The Bad and the Beautiful

Released:  1952

Cast:  Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland

Oscar Wins:  Beset Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame), Best Writing, Screenplay (Charles Schnee), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Robert Surtees), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Cedric Gibbons, Edward C. Carfagno, Edwin B. Willis, F. Keogh Gleason), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Helen Rose)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (Kirk Douglas)

SUMMARY:  One by one, film director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) receive calls from producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) in Paris.  With varying degrees of hostility, all refuse to talk to him.  However, when another producer, Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) summons them to Shields’s house, all three oblige.  Pebbel explains that Shields has an idea for a new movie, and wants the three of them to help him make it; without them, he cannot get the financing for the film.  Again, all three refuse, but Pebbel requests that they tell Shields this over the phone.  Pebbel tells them that he understands why each of them would refuse, as each has good reasons to dislike Shields.  In flashbacks, these reasons are revealed, starting with Fred Amiel.  Amiel and Shields met at the funeral of Shields’s father, who had been the head of a film company, famed for his brutal tactics.  In fact, Shields was so afraid that no one would attend the funeral that he paid several people, including Amiel to attend.  After meeting each other, Shields explains that his intention is to revive his father’s studio.  Shields convinces Pebbel, a film executive, to let him work as a line producer on an upcoming film, and brings Amiel, an aspiring director, along with him.  The pair work their way up through a series of B-movies, but hit the jackpot when they adapt a terrible storyline into a successful movie.  Amiel and Shields intend to parlay this success into making a big-budget movie, written by Amiel.  Shields is able to talk Pebbel into financing the movie (at a budget of $1 million), but abandons Amiel (who wrote the screenplay) for a more experienced director.  Amiel immediately parts ways with Shields, and becomes a director at another studio, eventually winning several Oscars.  The big-budget film is a huge success, and the profits allow Shields to resurrect his father’s studio and hire Pebbel to work for him.  He also buys the house of former actor George Lorrison, where he discovers that Lorrison’s alcoholic daughter is hiding out.  Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) is also an actress, but has only had very small roles.  Despite this, and a lackluster screen test, Shields believes that she has real star quality.

Overruling everybody else at the studio, Shields gives Georgia the lead role in a big upcoming movie, but she flakes out the day before filming starts.  Though Shields is angry, he convinces Georgia to try again in another movie (he had already recast the original).  He also finds that Georgia has fallen in love with him, and uses her feelings (which he pretends to reciprocate) to build up her confidence.  The relationship deepens as they work together on the next movie, and Georgia’s debut performance is a resounding success, but Shields is not at the premiere or the after-party.  Georgia goes to his house, where she finds him with another small-time actress.  When Georgia tries to convince him of her love, Shields vows that he will never let anyone control him, whether professionally or personally.  The next day, Georgia walks out on her studio contract, and Shields lets her.  Georgia quickly signs a contract with another studio, and becomes a major Hollywood name.  The final member of the trio is James Lee Bartlow, who was working at a professor at a small college when the film rights for his debut book were bought by the Shields studio.  Shields wants Bartlow to write the screenplay for his novel, and tries to convince him to visit Hollywood, but Bartlow refuses.  However, when his wife, former Southern belle Rosemary (Gloria Grahame), expresses a desire to see the city, Bartlow gives in.  Once they arrive, Bartlow is given an office at the studio, but finds himself unable to write due to his wife’s constant interruptions.  Desperate to get the script written, Shields arranges to take a trip into the mountains with Bartlow; he asks another actor to keep Rosemary occupied while they are gone.  The trip is successful, as Bartlow completes a script, but when he and Shields get back to town, they discover that Rosemary and the other actor have died in a plane crash.  Bartlow is crushed, but is comforted by Shields’s reassurances that he had no idea of Rosemary’s affiliation with the other man.  Bartlow stays in Hollywood as shooting begins on his movie, but things start to go wrong when Shields feuds with the director.  The director walks off the project, and Shields insists that he can direct the film just as well.  Instead, the movie is a complete failure; Shields recognizes this, and doesn’t even release it, instead eating the costs and essentially bankrupting himself.  In a private conversation with Bartlow, he also lets slip that he knew about Rosemary and the actor’s relationship.  Bartlow immediately leaves, and after some time, writes a novel about his late wife that wins him a Pulitzer Prize.  At the end of the flashbacks, Pebbel notes that while Shields caused his fair share of damage, each of the three people in front of him actually came out better for it.  The phone call to Shields is then connected, and all three again state their refusal to work with him.  However, as they are leaving the house, Georgia picks up an extension line and begins to listen in as Shields describes his new movie to Pebbel; the two men soon join her, all three becoming intrigued by what they hear.

MY TAKE:  I found this movie to be an interesting premise, mostly because of what Pebbel said toward the end:  though Shields was an absolute jerk to all three people (Amiel, Georgia and Barlow), they actually came out the better for it.  It makes you wonder:  would they have been such great successes if they stayed with Shields?  Did Shields know what he was doing – was he just trying to push each of them to their greatest potential?  In both cases, I think the answer is no.  I think that it was their desire to prove that they could succeed without Shields that drove them to their later success.  I don’t think that Shields was doing it on purpose, I think he was just being a butthole.  It’s pretty obvious that he’s only concerned with his own well-being, and is willing to manipulate anyone and everyone to that benefit.  As in all good movies, karma eventually comes to get him, and he finds himself right back where he started.  I did find it interesting that each of the three others turned down his offer without a thought:  they didn’t gloat at what had happened to Shields, or think about working with him just to get even.  Again, it’s obvious that he was so awful to them that they don’t want anything to do with him, in thought or deed.  However, all three have been in Hollywood long enough to recognize a potential hit, and they apparently think that Shields may have one after they listen in on the extension.  I was both surprised and not surprised that Georgia was the one who picked up the extension:  not surprised because she’s a woman, and I would expect her to be more sympathetic to the pain of someone she once loved; surprised because Shields was probably the nastiest to her.  Amiel was driven away with a professional slight; Bartlow with a tragic accident that involved a personal matter, but not one that was directly linked to Shields (Shields had no way of knowing the plane would crash).  Georgia’s rejection was brutal, and I wouldn’t have blamed her for not picking up the phone, and walking straight out the door.  I would have liked to see what would have happened if the three decided to work on the movie, as I would bet the dynamic between them and Shields would be a lot different than it was the first time around.

Fun facts:  Dick Powell, who plays James Lee Bartlow, is the guy that played the male lead in the musicals Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street.  He’s quite a bit older here, but if you look at his face, he’s still got that memorable smile.

Gloria Grahame (who is maybe most famous for being Ado Annie in Oklahoma!) won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Rosemary Bartlow.  She’s only in the movie for about 9 and a half minutes.  This was the shortest award-winning performance until 1976, when Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting for a 5-minute role in Network.

RATING:  Intriguing and entertaining.

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