Monday, December 25, 2017

The Seamy Side of Life

"If you dream, dream big."

Jonathan (Kirk Douglas)

Officially Vincente Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful" premiered on this date in Los Angeles in 1952 — but it more properly belongs to 1953, when it was released in New York and nationwide.

Whichever is appropriate, "The Bad and the Beautiful" was one of the top moneymakers of its time. And it won five of the six Oscars for which it was nominated — a record for a movie that did not receive a nomination for Best Picture.

Set in Hollywood, the movie was about a ruthless producer (Kirk Douglas) who used a writer (Dick Powell), an actress (Lana Turner) and a director (Barry Sullivan) to achieve his personal goals. Walter Pidgeon played another producer, kind of the go–between in the story, much more of a supporting role.

Douglas played the son of another producer who was so disliked that, when he died, "extras" had to be hired to attend the funeral. Even though the movie industry was against him because of his father, Douglas was determined to prove everyone wrong.

The story that was told was in the form of flashbacks while Powell, Turner and Sullivan waited in Pidgeon's office for a phone call from Douglas regarding a new project he had in mind. Powell, Turner and Sullivan had unpleasant histories with Douglas, who needed to have them in the project in order to secure the funding he required.

Each flashback told a different story of Douglas' betrayal:

He took a movie idea that Sullivan had been developing and pitched it to a studio, then awarded directorial rights to someone else. The movie's success permitted Douglas to start a studio of his own.

Turner was the alcoholic daughter of a famous actor and didn't feel worthy of her lineage. Douglas boosted her confidence long enough to get the performance he needed from her, then drove her away.

Powell's character was once a professor at a small–town college who was content with his life even after writing a bestselling book. Douglas acquired the movie rights to the book and wanted Powell to write the script. Powell had no interest in that — but his wife did. His wife was a status–conscious Southern belle (Gloria Grahame), and Douglas found a way to use her to get to Powell.

But then she ran off with "Gaucho" (Gilbert Roland), a suave actor, and the two were killed in an airplane crash.

When the stories had been told, Pidgeon agreed that Douglas had ruined all their lives. He agreed sarcastically, though, making the point that each had profited from his/her association with Douglas.

After parting ways with Douglas, Sullivan had gone on to become an Oscar–winning director, Turner a successful actress and Powell a Pulitzer Prize–winning author.

The three decided not to participate in Douglas' project, but as the movie ended they couldn't help listening on an extension to Pidgeon's phone conversation with Douglas.

Speaking of Oscars, Grahame won Best Supporting Actress despite spending fewer than 10 minutes on screen. That would stand as the shortest appearance by a Best Supporting Actress winner for a quarter of a century — until Beatrice Straight won the award for less than six minutes on screen in "Network."

"The Bad and the Beautiful" also won Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design — all in the black–and–white category — and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.