Released in 1952, The Bad and the Beautiful tells of the rise and fall of a legendary Hollywood producer. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, it’s filled with juicy details about what goes on behind the scenes in the movie business. Many of its characters and events were based on real people and movie productions, easily recognizable to cinema fans of the early 1950’s. Legendary producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) has won Oscars and earned a reputation as a genius. He’s also among the most hated men in Hollywood. Once a mover and a shaker, Shields has fallen on hard times. It’s been years since he made a hit film. Shields is a combination of Val Lewton and David O. Selznick. He is shown making movies that are clearly based on Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People and David O’ Selznick’s Gone with the Wind.
After director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) all refuse to speak with Shields on the phone from Paris, they gather in the office of producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) who explains that Shields can’t get financial backing for his latest project with their involvement. Through the use of flashbacks, Charles Schnee’s Oscar-winning screenplay explains how each of them came to despise Jonathan Shields.
An aspiring director, Fred Amiel first met Jonathan when he hired him to pretend to be a mourner at his father’s funeral. The two become friends and learn their craft on a series of B-movies. Soon after their biggest success, Jonathan pitches a project to the studio that Harry has been nursing for years. He gets a $1 million budget to produce the film but allows someone with an established reputation to direct it. It’s a con that’s happened countless times before and since.
Georgia Lorrison is the daughter of a famous, recently deceased alcoholic movie star (think John Barrymore – it was widely believed that Georgia was based on his daughter Diana, who, like Georgia tried her hand at acting around the time of her father’s death). Georgia, herself an alcoholic and seemingly drowning under the weight of her father’s legacy, is ‘rescued’ by Shields. He gets her to stop drinking, makes her believe he’s in love with her. Jonathan figures it’s the only way to get a good performance out of her. It’s a clever flip of the young actress who makes herself available on the casting couch. Here though, the producer is the harlot. Upon learning that Shields doesn’t really love her, Georgia goes into hysterics while driving a car (It’s so over the top, I couldn’t help but chuckle).
If The Bad and the Beautiful sags a bit, it’s during the third segment. A gentle swipe at southern gentility in the form of James Lee Bartlow’s wife Rosemary, played by Gloria Grahame (in a role that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for just over nine and half minutes of screen time), portrays her as a daffy, fun-loving airhead. Her cheerful personally doesn’t quite square with the unfortunate fate Charles Schnee’s near-perfect script has in store for her.
The supporting cast also includes Gilbert Roland, who seems to be parodying himself, as the suave, womanizing, Latin movie star, Gaucho. Leo G. Carroll and Kathleen Freeman have small roles as a difficult director and his assistant that were believed to be based on Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville.
While parts of The Bad and the Beautiful may look and sound a bit old fashioned for modern audiences at times, but at its core, Vincente Minnelli and his crew deliver a compelling, occasionally sardonic look at the golden age of the studio system and the personalities behind it.
Presented in the 1.37.1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive has delivered another fantastic transfer. Sourced from a recent 4K transfer of the original camera negative, the results are immediately apparent; rich image detail, and plenty of natural film grain. Textures and fine details are uniformly stable. Shadow detail and contrast levels have a fine amount of depth throughout. Blacks are inky and whites never appear blown out. I’ve sung the praises of Warner Archive countless times on this site, but the video quality of The Bad and the Beautiful is truly first-rate material and will likely find its way on to a few “Best Blu-ray’s of the Year” lists.
Considering the film’s age, the DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio delivers a far more dynamic listening experience than expected. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise. The score by David Raskin sounds remarkably full and well balanced throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras have been ported over from Warner Bros.’ 2006 DVD:
- Lana Turner, A Daughter’s Memoir (86:28) Made for TV in 2001, this feature-length documentary was directed by Carole Langer. Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane provides an in-depth portrait of her mother. It also features narration by Robert Wagner as well as interview clips with Robert Stack, Evie Wynn Johnson, Jackie Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Rose, Juanita Moore, and others.
- Scoring Session Cues (13 clips, DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio) These short instrumental cues from David Raksin’s score are presented with raw recording bookends and include “Introduction”, “Jonathan Calling”, “Fred”, “Eighteen Years Ago”, “Oh Yes He Is”, “The Letdown”, “The Betrayal”, “Georgia”, “Almost Time”, “Lonely Girl’, “Fall From Grace”, “James Lee’s Narrative”, and “The Spellbinder.”
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:42)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Movie title: The Bad and the Beautiful
Duration: 118 min.
Director(s): Vincente Minnelli
Actor(s): Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas , Walter Pidgeon , Dick Powell , Barry Sullivan , Gloria Grahame
Genre: Romance, Drama