#241) The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
OR “Captain Kirk”
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Written by Charles Schnee. Based on the short story “Tribute to a Badman” by George Bradshaw
Class of 2002
The Plot: Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) has made some great movies, but always at the cost of alienating those closest to him. Down on his luck, Jonathan tries to recruit three former colleagues for one last picture. Each of them is extremely hesitant, despising Jonathan but also aware that they owe their success to him. Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) helped Jonathan produce his early pictures for Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), but had a falling out when Jonathan wouldn’t let him direct his dream project. Actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) was a bit player when Jonathan cast her as his leading lady (on and off-screen). Novelist James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) didn’t want to come to Hollywood to pen a screenplay, but Jonathan talked him into it, a decision with major consequences for Bartlow and his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame). Told through three separate flashbacks, we get a sense of the lengths Jonathan would go to make his movie his way.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it a “captivating Hollywood story” and praises Lana Turner’s performance and David Raksin’s score.
But Does It Really?: I…don’t know. “The Bad and the Beautiful” is a well-made tale of corrupt Old Hollywood, and it says what it wants to say without being mean-spirited, but it doesn’t have the cultural or historical qualities I’m looking for with an NFR inductee. I’ll label this movie a “minor classic” and recommend it to any classic film lover without hesitation, but that may be it.
Shout Outs: “Doom of the Cat Men” is an obvious stand-in for “Cat People”.
Everybody Gets One: As with most studio films, all the major players show up in at least one other NFR title. The notable exceptions are character actor Barry Sullivan and actress/model Elaine Stewart.
Wow, That’s Anachronistic: For a movie set in the ‘30s and ‘40s, they make very little effort to make this a period piece. A car here, a camera there, but everyone seems to be in a ‘50s aesthetic.
Title Track: The film was shot under the name “Tribute to a Bad Man”, but no one liked that title, so MGM publicity head Howard Dietz pitched “The Bad and the Beautiful”, a nod to the F. Scott Fitzgerald story “The Beautiful and the Damned”. Producer John Houseman hated that title too, but it stuck.
Seriously, Oscars?: “The Bad and the Beautiful” received six nominations and won five, one of the rare times the biggest winner of the night wasn’t a Best Picture nominee. The film took home Best Story and Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Supporting Actress for Gloria Grahame (more on that win later). The only nominee to go home empty-handed was Kirk Douglas, but how do you compete against Gary Cooper in “High Noon”?
- “Bad” was produced by John Houseman, who you know either as the “Paper Chase” guy or the old man in “Naked Gun” and “Scrooged”.
- Pretty impressive that Lana Turner gets top billing over obvious lead (and by then equally famous) Kirk Douglas. Kudos to her agent.
- Who is the inspiration for Jonathan Shields? Some say David Selznick, others Orson Welles. I suspect that all of the characters in this film are amalgamations of many of Hollywood’s worst qualities, and don’t represent any one person.
- I could listen to Walter Pidgeon read the Canadian phone book; that is a rich voice.
- Silent film star Francis X. Bushman plays the eulogizer at the beginning. It’s nice to hear him saying something other than sci-fi babble.
- Shoutout to Poverty Row, the nickname for the B-picture studios of the ‘30s and ‘40s.
- The look of complete disdain on the actors playing the Cat Men is hilarious. Speaking of, a horror movie where you never see the monster? You taking notes, Spielberg?
- Sure, Gaucho is your stereotypical “Latin lover” character, but at least he’s played by native Mexican Gilbert Roland (birth name Luis de Alonso). This could have been a lot worse.
- A producer lets himself into your apartment and waits for you to come home at 4am? Run, Georgia, run!
- The character of temperamental director Henry Whitfield is allegedly based on Alfred Hitchcock. Like the Shields debate, I’m skeptical about this one. Sure he’s British, but I’d be more inclined to accept this if he was portly and/or psychologically manipulative to his leading lady. Coincidentally, Whitfield is played by Leo G. Carroll, who would work with Hitch in “North by Northwest”.
- Speaking of allusions, the other temperamental director is Von Ellstein, definitely not von Sternberg or von Stroheim. This may be the only direct parallel in the entire film.
- That’s a young uncredited Barbara Billingsley as the costume designer on Georgia’s film. And that is no jive.
- Either it started raining as soon as Georgia started driving, or she’s speeding through a car wash.
- I did not realize Dick Powell made movies where he isn’t singing at Ruby Keeler. His performance was a pleasant surprise to me.
- At long last we arrive at Gloria Grahame. At face value Rosemary is shallow and one-note with limited screentime, so how did Grahame spin that into Oscar gold? It turns out “Bad” was just one of four movies Grahame appeared in in 1952. Among the others were fellow Oscar nominee “Sudden Fear” and Best Picture winner “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Grahame’s Oscar was a versatility win for all four performances, “Bad” just happened to be the chosen one. That being said, I still can’t forgive the Academy for giving this award to anyone other than Lina Lamont.
- The final credit is a thank you to the Motion Picture Academy for letting them use the Oscar statuettes in the film. So that’s how they won!
- Most of the film’s major players reunited a decade later for another takedown of moviemaking: “Two Weeks in Another Town”.
- This is the movie that gave us the trend of “The Adjective and the Adjective” movie titles throughout the ‘50s. “The High and the Mighty”, “The Bold and the Brave”, “The Wild and the Innocent”, “The Fast and the Furious” (No kidding, there’s an actual Roger Corman movie from the ‘50s that also has that title).