"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

While watching the 94 year old Kirk Douglas mugging at the Academy Awards this past Sunday night, my mind jumped to one of Douglas’s most acclaimed films, Vincente Minnelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful.” Minnelli’s 1952 film is considered one of the great “inside-baseball” movies about Hollywood and it had been on my “to see” list for ages. The following day, I got my hands on a copy and rectified the situation and was not disappointed. “The Bad and the Beautiful” is a real treat for anyone who loves the great Hollywood movies of that golden era (roughly from the advent of sound into the 1950s) and the stories about the men and women who made them.

“The Bad and the Beautiful” is full of smart, strong performances from Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon, a gorgeous Lana Turner, Barry Sullivan and the great Gloria Grahame, but there’s no denying that despite Turner’s top billing, this is Douglas’ picture. Douglas is Jonathan Shields, a brilliant, ruthless, unscrupulous producer and studio bigwig and he commands the screen in every scene he appears in. He manages the neat trick of being both loathsome and likeable, kind and cutting, often at the same moment. It may well be Douglas’ best moment as an actor, though he lost the Academy Award that year to Gary Cooper, for “High Noon.” (I’m as big a Gary Cooper fan as the next guy, but “High Noon” is an overrated film and Douglas was robbed.) Oddly, the film was nominated for 6 Oscars and won 5 of them, without being nominated for Best Picture, or Minnelli being nominated for Best Director.

For those of you who only know Minnelli from his great musicals like “An American In Paris” (1951) or “The Band Wagon” (1953), check this film out, as well as the other exceptional melodramas he made, like “Some Came Running” (1958) with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley Maclaine and “Home From The Hill” (1960) with Robert Mitchum. Minnelli’s widescreen compositions, use of color, depth and design, elegantly moving camera, and the occasionally overwrought emotion of the films had a big impact on later directors like Martin Scorsese,  Peter Bodganovich and Richard Linklater. Minnelli used Cinemascope brilliantly, to express subtle nuances and changes in personal relationships between characters, and those of class and social standing. “The Bad and the Beautiful” is in black and white and in the standard academy 4:3 ratio, but it lead the way to the sorts of stories Minnelli would be telling throughout the decade to come. Don’t sleep on this underrated and important American artist.


1 The Mick536   ~  Mar 4, 2011 1:24 pm

Not sure I understand the last sentence or what I am supposed to do or not do with him, but it seems that no discussion of Minelli can take place without some reference to his bicurious lifestyle. No personal judgment intended, but his genius could be attributed to the fact that he was married to three beautiful women and carried on, at times, an openly gay lifestyle. His failure to win the Oscar could have been a result of Hollywood not wanting this gender confused genius to take the Oscar into the closet with him.

What the 50's did to so many creative people was a disgrace. Not so sure we have come that far since then. To those of you who think we did, i would say we should have gone farther with our social and political development. We owe these giants a thank you and a spank you, because not all of them were honest with themselves or us.

2 The Mick536   ~  Mar 4, 2011 1:29 pm

And marijuana is still illegal. The connection? Robert Mitchum did time for having pot, a conviction later reversed.

3 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 4, 2011 1:35 pm

[1] But Minnelli *did* win the Oscar for best director, for "Gigi" in 1958 and "An American In Paris" won best picture in 1951. While Minnelli definitely had an "interesting" personal life, and while there's no doubt it influenced his work, I'm not sure what to make of whatever point you're trying to make.

4 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 4, 2011 1:36 pm

[2] If "Night of the Hunter" is any indication, smoking pot did Robert Mitchum a lot of good...

5 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 4, 2011 1:54 pm

[1] All I meant by the last line was that there's a lot more to Minnelli than the musicals (great as they are), and that his films deserve attention and appreciation.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 4, 2011 2:02 pm

I'd really like to see "Home from the Hill." So Matt, I was at my gym the other day and "El Dorado" was playing in the men's lounge and some older dude was watching so I looked at it for a few minutes and though, "You know, I really need to give westerns a try."

7 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 4, 2011 2:09 pm

[6] "Home from The Hill" is excellent, but "Some Came Running" is a better film and one of Sinatra's best acting jobs. The carnival sequence has some really stunning work by Minnelli (I think Scorsese highlights it in his "Personal Journey..." doc).

"El Dorado" is fun, but its basically just a remake of the superior "Rio Bravo," albeit with the great Mitchum and a young James Caan.

8 cult of basebaal   ~  Mar 4, 2011 5:59 pm

[6] You must have seen *some* westerns, though, right?


Should we make you a list of say, top 10 *must see* westerns to get you started?

9 The Mick536   ~  Mar 5, 2011 4:42 pm

[5] I apologize. I was being a wiseguy by asking a stupidly worded question. I was using sleep in a sexual context to go with my observation that he directed some of his actors in steamy, erotic, and emotionally charged scenes with the feeling and knowledge that comes to one from having led a complicated life.

10 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 6, 2011 12:02 pm

[9] To be sure, these films feature a lot of submerged passion, infidelity, secret liaisons, sexual and social hypocrisy. Lots of stuff going what Charlie Rich would call "behind closed doors." It's impossible to not filter that through what we know of Minnelli the man....but that's a whole other can of worms.

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