The Bad and the Beautiful

(1952) director Vincente Minnelli
viewed: 07/09/10 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

The main draw for me to the double feature at the Castro this evening was The Bad and the Beautiful, the comic melodrama directed by Vincente Minnelli that I’d seen once before almost 20 years ago and had long wanted to see again.  Paired with The Big Knife (1955), I made note on my calendar to make it out to the theater, and for once, I actually followed through on such a plan.

And this film was well worth it.  Starring Kirk Douglad, Lana Turner, Walter Pigeon, and Dick Powell, the film is aces all up, wonderfully cast, cleverly written, and funny, spritely and insightful.  This was shown as part of the Castro’s more than week-long series of “Hollywood does Hollywood” series and it’s a classic of self-reflexivity at its finest.

Douglas plays Jonathan Sheilds, a self-made Hollywood producer, who we follow in flashbacks from his meagre beginnings to his rise to the top to his crash and burn.  We follow, as I mentioned, in flashbacks, through the eyes and stories of three of his collaborators and friends who he has managed to alienate and turn decidedly against him.

Barry Sullivan is the B-movie director (whose earlly efforts are modeled off of Val Lewton’s production of  Cat People (1942) to great humor) who gives Douglas class script that he’s written which Douglas promotes to his own end and leaves Sullivan in the dust.  Turner is a boozy floozy of an actress, daughter of Douglas’s actor idol, who he builds into a movie star by romancing her and promoting her, only to turn around and drop her for another actress.  And Dick Powell is the erudite writer, who Douglas draws begrudgingly to Hollywood (along with Powell’s gorgeous Southern Belle of a wife, played by Gloria Grahame).  When through machinations of Douglas’s Grahame is driven to the arms of a lover and ultimately killed, Powell is righteously incensed.

Ah, but for as ruthless and cut-throat Douglas’s road to success is, he makes great movies.  The film flirts with condemning him, but the tone isn’t pure melodrama, but rather a quite enjoyable comedy.  And it’s whip-smart and funny as heck.  A great film about the inner-workings of the Hollywood system, with hundreds of knowing barbs thrown and clever twists of narrative, the film is just plain excellent.  Bottom line: a great, great movie.

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