Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood on Hollywood

Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) has been on my to-watch list since I first became interested in classic Hollywood. From what I had read in articles and books, this film is talked about in terms of it's leading actress - Lana Turner. For sure she looks radiant and beautiful as always, she does give a moving performance as the "doomed daughter." I've always liked Lana, and it was wonderful to see her in a different role to the evil, slightly selfish roles I'm used to seeing her in, notably: The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Three Musketeers and Ziegfeld Girl. Surprisingly however, the sweater girl was not the star of the picture, and if she was intended to be, the show was indeed, stolen from her.

Kirk Douglas had a charisma and persona that really filled the screen to the point where he dominates his films entirely. Here, he plays a producer who will do anything to get what he wants, and incidently, makes many enemies throughout the duration of the picture. A strong character to play, an actor's dream, but not even Douglas and all his talent was able to hold the screen entirely.
Regardless of the fact that she doesn't make an appearance till the last 45-minutes/half-an-hour of the film, Gloria Grahame is the star of this picture. Grahame never experienced the colossal fame and mythical status of some of her contemporaries, but when you watch her on-screen, you never forget her, and she becomes your favourite. Her most famous roles are playing the femme fatale types in Human Desire, The Big Heat, Crossfire, and In A Lonely Place. Her role in The Bad and the Beautiful is a far shout from the deadly woman, she plays an all American sweetheart housewife who is ditzy and foolish, and with a temperament innocent but sharp, and incredibly warm. The minute her character makes her entrance the screen lights up, the film gains more life, more humour, and more depth.

Minnelli's film is not the greatest film ever made, and definitely not the greatest film where Hollywood critiques Hollywood. The structure does not run smoothly whilst it unravels the tale of Jonathan Shields' rise and fall, instead it is very bitty and uneventful: here's the director's story, now the actress's, and finally the writer's. There is no real mystery as to why these three stars hate this man Shields who keeps ringing them at the beginning of the film. Take another Hollywood on Hollywood film like Sunset Boulevard, a masterpiece of cinema, that keeps the audience gripped from start to finish about the story behind the dead body shown at the start of the picture. All About Eve similarly revealed the stages of it's story smoothly and convincingly, with a bit more style - something The Bad and the Beautiful definitely lacks.

Perhaps what makes the film not quite as effective is the fact that it was recycling the themes and stories of Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve - films that were considered masterful and highlighted the corruption and dark side of Hollywood/showbusiness so well, that it might have been wiser to release The Bad and the Beautiful a decade later instead of 2 years later. It had already been done. The story for Turner, though upsetting, was too predictable, in fact, each sub-plot was except for the plot involving Grahame.

Although not having quite the style or finesse of its' contemporary rivals as far as theme is concerned, Minnelli's film is an enjoyable story and thoroughly worth the watch for solid performances from a great cast of Douglas, Turner, and Dick Powell. But Minnelli's ace in the hole here, is Grahame, delivering her most endearing and captivating performance for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Do not watch this film expecting Sunset Boulevard, rather a decent tale about the darkness of Hollywood, with a strong cast,  but with a gift of a performance from the wonderful, Gloria Grahame.


  1. Beautifully written! Thanks for reviewing this... I've often seen it on shelves and wondered whether or not to get it.
    Gloria Grahame is just so stunning. I'm so glad she got the Oscar for her performance. I might need to pick it up just for the last 30 min!
    Have a lovely day, Caudia!

    1. Thank you so much! I'd recommend watching for the stars and because it is a decent film, but Grahame makes it so much better!

  2. Thanks for this review! I very much enjoyed this film, but nothing beats Sunset Boulevard as the official Hollywood critique film! Loved Kirk Douglas in it! I recommend Billy Wilder's "Ace in the hole" (or "The big carnaval" as alternative title) who best knew how to channel Douglas' tense acting! LOVE Gloria Grahame but the film's structure disabled me to truly make her stand out for me! Will see her scenes again! I thought she was incredible in "Sudden Fear" with Joan Crawford and Jack Palance! Can't wait to see your next posts and videos! xoxo St├ęphanie

  3. Hi Claudia, an excellent piece of work, I just love your way of talkin' Hollywood. I haven't seen this and don't know why (lol?!) it's right up my alley as a fan of All About Eve & Sunset Boulevard...and the stars involved. Your review has made me order this straight away. Gotta love the Douglas dynasty, a strong breed if ever there was, Kirk & Michael are both complex and strong actors but often in differing areas. Really enjoyed, Daisy.

    1. Thanks Daisy! I know you'll enjoy it. My sisters have been showing me a lot of Michael Douglas films recently, and I had no idea what a great actor he was. Like his father his charisma and presence is staggering, as is like you said the complexity in their performances - and what a smile! But at the same time he is very much different from his father, and therefore a star in his own right. So happy you enjoyed this review - let me know what you think of the film! Claudia x