• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:July 8, 2021

Bad and the Beautiful: Darkness in the Dream Factory


After appearing in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), the character of Gordon Gekko, the smooth corporate raider whose motto was “greed is good”, became an icon to several real-life stockbrokers. He was played by Michael Douglas who won an Oscar. His father, Kirk, didn’t win but was nominated for playing a character in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful that kind of preceded Gordon Gekko. One would like to think that one or two real-life film producers saw this movie and modeled themselves on Jonathan Shields.

Meeting Jonathan Shields in flashbacks
The movie begins with three people summoned to the office of a successful Hollywood player, Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), who has decided to teach them a lesson. He owes his fortunes to the talent of Jonathan Shields who has not done so well lately. Jonathan is trying to mount a comeback and is hoping for his former friends to help him out, but they don’t want to do it and it’s up to Harry to change their minds. As the three people sit in his office and are reminded of how they first met Jonathan, we see it played out in flashbacks.

The memories are not pleasant. Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) showed Jonathan his dream project only to see it taken away from him when the increased budget made it, in Jonathan’s words, “too big” for him. Movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) had an affair with Jonathan but was cruelly betrayed. Screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) lost his wife in a plane crash and she wouldn’t have been on the plane had it not been for Jonathan. These three people hate the producer and with good reason. But the flashbacks also show that they would be nothing without him. Indeed, nothing is black and white.

Lana Turner’s juicy part
The acting is very good and the central romance is supposedly based on that between David Selznick and Jennifer Jones. Turner rarely showed intensity as much as she did in this film, but then she is provided with a really juicy part, as an alcoholic with plenty of self-loathing, the daughter of a Great Actor who now lives in her dead father’s shadow. Jonathan helps her on her feet, she foolishly falls in love with him, and the way he betrays her is truly hurtful.

Douglas is great as the driven, occasionally likeable producer who figures a certain amount of ruthlessness is needed if he is to succeed. Writer Charles Schnee does not turn his main character into a monster, but shows him as a genuine human being with flaws. That’s necessary because you wouldn’t believe that a monster would have a prosperous career in real life. Douglas and Turner are well supported by Powell and Grahame as the no-nonsense, honest historian who becomes a screenwriter and his wife, a charming, enthusiastic Virginia belle. The three tales we are told are fairly similar in structure, but each one is nevertheless engaging thanks to the actors, the witty lines, believable Hollywood environs and the strong emotions.

The final sequence is a perfect way to end it; it speaks volumes about the kind of allure a person like Jonathan Shields after all possesses.

Prior to this film, Vincente Minnelli had with his colorful musicals and charming comedies shown the world that he was a filmmaker of the first rank. This was not the first drama he ever made, but the genre was not his forte. There’s no reason why Minnelli should do realism when others were better at it. Still, The Bad and the Beautiful showed that he could make a serious drama… but the setting would of course be the least serious place on Earth.  

The Bad and the Beautiful 1952-U.S. 118 min. B/W. Produced by John Houseman. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screenplay: Charles Schnee. Cinematography: Robert Surtees. Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno. Cast: Kirk Douglas (Jonathan Shields), Lana Turner (Georgia Lorrison), Dick Powell (James Lee Bartlow), Gloria Grahame, Barry Sullivan, Walter Pidgeon… Leo G. Carroll.

Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Grahame), Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design. 

Last word: “Kirk Douglas has strength, you know. It doesn’t have to be there, it’s there. So he played it completely for charm. When he came off a scene he’d say to me, ‘I was very charming in that scene!’ We played it completely for charm when he stepped on people’s necks. But he was always correct. The director wasn’t ready to do that fine picture, but he was with the producer’s help. The writer’s wife was driving the writer crazy. So he was correct in all those things. But he had the strength to go through with it and hurt the people he loved. And he did get the after-film blues. It’s a let-down. ‘What the hell is so important about that ?’ We work so hard, and then suddenly it stops.” (Minnelli, interview with Henry Sheehan)



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