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The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Another film from the early 1950s — see: All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard and Singin' in the Rain — that gives us the end of a Hollywood tale first.

Written by:
George Bradshaw
Charles Schnee

Directed by:
Vincente Minnelli

Starring:
Lana Turner
Kirk Douglas
Walter Pidgeon
Dick Powell
Gloria Grahame

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Actor (Douglas)

Academy Awards:
Best Screenplay (Schnee)
Best Supporting Actress (Grahame)
Best Art Direction
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design

Quote:
“Right now I don't need a wife, I need a star.”

Reason to See Film:
Kirk Douglas

Three artists — director Harry Pebbel, actress Georgia Lorrison and writer James Lee Bartlow — each refuse the phonecalls of a down-on-his-luck producer named Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), but agree to hear his case before his subordinate. This leads to long flashbacks on how Shields betrayed each of them, which, together, encompass the arc of Shields' rise and fall.

He started out as the son of a famous-but-destitute man and worked his way back into the biz through will and audacity. His first partner was Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon). The two men start out as extras, work their way up to producing and directing b-movies, and when one of their movies, about cat-men (see: Cat People), becomes a hit, they are given the sequel. Neither wants this. Pebbel wants to adapt a famous novel but it takes Shields' energy to push the project through. To do so, however, means agreeing on a director other than Pebbel and Pebbel walks out of his life. This is the first betrayal.

The writer, James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), represents the final arc of Shields' story. Bartlow is coerced into adapting his prize-winning novel for Shields, but is hampered by the constant, ditzy, nagging presence of his wife, Rosemary (Gloria Grahame — the girl who "cain't say no" from Oklahoma, equally wonderful here). So Shields arranges for Bartlow to get away for the weekend, and occupies Rosemary with leading man Victor "Gaucho" Rivera. Upon returning they find out — in the newspapers — that Gaucho has died in a plane crash with Rosemary beside him. Bartlow is crushed but continues to work. Eventually he finds out of Jonathan's machinations, slugs him, and walks out of his life. That's the third betrayal.

It's the second betrayal — represented by The Bad and the Beautiful's chief star, Lana Turner — which disappoints. Turner plays Georgia Lorrison, the daughter of a famous Hollywood man, whom Jonathan attempts to reinvigorate. Against all odds — her drinking, her bad acting, the fact that she falls in love with him — he makes her a star. Then she finds him with another woman. It so wounds her that she drives home, hysterical, endangering who knows how many innocent pedestrians.

But is this betrayal? Jonathan did everything for her. She would have been nothing without him. Hell, she probably would have died from drink.

Absurdly, Jonathan's subordinate tries to convince each that, while Jonathan betrayed them, he also created situations that ultimately allowed them to succeed. Harry Pebbel is now a famous director: he owes that to Jonathan. Georgia is now a famous actress; ditto. But what's the argument for James Lee Bartlow? Sure, he convinced a movie star to cuckold you and was inadvertently responsible for the death of your wife. But hey! You were able to write a famous book about her! You won the Pulitzer Prize! It's an argument that even the greasiest PR man wouldn't make.

—February 9, 1999

© 1999 Erik Lundegaard