The Bad and the Beautiful is a 1952 MGM melodrama that tells the story of a film producer who alienates all around him. It stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame and Gilbert Roland. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by George Bradshaw and Charles Schnee.
The Bad and the Beautiful resulted in five Academy Awards out of six nominations in 1952, a record for the most awards for a movie that was not nominated for Best Picture nor for Best Director.
In 2002, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The theme song, "The Bad and the Beautiful", penned by David Raksin, became a jazz standard and has been cited as an example of an excellent movie theme.
The Bad and the Beautiful was created by the same team that later worked on another film about the film business, Two Weeks in Another Town (1962): director (Vincente Minnelli), producer (John Houseman), screenwriter (Charles Schnee), composer (David Raksin), male star (Kirk Douglas), and studio (MGM). Both films also feature performances of the song "Don't Blame Me," by Leslie Uggams in Two Weeks and by Peggy King in The Bad and the Beautiful. In one scene of Two Weeks in Another Town, the cast watches clips from The Bad and the Beautiful in a screening room, presented as a film that Douglas's character in Two Weeks, Jack Andrus, had starred in. Two Weeks is not a sequel however, as the characters in the two stories are unrelated.
In Hollywood, director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) each refuse to speak by phone to Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) in Paris. Movie producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) gathers them in his office and explains that Shields was calling them because he has a new film idea and he wants the three of them for the project. Shields cannot get financing on his own, but with their names attached, there would be no problem. Pebbel asks the three to allow him to get Shields on the phone before they give their final answer.
As they await Shields' call, Pebbel assures the three that he understands why they refused to speak to Shields. The backstory of their involvement with Shields then unfolds in a series of flashbacks. Shields is the son of a notorious former studio head who had been dumped by the industry. The elder Shields was so unpopular that his son had to hire "extras" to attend his funeral. Despite the industry's ill feelings toward him because of his father, the younger Shields is determined to make it in Hollywood by any means necessary.
Shields partners with aspiring director Amiel, whom he meets at his father's funeral. Shields intentionally loses money he does not have in a poker game to film executive Pebbel, so he can talk Pebbel into letting him work off the debt as a line producer. Shields and Amiel learn their respective trades making B movies for Pebbel. When one of their films becomes a hit, Amiel decides they are ready to take on a more significant project he has been nursing along, and Shields pitches it to the studio. Shields gets a $1 million budget to produce the film, but betrays Amiel by allowing someone with an established reputation to be chosen as director. The film's success allows Shields to start his own studio, and Pebbel comes to work for him there. Amiel, now independent of Shields, goes on to become an Oscar-winning director in his own right.
Shields next encounters alcoholic small-time actress Lorrison, the daughter of a famous actor Shields admired. He builds up her confidence and gives her the leading role in one of his movies over everyone else's objections. When she falls in love with him, he lets her think that he feels the same way so that she does not self-destruct and he gets the performance he needs. After a smash premiere makes her a star overnight, she finds him with a beautiful bit player named Lila (Elaine Stewart). He drives Lorrison away, telling her that he will never allow anyone to have that much control over him. Crushed over being jilted by Shields, Lorrison walks out on her contract with his studio. Rather than take her to court, Shields releases his rights to her, freeing her to go to another studio, which makes a fortune from her films as she becomes a top Hollywood star.
Finally, Bartlow is a contented professor at a small college who has written a bestselling book for which Shields has purchased the film adaptation rights. Shields wants Bartlow himself to write the film's script. Bartlow is not interested, but his shallow Southern belle wife, Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) is, so he agrees to do it for her sake. They go to Hollywood, where Shields is annoyed to find that her constant distractions are keeping her husband from his work. Shields gets his suave actor friend Victor "Gaucho" Ribera (Gilbert Roland) to keep her occupied. Freed from interruption, Bartlow is able to make excellent progress on the script. Rosemary, however, runs off with Gaucho and they are killed in a plane crash. When the script is completed, Shields has the distraught Bartlow remain in Hollywood to help with the production as Shields takes over directing duties himself. A first-time director, Shields botches the job, which leads to his bankruptcy. Then Shields lets slip a casual remark that reveals his complicity in Rosemary's affair with Gaucho, so Bartlow walks out on him. Now able to view his late wife more objectively, Bartlow goes on to write a novel based upon her (something Shields had previously encouraged him to do) and wins a Pulitzer Prize for it.
After each flashback, Pebbel sarcastically agrees that Shields "ruined" their lives, making his true point that each of the three, despite feeling betrayed, is now at the top of the movie business, thanks largely to Shields. At last, Shields' telephone call comes through and Pebbel asks the three if they will work with Shields just one more time; all three reject the plea. As they leave the room, Pebbel is still talking to Shields. Out of Pebbel's sight, the three eavesdrop using an extension phone while Shields describes his new idea, and they become more and more interested.
