The Bad and the Beautiful

Movies3TCM (Turner Classic Movie) is winding up it’s 31 days of Oscar. It’s been quite the showcase of classic movies. Today I watched The Bad and the Beautiful.

Directed by Vincent Minnelli and written by George Bradshaw and Charles Schnee, The Bad and The Beautiful stars Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner and Walter Pidgeon.

Although this movie was released in 1952, I was astonished at the unflinching and unsettling view of Hollywood it presented. It’s not even hinted at or subtexted but  boldly stated that young and beautiful women who wanted to be in the pictures, as they called them back then, often needed to exchange sexual favors with producers, directors, studio heads, etc, in order to even get a bit part in a movie.

Kirk Douglas plays the amoral, ambitious producer Jonathan Shields, who is willing to do whatever it takes, and I mean whatever it takes, from backstabbing a good friend to get a picture made to pimping out a male movie star to keep a writer’s wife “busy” so the writer can finish a script.

The movie focuses on Douglas’s character and the three people whose lives he changes forever: a director, an actress and a writer. The movie is actually told in flashback. At the beginning of the movie, Douglas’s character needs a blockbuster. Bad. His studio is in financial trouble and he needs the director (played by Barry Sullivan), the actress (Lana Turner) and the writer (Dick Powell) to help make the picture.

All three of them are at the top of their game and having them on board would pretty much guarantee a successful movie. The problem is all three of them hate Douglas’s guts. And for good reason.

The movie then goes on to show how Douglas met the director, actress and writer at the beginning of the careers, basically set each of them on the path to fame, fortune and success, but in the process also nearly destroyed their lives.

It’s a fascinating character study as none of the characters are portrayed as totally good or bad. Especially Kirk Douglas’s Jonathan Shields. The guy is a jerk, and yet, he’s also a genius when it comes to making movies and he honestly seems, at the very least, to care about making sure people live up to their potential. As long as it also helps him up the ladder of success.

As I said, I was surprised at how willing the movie was to show some of Hollywood’s warts. It’s also a fascinating study of the creative process. For example, whenever Douglas’s character finishes a movie, he descends into a rather deep and scary black depression, saying that after he’s done with a picture he feels “empty.”

The Bad and the Beautiful won five Oscars, including Best Screenplay (richly deserved) and Best Supporting Actress, but it didn’t win Best Picture. The Greatest Show on Earth won that honor that year.

I give it five popcorn bags and highly recommend it! Especially if you like movies about Hollywood. It’s up there with another favorite of mine, which also shows Hollywood with warts intact, Sunset Boulevard.

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