Review: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

The Bad and the Beautiful

Rating

Director
Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay
Charles Schnee (Story: George Bradshaw)
Length
118 min.
Starring
Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Elaine Stewart, Ivan Triesault
MPAA Rating
Approved

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Review
Who is Jonathan Shields? That is the premise of the story The Bad and the Beautiful, a Vincente Minnelli drama about a washed up producer’s son trying to make a success for himself in the film industry and the many hands he stepped on climbing up the ladder. Kirk Douglas stars as Shields who charismatically dances through the film’s frames on a crash course with a destiny established early in the film.

Shields begins the film desperate for a new film, having become a financial failure in the film industry, but how that ruin came about is told through flashback, three of them to be specific. His attempts to contact the director (Barry Sullivan), actress (Lana Turner) and writer (Dick Powell) he burned in his push to fame, provide the impetus for the story as his longtime assistant Harry Pebbel (Walter Pigeon) summons the three wayward souls to his office and hopes to convince them to help out the man who gave them their breaks in the business.

There are three stories here and each one follows a natural progression of events as Shields rises to fame. His first encounter is running rough shod over the director who stood by his side as they launched his empire. The second is helping the daughter of an also-failed father become a strong and talented actress. And the third is taking a novelist and turning him into a credible and successful screenwriter. In each of these sections, he identified his associates’ needs and used them to not only bolster their capabilities, but boost his career as well and in doing so, his own hubris helped tear down those same relationships driving a wedge between them.

Aside from Douglas, there isn’t really a noteworthy performance in the bunch. The ensemble is strong, but fade appropriately when placed alongside Douglas’ sometimes-outlandish, frequently engaging Shields. Turner probably comes off the worst of these. While her scenes of learning to become a better actress are quite good, when she’s actually acting as her character, she loses a lot of that spritely energy and becomes a rough caricature.

The film itself has a few entertaining moments, but feels every bit segmented as the story implies. Although the continuous story arc of the film is easy to follow and makes sense, it still feels a bit disjointed and awkward at times. While it would be decades before directors would skillfully wind disparate stories together in strange and original ways, they can always be compared to this type of story that was told so conventionally and unerringly straight forward that, despite starting at the end and then slowly working its way back through the characters’ histories, it still feels uselessly linear.
Review Written
September 6, 2010

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