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The film was based on a 1949 magazine story Of Good and Evil by George Bradshaw, which was expanded into a longer version called Memorial to a Bad Man. It concerned the will and testament of a New York theatre producer who tried to explain his bad behavior to three people he had hurt, a writer, actor and director. MGM bought the film rights and originally Dan Hartman was to produce it. Hartman left for Paramount.
Dore Schary offered the project to John Houseman and was to be called Memo to a Bad Man. Houseman decided to change the milieu from New York theatre to Hollywood because he felt after All About Eve that a Hollywood setting would have more novelty.
"I liked it," said Houseman. "I said, "I'll do it, but not as a Broadway picture." I was sick to death of Broadway pictures. I said, "I wouldn't know how to add anything to the stuff that's been done, but if you'll let me do it as a Hollywood picture, I'd love to make it"."
"People who read the script asked me why I wanted to do it," said Vincente Minelli. "It was against Hollywood, etc. I told them I didn't see the man as an unregenerate heel - first because we find out he has a weakness, which makes him human, and second, because he's tough on himself as he is on everyone else, which makes him honest. That's the complex, wonderful thing about human beings—whether they're in Hollywood, in the automobile business, or in neckties."
Douglas later recalled shooting Francis X. Bushman, who had a small part. He says Bushman told him his career faded away because "at the height of his fame, he inadvertently offended the all-powerful Louis B. Mayer by keeping him waiting a few minutes. Mayer, in turn, banned him from MGM and blackballed him in the industry. This was his first time on the lot in 25 years. Bushman’s story gave me some useful insight into the ruthless, selfish character I was playing — still another tough-guy antihero. I was doing well with these roles."
There has been much debate as to which real-life Hollywood legends are represented by the film's characters. At the time of the film's release, stories about its basis caused David O. Selznick—whose real life paralleled in some respects that of the "father-obsessed independent producer" Jonathan Shields—to have his lawyer view the film and determine whether it contained any libelous material. Shields is thought to be a blending of Selznick, Orson Welles and Val Lewton. Dore Schary, head of MGM at the time, said Shields was a combination of "David O. Selznick and as yet unknown David Merrick."
The Georgia Lorrison character is the daughter of a "Great Profile" actor like John Barrymore (Diana Barrymore's career was in fact launched the same year as her father's death), but it can also be argued that Lorrison includes elements of Minnelli's ex-wife Judy Garland. Gilbert Roland's Gaucho may almost be seen as self-parody, as he had recently starred in a series of Cisco Kid pictures, though the character's name, Ribera, would seem to give a nod also to famed Hollywood seducer Porfirio Rubirosa. The director Henry Whitfield (Leo G. Carroll) is a "difficult" director modeled on Alfred Hitchcock, and his assistant Miss March (Kathleen Freeman) is modeled on Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville. The other director von Elstein may be modeled after Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg. The James Lee Bartlow character may have been inspired by Paul Eliot Green, the University of North Carolina academic-turned-screenwriter of The Cabin in the Cotton.
Houseman later said, "The producer was thought to be Selznick, and of course it largely is, but-well, is Citizen Kane Hearst? Yes, it is Hearst, but also Pulitzer and a lot of other legendary people. So it was Selznick, Zanuck, and all others. Just as the foreign director could be Stroheim or Fritz Lang. When you start to work in a legendary world, you get legendary figures."
The film was shot as Tribute to a Bad Man but the studio worried it would be mistaken for a western. The title was changed to The Bad and the Beautiful at the suggestion of MGM's head of publicity Howard Dietz who took it from F. Scott Fitzgerald. Houseman admitted he thought it was a "dreadful title, it's a loathsome, cheap, vulgar, title" but then when the film became successful "it seemed like one of the greatest titles ever thought of. It's certainly been imitated enough: any time anybody's really hard up for a title, they just take two adjectives and string them together with an "and" in between."
According to MGM records, the film earned $2,367,000 in the US and Canada and $1,006,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $484,000.
David Raksin wrote the theme song "The Bad and the Beautiful" (originally called "Love is For the Very Young") for the film. Upon first hearing the song, Minnelli and Houseman nearly rejected it, but were convinced to keep it by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. After the film's release, the song became a hit and a jazz standard, and has been widely covered.
A number of film music experts and composers, including Stephen Sondheim, have highly praised the theme. In a Chicago Tribune article about the theme entitled "Anatomy of a Great Movie Theme", critic Michael Phillips wrote, "Its hypnotic way of combining dissonance with resolutions that never quite resolve when, or how, you expect them to, keeps a listener perpetually intrigued. The bittersweet quality proves elusive and addictive. It's perfect for the Douglas character, and for what Minnelli called the Hollywood-insider script's alternately 'affectionate and cynical' air."
The Bad and the Beautiful was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on February 5, 2002 as a Region 1 fullscreen DVD.
As a result, he insisted that the love theme from The Bad and the Beautiful be released strictly as an instrumental. It became a hit[.]
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