Vincente Minnelli’s best film isn’t a musical. It’s The Bad and the Beautiful, the greatest Hollywood satire not named Sunset Boulevard. Released the year after An American In Paris, the film lives up to its sleazy title as the portrait of a terrible human and his interactions with beautiful, innocent people. Power corrupts, as The Bad and the Beautiful tells us, even in a business as glamorous as the movies.
The Bad and the Beautiful has more in common with Citizen Kane than Sunset Boulevard though. The screenplay, written by Charles Schnee and based on a story by George Bradshaw, is a character sketch of Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), a power-hungry and supremely talented film producer and told through the eyes of three people who worked with him.
In each of the film’s stories, Shields uses up his friends, even as they somehow become stars anyway. Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) becomes a successful Oscar-winner anyway, even after Shields betrays him. Georgia Lorrison still becomes an successful star, despite her personal relationship with Shields being one-sided. James Lee Barlow (Dick Powell) writes a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about his wife (Gloria Grahame), whose death Shields had a hand in. Turning tragedy into success is a very “Hollywood” – even “American” – thing to do.
Like Citizen Kane, The Bad and the Beautiful takes a foundation of well-known, lager-than-life personalities and mixes them all up to create incredibly well-rounded fictional characters. Shields is clearly based on the tyrannical produces of the day, who frequently dispatched fiends and family to make the best possible entertainment for the masses. Walter Pidgeon’s Harry Pebble takes a nod from real studio bosses who convinced talent to work with anyone who made a buck.
The performances in the film are exceptional, but the real eye-opener is Lana Turner. Her snub at the Oscars is one of the great crimes in Hollywood history. An actress with an incredibly complicated personal history, she seemed to put every ounce of real-life experience into Georgia. While all the men around her – including Oscar-nominated Douglas – could all be expected to put in fine performances like clockwork, Turner’s performance here is such a departure from what she was stuck with before at MGM. Although Turner’s performance in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) made it clear she could do serious drama, Georgia is a role not exactly built on her sexiness. It reveals much more about Turner’s skills than any other performance. If every actor is allowed at least one signature performance, The Bad and the Beautiful is home to Turner’s.
David Raskin’s incredible score also lifts The Bad and the Beautiful into history. The main theme has become a jazz standard, and it is impossible to get out of your head after watching the film. Without it, The Bad and the Beautiful would surely be good, but Raskin’s theme helps make it perfect.
It took a surprisingly long time for Warner Archive to get to The Bad and the Beautiful. In November 2019, 17 years after the original DVD was released, we finally got this classic on Blu-ray. It was worth the wait. The movie looks perfect, and there is nothing to complain about here. It’s the best presentation of this film we could ask for.
The only shortcomings for this release are the extras. We get almost everything included on the 2002 DVD, but nothing really focuses on the movie itself. It would have been awesome to get a commentary for this film.
The 86-minute TCM documentary Lana Turner… A Daughter’s Memoir is here, just as it was on the flip-side of the DVD. It’s a wonderful feature, leaning on Cheryl Crane’s memories, making it far more personal than many other documentaries of its kind. Robert Wagner is the narrator, and other contemporaries of Turner provide some interesting memories.
We also get the same 25-minute collection of Raskin scoring cues the DVD had. There is also the original trailer for The Bad and the Beautiful.
Warner Archive did not include the trailer for Two Weeks In Another Town, the quasi-sequel to the film, written by Schnee, starring Douglas and directed by Minnelli. (It’s funny that the 2002 DVD included it, since the 1962 movie was never released on DVD until WAC did in 2011. The film was also released on Blu-ray by WAC in 2018.) The original DVD also included text screens listing The Bad and the Beautiful‘s Oscar wins.
The Bad and the Beautiful is one of the greatest films about show-business ever made. Even if you don’t get the specific inside jokes, the film’s story of a bad man who chewed people and spit them out is universal. It’s even more relevant today, in a world where the users and takers seem to be leading far more than the givers and carers. The incredible cast, astonishing directing from Minnelli and one of the best, wittiest scripts ever seen make this an indispensable movie.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing this disc to review. The screenshots were taken from the 2002 DVD and are not representative of the Blu-ray.