Film / The Bad and the Beautiful

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Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) used to be a great studio mogul in Hollywood, but his perfectionism has practically bankrupted his studio. He calls three former associates, Academy Award winning director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), blockbuster actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and novelist-turned-screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), to help him with a film that could save his studio.

Except his need for perfectionism also caused him to betray each of these three associates, so they want nothing to do with him. The studio's former head, Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), pleads for them to help, and the film plays out with each of the three recalling their time with Shields.

Directed by Vincente Minnelli, this 1952 drama is a key entry in the "Hollywood on Hollywood" genre, and is part of the Library of Congress. It is also a mix and match of real people in the business, almost bordering on Roman Clef.


This film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The three main characters reject Shields's offer, but when eavesdropping on a call between Shields and Pebbel they seem to show interest. The film ends before we know if they change their minds.
  • "Blackmail" is Such an Ugly Word: When Jonathan pressures Harry into hiring him.
    Harry: You think you blackmailed me!
    Jonathan: Harry, that's a horrid word.
  • B-Movie: What Shields's studio made until he bought it out.
  • Casting Couch: When Jonathan comes to talk to Georgia in her room, she expects this trope to be in play and offers to share the bed with him. He declines.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Georgia can be spotted in Amiel's story, where she is only seen from the back during a film test Jonathan watches.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The scene where Shields betrays Georgia is supposed to be him revealing his "true self" to her, but it's pretty hammy compared to the rest of his performance.
    • What's just as over the top is the next scene, with Georgia in her car, weeping and then finally breaking into screams. All the while she's still driving.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Shields, even when he doesn't have to be. He prefers to go behind people's backs rather than telling them things outright.
  • Doing It for the Art: In-Universe. Shields puts the quality of his films ahead of anything else, even to the point of not releasing a film vital to the studio's bottom line because he thinks he directed it poorly.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: One of the scenes they are shooting in-universe is of Georgia confessing her love to dying Gaucho.
  • Epic Movie: Shields's rise to fame starts when he convinces Pebbel to make the adaptation of a bestselling novel, and it's the studio's first big budget film, though Shields screws Fred out of the directing job.
  • Eureka Moment: When Georgia goes missing for days and Jonathan cannot find her, Harry Pebbel mentions that she sometimes locks her door and leaves for days at a time. This gives Jonathan the idea to break into her apartment.
  • Executive Meddling: In-Universe. Shields is continually dissatisfied with one director, who finally has enough and tells him that he can direct the film himself if he's going to make so many demands. It doesn't turn out well, as Shields himself admits.
  • Get Out: The scene at Jonathan's mansion where Georgia finds him cheating on her with Lila and he expels her with a harsh "get out".
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The famous car driving scene of heartbroken Georgia during heavy rain.
  • Hanging Our Clothes to Dry: After dropping her into the swimming pool, Jonathan makes Georgia's clothes dry by the fireplace of his apartment.
  • High Class Gloves: Georgia buys a pair of black gloves to go with her evening dress and the lining of her mink wrap, so she would look her best at a Hollywood dinner party.
  • Horrible Hollywood: The film takes place in the movie business for all the protagonists, and its a very cynical and pessimistic portrayal of the sleaziness of the movie business.
  • How We Got Here: The movie is made of three long flashbacks, one for each of the people Shields wants to help him.
  • Iconic Item: Dick Powell's pipe. He smokes or fondles it in almost every scene he is in.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Shields concedes that his father was "the king of the heels" and notes that he was held in such low regard when he died that he literally had to pay the mourners at the funeral to be there, but all he takes from that is that he'll have to be an even bigger bastard to pay back those who failed to give the Shields name the proper respect.
  • Latin Lover: Gaucho. He's even referred to as such.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: After the disastrous screening of Shields's movie, he rants about how he's going to shelve the picture because he failed. After he and Bartlow are drowning their sorrows in his office, Shields sarcastically notes, "I just played my big scene in there, 'the great man fails.'" Which of course is exactly what Kirk Douglas just did.
  • Lonely Funeral: The funeral of Shields' father, Hugo who was also a film producer. Plenty of "mourners" show up, but only because Shields paid them.
  • Loose Lips: Jonathan accidentally spills the beans about having known about Gaucho's plane flight which earns him a punch in the face by Bartlow.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: Discussed and lampshaded. Another player at the poker table tells Harry, "Now I've got a full house. You can't have four of a kind. That could never happen, not even in one of your B-pictures." He's disgusted when Harry reveals he actually does have four of a kind.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Shields is this to everyone. At the end of the film, it's even justified by Pebbel who points out these manipulations ultimately contributed to a few good films, and some bad ones and didn't adversely affect their careers as much as his ex-collaborators would like to believe.
