Wednesday, May 19, 2010

1952, Year in Review: The Bad and the Beautiful

The Bad and the Beautiful
Directed by Vincente Minelli
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame
Grade: C+

There's a moment in "The Bad and the Beautiful" where in the midst of a heated argument Lana Turner launches a glass bottle at Kirk Douglas, very nearly clocking him square on that famously-chiselled chin of his. I remain clueless as to the level of intent behind this moment; if it amounts to a bout of needless melodrama, a lesson in method acting, or some kind of meditation on life imitating art and vice versa. In short, that foible summarises my feelings about the sketchy extent of the film's satire, and whether Minelli is aware of the difference between brave filmmaking and savvy filmmaking. He certainly scores points for a deftly cynical attitude towards the film industry and its fickle, frivolous cultivation of disloyalty.

Dogulas' Jonathan Shields starts off as a reckless gambler, indebted to a Hollywood Producer who then gives him a job that a million guys would kill for. First blood to Minelli in the "be shameless to succeed" stakes, a point that's re-iterated later through promiscuity and betrayal of the highest order. "Beautiful" is also heavily critical of men and male-dominated big business in a way that was surely novel for the fifties, rarely encouraging empathy for Shields or his achievements. His stormy relationship with Actress Georgia Lorrison dominates as a makeshift connection that works wonders for both their careers but does nothing for their personal life. They're an engaging enough partnership, no doubt, but because Minelli is too keen to maintain a prehensile perspective Douglas and Turner often feel coldly demonstrative of his chastise. The succession of soap opera-esque tiffs, while aesthetically brutal and bare on the screen, don't give us enough of an insight into the pair and become a repetitive fixture.

After ninety minutes "Beautiful" hastily veers from Jonathan and Georgia to focus on Dick Powell as a screenwriter and Gloria Grahame as his neurotic wife, a move that confirmed to me that Minelli really isn't sure of how to manipulate his ideas into the film's narrative. Mirrored with the previous story strand this sudden attempt to introduce an alternative avenue feels tacked on to give the allusion that "Beautiful" is more of a rounded drama with Shields at its centre. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa, with all it had to say about the movie business, was made three years after this film, and works better by chronicling the rise of one particular Actress.

If you didn't already know that Hollywood is the haven of a ruthless juggernaut of commerce, you certainly will after watching "The Bad and the Beautiful". Yet, for all of the freshness in the approach towards its subject, the film is much too disjointed to achieve the impact as a sniping commentary that its dramatic title and glitzy cast-list might suggest. 

Academy Awards

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Gloria Grahame
Best Writing (Screenplay)
Best Art Direction, Black and White
Best Cinematography, Black and White
Best Costume Design, Black and White

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Kirk Douglas


Fritz said...

I really like this movie! Kirk Douglas would be my Best Actor choice that year. But Gloria Graham's win is really a big ????

Cal said...

Hi Fritz,

I was going to say a little bit about Grahame but I love her so much that it was difficult for me! I think she does a bad impersonation of Vivien Leigh in Streetcar, and generally gets the character all wrong.

Lana Turner was excellent and I always *like* Douglas but never love him - apart from maybe Paths of Glory.