Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar Winners: The Bad and the Beautiful (dir by Vincente Minnelli)


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What can I say about The Bad and the Beautiful?

Released in 1952 and directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is arguably one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite films.

Perhaps appropriately, The Bad and the Beautiful is a film about the movies.

Jonathan Shields (played in a truly amazing performance by Kirk Douglas) is a legendary film producer.  He’s won Oscars, he’s got a reputation for being a genius, and, as the film begins, he is one of the most hated men in Hollywood.  It’s been years since Shields made a succesful film but he thinks that he’s finally come up with a movie that can put him back on top.  His assistant, Harry Pebbel (played with a weary dignity by Walter Pidgeon), invites Hollywood’s best director, actress, and screenwriter to a meeting and he proceeds to spend the rest of the film trying to convince them to help Jonathan make his comeback.

The only problem is that all three of them hate Jonathan Shields and have sworn that they’ll never work with him again.  Through the use of flashbacks, we see how each of them first met Jonathan and how each eventually came to despise him.

Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) first met Jonathan when Jonathan hired him to pretend to be a mourner at his father’s funeral.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred moves up from directing B-movies to finally getting a chance to make his dream movie, an adaptation of a believably pretentious novel called The Far Off Mountain.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred even gets womanizing film star Gaucho Ribera (a hilariously vain Gilbert Roland) to agree to star in Fred’s movie.  Jonathan also introduces Fred to Georgia (Lana Turner), the alcoholic daughter of Jonathan’s mentor.

Jonathan eventually makes Georgia into a film star and Georgia falls in love with him.  Of all the major actresses of the 1950s, Lana Turner seems to get the least amount of respect from film historians.  She’s more remembered today as the epitome of glamour and scandal but, in The Bad and the Beautiful, Turner gives one of the best performances of her career.  In her best scene, Georgia has a nervous breakdown while driving in the rain and, for those few minutes, you forget that you’re watching an iconic film star.  Instead, you’re just amazed by the performance.

Finally, the screenwriter is James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), an intellectual novelist who is brought to Hollywood by Jonathan.  While the reluctant Bartlow finds himself being seduced by J0nathan, his flighty wife (Gloria Grahame) is seduced by Gaucho.

The Bad and the Beautiful is perhaps one of the few perfect movies ever made, a film that qualifies as both art and entertainment.  There are so many reasons why I love this film that its hard for me to describe them all.  The film snob in me loves the fact that Minnelli directed The Bad and the Beautiful as if it were a classic black-and-white film noir.  The entire film is lit and shot to emphasize shadows and moral ambiguity.  As played by Kirk Douglas, Jonathan Shields is as seductive and dangerous a figure as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  My inner film historian loves the fact that the film is full of barely disguised portraits of real life Hollywood figures like David O. Selznick, Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock, and Diane Barrymore.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my girly girl side loves that this film is basically a big melodramatic soap opera.  Lana Turner’s outfits are to die for and Jonathan Shields is the ultimate bad boy that we can’t help but love.

The Bad and the Beautiful received 6 Oscar nominations but it wasn’t nominated for best picture.  (This snub is all the more surprising when you consider what the Academy did name as the best picture of 1952 — Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth.)  Out of those six nominations, the Bad and the Beautiful won five Oscars.  (Of all the film’s nominees, only Kirk Douglas failed to win.)  As of this writing, The Bad and the Beautiful still holds the record for most Oscars won by a film that failed to be nominated for best picture.

Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar-Nominated Films: Mutiny on the Bounty (dir. by Lewis Milestone)


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Previously, I reviewed the 1935 Best Picture winner Mutiny on the Bounty, a film that still stands as one of the best adventure films ever made.  However, this was not the only film made about the Bounty to be honored with several Oscar nominations.  In 1962, another version of Mutiny on The Bounty was released and, like its predecessor, received a nomination for Best Picture of the year.  However, while the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty remains one of the most entertaining films ever made, the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty is a mess.

As in the 1935 version of the story, we once again follow the HMS Bounty as it sails from England to Tahiti.  Again, the ship’s captain is the tyrannical Capt. Bligh (Trevor Howard) and again, the eventual mutiny is led by Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando).  While the 1935 version presented Christian as the unquestioned leader of the mutiny, this version features an indecisive Christian who is goaded into leading the mutiny by a seaman named John Mills (Richard Harris).  Whereas the 1935 Fletcher Christian never regretted his decision, the 1962 version seems to regret the mutiny from the moment it occurs and literally spends the rest of the film trying to get the mutineers to agree to return to England with him.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two versions of Mutiny on the Bounty is that the 1935 version was a 2-hour film that felt shorter while the 1962 remake lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes (including intermission) and feels even longer.  The 1962 version was made at a time when Hollywood was attempting to counteract the influences of European art films and American television by making films that were a thousand times bigger then they needed to be.  Whereas the 1935 Mutiny on The Bounty was all about telling the story as efficiently as possible, the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty was about telling audiences, at every possible moment, that they couldn’t see anything like this on television or in some French art film.  Audiences in 1962 may very well have been amazed by the endless shots of Tahitians dancing and the Bounty rocking on the ocean but, for modern audiences, the entire film just feels incredibly slow and padded.

Another major difference between the two versions of Mutiny on the Bounty is that Marlon Brando, to be charitable, was no Clark Gable.  Much as Clark Gable could never have been a credible Stanley Kowalski or Vito Corleone, Brando could never have been a convincing Fletcher Christian.  Whereas Gable played Christian as the epitome of masculinity, Brando’s internalized, method approach serves to turn the character into something of a wimp.  It doesn’t help that Brando’s twangy attempt at an English accent sounds like every bad Monty Python impersonation that’s ever been heard in a college dorm room.

The 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty was a notoriously troubled production.  Marlon Brando was reportedly bored with the role of Fletcher Christian (which might explain why he gave such an eccentric performance) and he reportedly used his star status to demand and make constant changes in the script.  The film’s original director, Carol Reed, reportedly quit over frustration with Brando and was replaced by Lewis Milestone.  Milestone, a veteran director who had started his career during the silent era, proved just as ineffectual when it came to controlling Brando.  By the end of the film, Richard Harris was literally refusing to film any scenes opposite Brando.  The end result was that the film went wildly over schedule and over budget.

Despite being reviled by even contemporary critics, Mutiny on the Bounty received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.  The nomination was a triumph for the studio system as MGM reportedly directed all of its employees to vote for the film. That may have been enough to win Mutiny a nomination for best picture but the actual Oscar went to Lawrence of Arabia.