I have set myself a goal, it’s ambitious, but it’s fun. I found several lists of the 1,000+ movies you must see before you die and I collated them to make myself a master list. One by one, I’m working my way through them. I will review them here from time to time. Please know, these are my personal thoughts, you’re welcome to disagree, but please be nice if you comment. Also, as these are invariably older films, there will be spoilers. Without further ado, here’s the first review!
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
This film portends to tell how the behind-the-scenes machinations of Hollywood in its heyday. The son of a Hollywood Producer, who is left penniless as his father passes at a particularly low moment in his career, plans to rescue the family name by becoming a rich and famous producer himself. As the movie opens, Pebble (Walter Pidgeon) is trying to convince three former friends of Jonathan Shield’s (Kirk Douglas) to set aside their differences and make just one more movie for them.
Each of the former friends takes a turn remembering their tale of how Jonathan has done them wrong. First, there’s Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), a director who worked extensively with Jonathan at the start of his career. Amiel wrote a great screenplay and Jonathan pitched it to a studio, but cuts Amiel out of directing his own work in favor of a bigger name.
Next is Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), an alcoholic struggling actress who stars in Jonathan’s first major movie. She falls for Jonathan, and he woos her and leads her to believe that he loves her too, keeping her from drinking and getting a spectacular performance from her, before cutting her loose as soon as the picture is wrapped.
Finally, there is James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), a best-selling author whom Jonathan convinces to come to L.A. and write a screenplay based on his book. Finding that Bartlow is distracted from his work by his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame), Jonathan finds a way to keep her occupied… Gaucho (Gilbert Roland). When Rosemary and Gaucho are killed in a small airplane crash, Jonathan spins a tale about how Gaucho was flying Rosemary to visit her husband. Bartlow finishes the script, even through his grief. Jonathan brings him on as a producer and ends up firing the director on the film and directs the movie himself, only to realize at a screening that he has turned it into a major piece of dreck. Jonathan tries to cheer up Bartlow but accidentally lets slip that he knew the whole time that Rosemary and Gaucho were having an affair. Bartlow, betrayed, walks out on Jonathan.
Pebble, himself a producing partner of Jonathan’s, has called the three to his office and reminds them that, regardless of what Jonathan may have done to them, Amiel is now a famous director, Lorrison a famous actress, and Bartlow a famous author. He asks them to reconsider working with Jonathan again…and they do.
The whole film is, unfortunately, beholden to this conceit. Three separate stories, all taking place as extended flashbacks, with only 15 minutes or so of action taking place in the “present moment”. It rings false, although each story is very well done in and of itself. The happy ending also seems hollow. There’s no real merit to the argument Pebble presents to the three, and as they change their minds while overhearing a telephone conversation, one can’t help but feeling they are only being manipulated again. It is an interesting concept, and a fun portrayal of a Hollywood cad. The best part of the whole feature are the magnificent costumes, especially a wedding gown worn by Lana Turner on the set of her first movie with Jonathan.