  • Moment Killer: Jonathan and Georgia have a moment in his office when he opens a bottle of champagne and both have a Held Gaze, the music swells and The Big Damn Kiss is about to happen. But then the movie director storms into the office, complaining about some costly set designs.
  • Muse Abuse: Shields does this to all his collaborators and even does it on behalf of them. Pebbel notes in the end that Shields' manipulation of their lives and their resentment at their treatment at his hands actually made all of them better artists.
  • Mustache Vandalism: When the trio arrives at the Shields lot, Georgia draws a goofy mustache on the logo at the front gate. It's later revealed to be a Call Back to when Shields drew a mustache on a picture of her father in an effort to snap her out of her grief and self-pity.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: As a roman-a-clef of Hollywood:
    • Jonathan Shields is a parody of many "hands-on" Hollywood producers such as David O. Selznick with aspects of Val Lewton and Irving G. Thalberg added into the mix.
    • Director Barry Sullivan's arc doesn't resemble anyone in particular but has similarities to directors Jacques Tourneur (a B-Movie director whose A Movies were not successful and who worked with Val Lewton) and Robert Wise. The writer James Lee Bartlow is thought to be modeled on Paul Green, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright turned Hollywood screenwriter.
    • The English film-maker Henry Whitfield is one for Alfred Hitchcock (complete with a stand-in for his wife Alma Reville), he's played by Leo J. Carroll, an actor who appeared in many Hitchcock movies. The ersatz-emigre director Von Ellstein has a name similar to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, but his amiable and professional personality is closer to the likes of Robert Siodmak and Max Ophuls.
    • Georgia Lorrison is based on Diana Barrymore, the alcoholic daughter of alcoholic Shakespearean actor and matinee idol John Barrymore.
    • Gilbert Roland ("Gaucho") is parodying himself, having starred as The Cisco Kid in a string of B-movies.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Shields and Fred utilize the concept to turn a low budget horror movie from Special Effect Failure to psychological horror.
  • The Noun and the Noun: The Bad and the Beautiful.
  • Parental Issues: Both Shields and Georgia had to crawl out from the shadows of their fathers.
  • People in Rubber Suits: Shields and Fred are assigned to make a low-budget horror film about cat men, who are supposed to be played by people in crappy suits. They declare that "five men dressed like cats look like five men dressed like cats", and they make the film without showing the monsters.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The fox-trimmed dress Georgia wears to the premier of her film, as well as the Gorgeous Period Dress outfits in the films.
  • Pretty in Mink: At least one major fur is worn in each flashback.
    • Fred's girlfriend wears a white ermine jacket to a party.
    • Georgia wears a dress and cape trimmed with white fox fur to her film premiere.
    • When Bartlow is brought to Hollywood Shields offers to pay for most of their expenses, so Bartlow's wife Rosemary buys a mink coat and a white mink wrap among many other things.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:invoked A famous one from von Ellstein to Shields:
    Shields: You call that directing?
    Von Ellstein: That is what I've been calling it for thirty-two years.
    Shields: Why, there are values and dimensions in that scene you haven't begun to hit.
    Von Ellstein: Dare say not the values and dimensions I wish to hit. I could make this scene a climax. I could make every scene in this picture a climax. If I did, I would be a bad director. And I like to think of myself as one of the best. A picture with all climaxes is like a necklace without a string. It falls apart. You must build to the big moment and sometimes, you must build slowly. You see this picture one way, and I another. It will be done your way, but not by me, and not by any other director who respects himself. You know what you must do, Mr. Shields, so that you'll have it exactly as you want it? You must direct this picture yourself. To direct a picture, a man needs humility. Do you have humility, Mr. Shields?
  • Revenge of the Sequel / The X of Y: In-universe example. One of Jonathan and Fred's assignments is to shoot a B-Movie sequel called "The Son of the Cat Men". Disgusted with that idea, Fred suggests doing The Faraway Mountain instead which goes on to win Jonathan his first Oscar.
  • Right in Front of Me: How Fred met Jonathan. He was one of the paid "mourners" at the funeral of Jonathan' father, but he couldn't resist making snide comments about the deceased to the guy next to him. Unfortunately, the guy next to him was Jonathan.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Shields holds his principles above money, but often his principles make him more of a jerkass than a greedy person would be.
  • Shout-Out: The B-Movie made by Shields and Sullivan is one to Val Lewton's films, being a transparent stand in for Cat People. The scene where Shields says that they'll invoke Nothing Is Scarier by using shadows and light is a homage to the projection room sequence in Citizen Kane. Likewise, the film's multiple-narrator and flashback story, and rise-and-fall take on an Anti-Hero who ruins his relationsips is very much In the Style of... that film.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Georgia has part of her room crammed up with mementos of her father. Jonathan calls her out on her sentimentality.
  • Trespassing to Talk: Jonathan awaits Georgia in the dark of her room to talk about her past and future. It helped that she left the door unlocked.
  • Video Credits: The end credits show short clips of all major characters along with the actors' names.
  • Villain Protagonist: Shields is willing to step on people to get what he wants, even unintentionally.
  • Water Wake-up: The hilarious moment when Jonathan carries drunken Georgia out of her apartment and drops her unexpectedly into the swimming pool to help her sober up.

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