Kirk Raises His Shields
In 1950 Billy Wilder gave us "Sunset Boulevard" a now iconic movie which gave audiences a look behind the scenes at the movie industry, warts and all. Two years later and we got Vincente Minnelli going down the same road with "The Bad and the Beautiful" a supposed look at the movie industry behind the facade. I say supposed because whilst characters and situations are drawn from cinema's own lush history, there is a great homage to the "Cat People" movies, this is not an explosive look at how the industry works. In fact at times "The Bad and the Beautiful" feels more like a movie about one man and his determination to make it big even if he has to screw over his own friends to get there. Never the less whether you watch it for the behind the scenes looks or for one man's determination to be the best one thing can be said and that is "The Bad and the Beautiful" is entertaining from start to finish.
Called to the offices of Shields Productions 3 friends, actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) and writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) are all old friends of Producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas - The Big Trees) and all 3 of them were screwed over by him as he went from being a no one to one of the biggest and best Producers in the movie industry. But now with Jonathan struggling to making a new movie he calls on their help through his old friend Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon - Dark Command) who knows that each of them have good reason to tell Jonathan to stuff it but also know that without Jonathan they wouldn't be the success stories they have become.
"The Bad and the Beautiful" is basically a series of three flashbacks as we watch the one time friends of Producer Jonathan Shields called to his offices as after a run of disasters he needs their help again and we watch how each of them came to know Jonathan and how he ended up screwing them over. As such we basically have 3 sections as we watch how Jonathan screwed over Fred Amiel by taking the credit for his work and then leaving him on the sidelines when opportunity came calling. And then we watch how he turned alcoholic actress Georgia Lorrison into a star by leading her on only to dump her when his movie was made. And finally how he secretly and unintentionally ruined the life of writer James Lee Bartlow by persuading him to go to a cabin with him to focus on his writing whilst he set up lothario Gaucho to court his wife. These 3 stories interweave beautifully so each is connected in some way and of course all of this leads to whether or not they will bury the hatchet and help out their one time friend one last time.
Now as each of these stories unwinds we do get to see a glimpse of how the movie industry worked, or at least a sanitized glimpse of how the movie industry worked because this is not a warts and all movie. We watch how Shields basically manipulates his way to the top, out smarting those around him, using them to get what he wants what ever it costs. And as such whilst we do get to see a bit of how the movie industry works we get to see more of a man who is driven to be the best. What drives him is the fact his father was a one time big Producer but died penniless and unpopular and what he wants to do is to basically stick it to all those who derided his father.
One of the ironies of "The Bad and the Beautiful" is that it doesn't take us long to realises that Jonathan Shields is a user who has a strong selfish streak yet because this is Kirk Douglas we strangely like him. Maybe it's because Douglas fills Shields full of slick charm, maybe because whilst Shields screwed his friends he was prominent in making them big in the movie industry, maybe it's that slim glimmer of hope that Shields is deep down good but is so focussed that good part of him loses out. What ever it is there is a strange enjoyment watching Shields manipulate his way to the top of the industry and once he gets there is willing to lose it all for the sake of not putting out trashy movies.
Douglas is not the only enjoyable performance as Lana Turner, Dick Powell and Barry Sullivan are all convincing as his one time friends who were screwed over whilst Walter Pidgeon has that element of being a long suffering friend as Harry Pebbel who gave Shields his first step up. Even the smallest of performances be it the young girl screaming in one of Shields' movies to the woman who sees sleeping with him as a quick step up the ladder are all solid.
What this all boils down to is that "The Bad and the Beautiful" may not be the most truthful foray into the world of the movie industry but it is an entertaining one. And that entertainment comes from good performances throughout especially Kirk Douglas who gives us one surprisingly likeable bad guy.