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The Bad and the Beautiful

Sunday April, 28 2019 at 03:15 PM

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The Bad and the Beautiful (1953) is probably the quintessential "Hollywood according to Hollywood" film; so it's appropriate that it stars the quintessential movie star - Lana Turner. Turner plays Georgia Lorrison, the trampy, alcoholic daughter of a legendary actor. She's transformed into a compelling actress by producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), himself a scion of tarnished Hollywood royalty. Georgia is one of three friends, including a director (Barry Sullivan) and a screenwriter (Dick Powell), betrayed by Shields in his obsessive and ruthless climb to the top.

The source material for The Bad and the Beautiful was a magazine story about an unscrupulous Broadway director. Producer John Houseman found the characters trite, but saw possibilities if the plot were revised to focus on Hollywood. Screenwriter Charles Schnee invented new characters, and Houseman and Director Vincente Minnelli contributed ideas based on real-life Hollywood personalities. Jonathan Shields is obviously inspired by Gone with the Wind (1939) producer David O. Selznick, with a nod to RKO studio B-movie producer Val Lewton, who made Cat People (1942). The father-obsessed Georgia is partly John Barrymore's star-crossed daughter Diana, and, says Houseman in his memoirs, "fragments of Gardner and Fontaine - not to mention Lana Turner, who came to play her." Latin lover Gilbert Roland was more or less playing himself as Latin lover "Gaucho." The budget-conscious studio manager played by Walter Pidgeon was based on Harry Rapf, the head of the MGM B-movie unit. The German director suggests Fritz Lang, and the British one, Hitchcock.

In casting Jonathan, Minnelli and Houseman rejected aging MGM stars like Robert Taylor and Clark Gable, and chose Kirk Douglas. Minnelli liked his powerful on-screen presence, but directed him not to play too intensely, knowing that would be self-evident. Instead, Minnelli told Douglas to play it for charm. Frequently during filming, Douglas would turn to Minnelli and say, "I was very charming in that scene, wasn't I?"

Houseman and Minnelli both felt that Lana Turner's acting ability had been underrated, and that she would be a natural as an insecure movie star. The first scene Turner had to play was a difficult one, where only her legs are seen dangling from a railing, and she had to act drunk with only her voice. Minnelli kept inventing "technical problems" to coax more takes from her, until he got what he wanted. The ruse clearly worked, because when Turner told the story in her autobiography, she referred to those very technical problems that forced take after take. Minnelli worked with Turner, much as Jonathan Shields worked with Georgia, helping her mold her performance. By the time she was to do the climactic scene of hysteria in the car, Turner was so confident that she kept her concentration throughout the technically complex scene, and her performance was frighteningly real.

Minnelli shot all over the MGM lot, capturing the eeriness and beauty of deserted soundstages and piles of props. Since the script was talky, he compensated with fluid, constantly moving camerawork, one of his trademarks. For Turner's breakdown, he devised a special turntable, which spun the car while the camera remained steady, zooming in and out to capture her reactions. Minnelli later said he choreographed the scene as carefully as if he were photographing a ballet.

The Bad and the Beautiful was a critical and commercial success. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, and won five - for Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume design, and Best Supporting actress (Gloria Grahame). Only Kirk Douglas, nominated for Best Actor, lost to Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952).

Rich in the details of moviemaking, visually inventive, superbly scripted and acted, The Bad and the Beautiful is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the end of Hollywood's Golden Era. In his analysis of Minnelli's films, Directed by Vincente Minnelli, Stephen Harvey explains the enduring seductiveness of the film: "The Bad and the Beautiful aspires neither to high art nor newsreel naturalism. By its own example, this black-and-white fantasia celebrates the energy and showmanship that made the studio system flourish."

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: John Houseman
Screenplay: Charles Schnee, based on a story by George Bradshaw
Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno; set decorator, Edwin B. Willis, Keogh Gleason
Music: David Raksin
Principal Cast: Lana Turner (Georgia Lorrison), Kirk Douglas (Jonathan Shields), Walter Pidgeon (Harry Pebbel), Dick Powell (James Lee Bartlow), Barry Sullivan (Fred Amiel), Gloria Grahame (Rosemary Bartlow), Gilbert Roland (Victor "Gaucho" Ribera).
BW-118m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

by Margarita Landazuri



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