesault as director Von Ellstein = director Erich von Stroheim, or director Josef von Sternberg
- Gilbert Roland as Latin lover film star Victor “Gaucho” Ribera = himself, Lothario Gilbert Roland
- Two female singers in film, at a Hollywood party and in a nightclub = Judy Garland, Lena Horne
The film earned six Academy Award nominations and won five of them excluding Best Actor (Kirk Douglas lost to Gary Cooper for his role in High Noon (1952): Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame), Best Screenplay (Charles Schnee), Best B/W Cinematography (Robert Surtees), Best B/W Art Direction-Set Decoration (Cedric Gibbons and Edward Carfagno; Edwin B. Willis and Keogh Gleason), and Best B/W Costume Design (Helen Rose). Unfortunately, director Minnelli was denied a nomination, and the much-praised film uncharacteristically wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. He was best known and loved for his musicals, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), An American in Paris (1951), and The Band Wagon (1953).
INSIGHT: Here are some of Martin Scorsese’s reflections on the film in this video below:
GLAS (1958) short film in technicolor we screened the same night
At CIne-Real this month we screened a lovely 16mm technicolor print of the 1958 Dutch short documentary film by director and producer Bert Haanstra. The film won the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 1959. The film is about the glass industry in the Netherlands. It contrasts the handmade crystal from the Royal Leerdam Glass Factory with automated bottle making machines. The accompanying music ranges from jazz to techno. Short segments of artisans making various glass goods by hand are joined with those of mass production. It is often acclaimed to be the perfect short documentary.