This is the sixth installment of BEAVER’S LODGE, a series of video essays narrated by actor Jim Beaver which will offer critical takes on some of Beaver’s favorite films. Jim Beaver is an actor, playwright, and film historian. Best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series DEADWOOD and as Bobby Singer on SUPERNATURAL, he has also starred in such series as HARPER’S ISLAND, JOHN FROM CINCINNATI, and THUNDER ALLEY and appeared in nearly forty motion pictures. You can follow Jim on Twitter.
Reckoned by many to be one of the best films about Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful is pungent and occasionally acidic, and at the time of its release a clear sign that things were changing in the movie capital. Even one or two years previously it would have been unimaginable for a major studio to release a film quite as disparaging of the people at the top of the heap in movie making.
Of course, sixty years have passed since this film, and much, much more biting and bitter films have been made about the way movies are created. But within the context of its time, and for the quality of its writing and much of its acting, The Bad and the Beautiful is a notable film. I don’t find it as compelling as some do, but it’s a very entertaining film. In many details it does not match how films are made (at least today), but in essence, in spirit, much of what is at play in this film is still a ripe part of Hollywood today.
Kirk Douglas is Jonathan Shields, a charismatic but unscrupulous producer who has burned every bridge he ever crossed. He asks three former colleagues/friends to put aside their spite for him and help him launch a new film. As the three consider the proposition, we are presented the stories of their individual pasts with Douglas’s character. Barry Sullivan is a writer-director whose dream project was taken away from him by his friend Shields. Lana Turner is the alcoholic daughter of a famed actor (read Diana Barrymore and John Barrymore), who is romanced by Shields only in order to get from her what he wants to advance his career. Dick Powell is a novelist whom Shields drags to Hollywood and tragedy. Douglas and Powell, in particular, are good, giving broad and quiet performances, respectively, that are quite true to the types they embody. Gloria Grahame, an actress I like a lot, won an Oscar as Powell’s southern-belle wife, though this is scarcely her best performance and her “southern” accent is almost more bull than belle.
Director Vincent Minnelli and Oscar-winning screenwriter Charles Schnee do a very good job with this drama, and the score and photography are rich. The Bad and the Beautiful has lost some of its steel over the years, but it’s a very good movie that suggests that there are a lot of people in Hollywood who are either bad or beautiful, or both. That’s an over-simple generalization, but it makes for an effective movie.