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Friday, 22 February 2013

Classic Film Review: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Although Lana Turner is billed first, The Bad and the Beautiful really revolves around Kirk Douglas's character, Jonathan Shields. Shields is a floundering producer who has called upon three people he previously damaged to try and revive his career: director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), actress Georgia Lorrison (Turner) and writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell). They gather together and each tell their own personal stories about why they hate Shields and why they've vowed never to make another film with him. This was directed by Vincente Minnelli and is a scathing look at Hollywood and the people it attracts. What struck me was that this was essentially a male All About Eve (1950) (reviewed here): Shields, like Eve Harrington, is not afraid to stamp all over people to reach the top. That's the lesson we get from his experiences with Fred Amiel and James Lee Bartlow. The lesson from his relationship with Georgia Lorrison is altogether more complicated and provides some of the best scenes of the film.

The performances from all the major players along with Walter Pigeon as Shields's assistant and Gloria Grahame as Bartlow's wife are excellent. There are a few moments with Turner, particularly the car scene, which feel over-acted but she compensates for them in others, specifically the apartment scene when Shields is waiting for Georgia when she gets home drunk and their major confrontation scene at the end of her segment when the argument with Shields takes on a more sinister feeling, exposing layers to his character the viewer hasn't encountered before.

This being a Minnelli piece, the direction is superb with small touches throughout that add to the overall effect. It's a film that treads on thin ice, depicting the industry as vicious and those who inhabit the world as either innocents waiting to be torn to shreds or ruthless people waiting to do the shredding. There are also a couple of interesting scenes involving Douglas and Turner where the former is teaching the latter how to act and to hold an audience. It's little parts like that which make this film so captivating.

This is an exceptionally good film, though I still maintain the leading credit belongs to Douglas. It's the movie behind the movies and, as such, merits a watch for any film fan of the classic era. Beside which, it toys with the audience, bluffing about where it's going to go next. I have to say, though, that Shields gets steadily worse and, unfortunately, it's difficult to turn your head away.

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