Jan 8, 2020
On Blu-Ray: The Luscious, Vicious Hollywood of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
In telling the story of a charismatic cad, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) encapsulates all the glory, glamour, despair, and depravity of Hollywood. Director Vincente Minnelli’s portrait of the manipulative filmmaker Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) feels so real that you can’t help wondering who was the inspiration for this man and the cast of characters that surrounds him. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, the film looks great and has retained its devastating power.
The story plays mostly in flashback, with a framing device in which producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) tries to convince actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) to speak with Shields about a new production. The filmmaker is down-and-out, but this trio has taken plenty of professional and personal grief from Shields and they are understandably wary of him. Pebbel tries the risky tactic of asking them to reminisce about their times together, in the hopes they will find something good that makes them want to work with him again.
This vibrantly-told tale was based on George Bradshaw’s 1949 story Of Good and Evil, which was later released in an expanded version as Memorial to a Bad Man. It was originally set in the New York theater world, but producer John Houseman found it more interesting and novel to focus on Hollywood. He certainly had plenty of material to work with; it is rumored that Shields was crafted out of the personalities of Val Lewton, Orson Welles, and David O. Selznick.
The film made a profit, and won many accolades, including five Academy Awards out of six nominations. Douglas was nominated, and Gloria Grahame won supporting actress for barely over nine minutes of screen time, a record for shortest nominated appearance at the time.
While any acting nomination for The Bad and the Beautiful would be well deserved, it is always Lana Turner who gets to me the most. She so effectively communicates the hurt and yearning beneath her perfect blonde beauty. You could see just about anyone in this film bouncing back from disappointment, even Shields, but Turner’s take on Lorrison gives you the impression that she will always be a bit haunted and that feeling, coupled with the genetic burden of alcoholism, seems constantly ready to claim her.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is that while it is so much about the dark side of Hollywood, it is also a perfectly pleasing Tinsel Town product: lushly glamorous, passionate, and vibrant with the charisma of its astonishing cast.
Special features on the Blu-ray include the TCM-produced documentary Lana Turner…A Daughter’s Memoir (2001), scoring session music cues, and theatrical trailers.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.