Sunday, January 12, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

MGM's Oscar-winning THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) was recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

I first saw this movie, directed by Vincente Minnelli, a decade ago, and I'd forgotten just how much fun it is. It's a look at a Hollywood which is both glamorous and cruel, partly inspired by real-life people and incidents. MGM's smooth-as-silk production values and stellar cast make it an entertaining delight from start to finish.

The film begins as studio executive Harry Kebbel (Walter Pidgeon) tries to convince three people to make a movie; the people in question are director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), and star actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner).

The problem is that the trio would have to work with producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), a jerk who has committed serious wrongs against each of them. In flashback sequences we see how each of the three rose to career success working with Jonathan -- and we also see what led to their determination never to work with him again.

Yet despite the fact that Jonathan's actions led to professional fractures, a broken heart, and, in a roundabout way, even death, the classic final shot is of director, screenwriter, and star picking up a phone in order to listen intently to his pitch.

Viewers familiar with Hollywood will recognize sequences inspired by Val Lewton (CAT PEOPLE) and the death of Carole Lombard, while Jonathan's history is thought to have been inspired by the life of David O. Selznick.

The underrated Turner is terrific in a role clearly based on Diana Barrymore; Georgia is the daughter of a deceased actor who drowns her sorrows in booze, just as her father did before her. Despite her bad habit Jonathan sees star quality in Georgia and elevates her from the ranks of extras to top-billed star. Turner nails every stage of Georgia's character progression, culminating in the famous driving scene after she realizes Jonathan had been pretending to love her for the sake of her performance in his movie.

I dislike most of Douglas's work, perceiving a real-life arrogance which seeps onto the screen, but if ever there were a role meant to utilize that, this was it. He's completely believable as a back-stabber who does what's right for Jonathan and whatever film he's currently working on, and if someone else gets hurt in the process, oh well.

Powell is marvelous, simultaneously warm and sardonic as the professor-turned-screenwriter whose Southern belle wife (Gloria Grahame) is thrilled with their sojourn in Hollywood. One wonders at times what an educated man like James Lee sees in his overly excitable, chirpy wife; then when she turns on the charm and comes on to him one can see why, in his words, he gets "a kick" out of her.

(One of the film's oddest notes is when Kebbel suggests to James Lee that his life has turned out all right despite Jonathan's machinations; after all, James Lee has a Pulitzer prize, so what does the loss he suffers matter?)

I love Sullivan, and what we see of him is great, as the steady, reliable director and dedicated family man with a lovely wife (Vanessa Brown); my only regret, given my enjoyment of the actor and his character, is that he disappears for much of the picture.

The cast also includes Gilbert Roland as Gaucho, a popular Latin lover type actor, and Elaine Stewart as Gaucho's gorgeous bit player girlfriend; they're in the still below. The scene where Stewart tells Turner "You were swell" might be my favorite in the entire movie. Talk about a scene-stealing moment, I could watch that line delivery on a loop.

The excellent cast also includes Paul Stewart, Sandy Descher, Leo G. Carroll, Ivan Triesault, Barbara Billingsley, Kurt Kasznar, Madge Blake, Steve Forrest, Kathleen Freeman, Marietta Canty, and Bess Flowers. Some of these roles are quite small, yet each one is perfectly executed, contributing to the overall excellence of this 118-minute film.

Oscars went to Robert Surtees for Best Cinematography, Helen Rose for Costume Design, Charles Schnee for Screenplay, Cedric Gibbons and his team for Art Direction, and Grahame for Best Supporting Actress. Douglas was the only one of the film's nominees not to win.

Curiously, David Raksin's stellar score, which remains highly regarded today, wasn't even nominated! It also strikes me as odd that Turner wasn't nominated, as she's excellent start to finish; meanwhile Grahame was perfectly fine in her small role, but did it actually deserve an Oscar? (Especially up against Jean Hagen for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN?!) It just goes to show that Oscar injustices aren't a recent thing.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray extras are comprised of the trailer, music scoring session cues, and the 86-minute documentary LANA TURNER - A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR (2001).

The Blu-ray picture and sound are superb. This is an outstanding release of a memorable film, and I recommend it.

March 2020 Update: The Warner Archive has now also released this film on DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger barrylane said...

Two thoughts; Georgia and Jonathan are essentially, the same person, the same personality and background. As for Jonathan, and you probably know this, Gable was offered the part, and obviously turned it down. The Lombard reference alone would be enough, but Gable would never play Shields, although he would have been marvelous, and likable. Oh, and I think your review, more an appreciation, is right on every point, especially Barry Sullivan and Dick Powell.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Such an enjoyable film and great cast, down to Bess Flowers!
I too would like to have seen more of Barry Sullivan. And I also am not sure Gloria Grahame deserved an Oscar.
I was a bit surprised to read your rather jaundiced view of Kirk Douglas. I wonder what ‘real life arrogance ’ you refer to. I thought he was excellent in this and in other films.
A pity there aren’t more extras on the Blu-ray.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, that's a very interesting point about Georgia and Jonathan having the same backgrounds; I hadn't really thought of that before. Gable as Shields is a really interesting thought! He certainly would have been more likable than Douglas. It's hard for either Powell or Sullivan to go wrong for me. Thanks for your feedback!

Vienna, it's true, even Bess has her little moment in this one! (And it seems rather perfect that the busiest "dress extra" in the movies would appear in this film about movies!) Interesting to hear your thoughts.

Douglas has always kind of rubbed me the wrong way onscreen, and stories I've heard here and there from people who have met him, or who knew people who worked with him, have tended to verify my impressions of him. Though supposedly he's mellowed in his later years!

I would have enjoyed more extras as well, either featurettes or a commentary would have been most welcome.

Best wishes,

11:06 PM  

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