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The lost movie of the week: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Kirk Douglas is one of Hollywood legendary actors who started out in the 40’. Burt Lancaster, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff are other examples of the future golden age of American acting talents which storm the silver screen in the years to come. The difference with all those actors is that Kirk Douglas is still alive and his son, Michael Douglas, has made an incredible career for himself.

But at that time the star of the picture was the beautiful and very successful Lana Turner. The film was based on a short story “Tribute to a Bad Man,” by George Bradshaw. But because the title didn’t reference the female star, the titled was changed to better suit the story.

The film retraces the rise and fall of a power-hungry Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas). The feature is told in flashbacks through the eyes a writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), a star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) and a director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan). During his career he ruthlessly uses everyone – including the writer, the star and the director – to achieve success.

The movie meant the breakthrough for Kirk Douglas whose performance overshadowed the other stars of the film. Directed by the legendary director Vincente Minnelli (“An American in Paris”, “Gigi”), the film is a critique of the studio system of the time. The intense filming in black and white brought the real atmosphere out and gave more power to the acting and the characters of the feature. “The Bad and the Beautiful” is a great example of a film Noir. The cynical approach to the motives and drive of the different characters projects this never-ending lust for power that gives another dimension to the film. The great approach of the film was to base the characters on real people and even though there has been a lot of speculation on who the film was based on, there seem to be some consensus:

They based the character of Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) on the powerful producer David Selznick, and/or Val Lewton (B horror-film producer of “Cat People” (1942)), and/or Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane“) The character of Harry Pebbel (the great Walter Pidgeon) is based on Herman Mankiewicz or Harry Rapf (B-film production chief at MGM), while the character of Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) seems to be based on the brief, tragic life of Diana Barrymore. The great William Faulkner is portrayed by Dick Powell through the writer James Lee Bartlow,

The movie was a success and was used as an example and an eye-opener for a lot of people on how Hollywood was managed. The film was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won 5. Only Krik Douglas couldn’t win the Oscar for best performance which went that year to the great Gary Cooper in “High Noon” also an incredible movie.

Stanley Berenboom

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