Review: The Bad And The Beautiful (1952)

bad

Oh Hollywood, you are always the subject of scorn!

Screenplay By: Charles Schnee
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

Hollywood people must really hate themselves and their business. Everyone has problems with their place of work, but Hollywood, read movie making, is the one business that has been skewered time and time again by its own denizens. It’s rare to read a book that lambastes the print publishing industry, or an article in SI by a soccer player who bashes all that is the English Premier League. Yet, Hollywood is constantly slamming itself, this leads me to only one conclusion, the people in Hollywood must undoubtedly be the scummiest people alive. Much like Sunset Blvd., State And Main and many others, The Bad And The Beautiful wholeheartedly agrees with me.

When The Bad And The Beautiful first concludes for the viewer the above may not appear to be the case. But, I ask you to think, really think, about what the ending is saying? Jonathan Shields was a megalomaniac, a user and an abuser. He was disloyal, dishonest and did whatever it took to make a buck. Yet, he helped countless people along the way, bringing them to stardom. They may be bitter and resentful towards the methods he used, at first they spurn his renewed advances. But, when it comes time to leave and flaunt their moral superiority, they pick up the phone and listen, because they are a part of the machine just as much as Jonathan is. They aren’t any better than he is, you don’t see it, but that moment tells me that they have also wronged countless people in their Hollywood careers. This is Hollywood after all, the land of the unsanitary and dreadful career hungry vampires.

Jumping to such a conclusion wouldn’t be possible without great acting. Kirk Douglas is the dashing and charming asshole that we all love to hate. He stands above all others in The Bad And The Beautiful because he endears our hate so easily, but how does he do that? He does that by first endearing our favor, before he crushes our hopes for the first time we too have fallen for Jonathan Shields and what he is selling and that is all due to Kirk Douglas’ skill as an actor. The Bad And The Beautiful is the best that I have ever seen Lana Turner, she was so good that I forgot she was Lana Turner for the run time of the film. But, where Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell and Barry Sullivan truly shine is in their ability to become characters we feel empathy for while all the time hiding a bit of the evil Hollywood in their eyes and in the glint of their smiles.

The Bad And The Beautiful has exceptional dialogue, it is witty and full of insider lingo and jokes. One of my favorite aspects of The Bad And The Beautiful was how it played with my expectations. Some moments are so harsh, and I expected to be given a chance to breathe, to feel happiness, but that isn’t the world of Hollywood and the harsh moments just kept coming. But, it also played with my expectations in small ways. Douglas carries Turner in what you feel is developing into a love moment, then out of nowhere he unceremoniously dumps her in a pool. Throughout the film there are little moments like the pool that play against your expectations of where the movie is going.

Citizen Kane was a great movie, unfortunately The Bad And The Beautiful does suffer from similarities in its structure to Citizen Kane. It’s not a major flaw, but as soon as the structure of the film was laid before me my brain screamed out, “I’ve seen this before, and it was called Citizen Kane.” As great as Lana Turner was, the car out of control scene was too over the top and the one moment in the film where I thought it lost its way in being a smart and cunning skewering, in both her acting and in the theme. Lastly, the third act was good, but the second act was the climatic moment of the film and thus as good as the third act was it felt like overkill after the incredible second act.

It’s flaws are minor and The Bad And The Beautiful is a great film, but its flaws do hold it back from all-time great status. Still, the writing is witty, the topic is wonderfully skewered, the acting is great across the board and the movie comes together in its last scene. If you are looking for yet another great Hollywood movie that rips apart its own fruits and labor, you can’t go wrong with The Bad And The Beautiful.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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