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The Bad and the Beautiful

June 23, 2011

248. The Bad and the Beautiful
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay by Charles Schnee
USA, 1952
IMDB | allrovi

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


Studio boss Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) gathers three people in his office and begs them to help out down-on-his-luck Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas). The three people recount how Shields betrayed them in the past:

Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) started out directing B-movies in partnership with Shields. As they became more successful, Shields abandoned him in favour of big-name directors. Actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) got her big break in a Shields picture, and the pair had a romance until she caught Shields cheating on her. Writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) came to Hollywood to adapt his book for Shields. His wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) began an affair with actor Gaucho (Gilbert Roland). After the secret lovers died in a plane crash, Bartlow discovered that it was Shields who introduced them, hoping to keep Rosemary busy so she wouldn’t interrupt his work.


Kirk Douglas adapts his amoral, manipulative journalist from Ace in the Hole into an amoral, manipulative movie producer. He uses and discards colleagues as and when it suits him, and never really learns his lesson — although, as the studio boss points out, he doesn’t really need to! He may hurt their feelings, but he advances their careers all the same. Amiel becomes one of the big-name directors for whom Shields abandoned him in the first place, Georgia becomes an even bigger star after the Shields debacle, and Bartlow wins a Pulitzer Prize for his novel inspired by his late wife Rosemary.

Gloria Grahame deserves special mention for her Oscar-winning role. Rosemary is posited as a nuisance and a distraction from her husband’s work, but I couldn’t help grinning whenever she was onscreen. She has the most adorable Southern accent, and I was particularly delighted by her recurring line: “James Lee, you have a very naughty mind… I’m happy to say.” Tee-hee!

The Bad and the Beautiful subverts expectations in a few neat little ways. The flashback structure, recounting the stories of Shields’ betrayals, sets it up as a typical melodrama. As such, I fully expected the story to end with Shields dying lonely and bitter. However, the moral of the story isn’t if you betray your friends, you will lose them. Instead it seems to be; if you betray your friends, you’d better have a bloody good idea for a new film!

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