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.