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.