Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hollywood's Twisted Relationship

Hollywood's love affair with itself, if nothing else, has certainly produced some pretty amazing films. From the Golden Age of Hollywood: Sunset Boulevard, Sullivan's Travels, Singin' In the Rain. To the modern age of Ed Wood , The Aviator, and The Artist. Despite its narcissistic nature, it's a love affair that I definitely share. All the backstage drama, the thinly veiled characters based on real-life Hollywood figures, the juicy insider gossip that could only be brought to life from the people within the system are too much for me to resist. When you love film as much as I do, how could you not love films about filmmaking? And one such film, Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful released in 1952 (which, also, incidentally, is the same year Singin' In the Rain came out. Hollywood was really full of itself that year, wasn't it?) happens to be the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience.

The film begins as three separate people receive a phone call from Paris from one Jonathan Shields. Each of them denies the call (well, one accepts the charges as long as Shields is paying, then responds with a "drop dead" before hanging up the phone). The three are soon summoned to the studio, where we learn Mr. Shields wants to work with them again. One by one (in a series of flashbacks) we learn about each person's past with Shields and the reason they've rejected him. The multi-person narrative had been used previously by such films as Citizen Kane (if you're gonna borrow, why not borrow from the best?) but it gives the film a dynamic, modern quality and won the film an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film went on to win 5 Oscars in total (and with the little golden guy on display in the film and a special thanks to the Academy at the end of the film for the use of the statues, how could it have not won some of its own? And the love affair continues...) and has the distinction of the most Oscar wins without a Best Picture nomination.

Shields (Kirk Douglas in an Best Actor Oscar nominated performance) is a megalomaniacal Hollywood producer that betrayed the three. He is said to be based on David O. Selznick, who's control over films' productions was legendary. But the film within the film, The Doom of the Cat Men, that's his hit with the director Fred Amiel, played by Barry Sullivan, (and the subject of the first narrative) is said to be based on Val Lewton's Cat People. The other characters of the story – a Southern writer that goes on to win the Pulitzer Prize (Dick Powell as James Lee Bartlow) is said to be based on William Faulkner and an alcoholic actress of a famous actor father gets her inspiration from John Barrymore's daughter (and Drew's aunt), Diana. The only difference is that Diana's career was a non-starter and Georgia Lorrison, the actress in the film, goes on to be a big star. And when she's portrayed by movie star, Lana Turner, is there any question that she wouldn't be?

This was actually the first film that I've seen Lana Turner in. Of course her reputation proceeds her, but that's mainly due to the fabricated story of being discovered as "the sweater girl" and the infamy involving the murder of her mobster lover by her teenage daughter. Which is a polite way of saying, she's not really known for her acting. But, not being able to compare it to any of her previous work, I can say that she lives up to the film's title. She has a sexual energy that is anything but the girl next door (The Bad) and there is absolutely no question about her beauty. I even thought about choosing this shot as the best for no other reason than the sheer gorgeousness of it:

But the shot that I eventually chose as my Best, I feel, captures the conflicted relationship the three characters have with Shields and wraps up the narrative of the film. After we've spent 2 hours hearing their stories we find out why the three hate Shields so much. (This series is more fun if you've actually seen the film. But, if you're one of those people afraid of spoilers, just skip to the picture and create your own story about why it's the Best Shot.)  Just as Shields made it big, he dropped Amiel for a more famous director. After making Georgia a star (and winning her heart), he cheats on her with a film extra (have you no standards, sir?!) on the night of her big premiere. And poor James Lee looses his wife in a plane crash after Shields orchestrates an affair between the wife and the leading man that went down in the plane with her. But, as pointed out in the movie, the pain and rejection made them better in their fields – able to succeed in ways they wouldn't have without the betrayal of Shields. After rejecting his offer to work again, the three leave the studio. But something is still drawing them to him. Unable to resist, they pick up the phone on another line to listen to Shields' proposal:

Like moths drawn to the flame, the three are still enamored by that which they know will hurt them. But isn't every relationship in Hollywood a little masochistic? People are ruthless in their pursuit of fame and fortune. Back-stabbing, duplicity, and cheating along the way is just a part of the game. You may hurt the one's you love, but who's to say they won't be back for more. And when you have a love as powerful and persistent as the one Hollywood has for itself, the affair is just too cruel and pretty not to be over.


  1. Love that we chose the same shot, and for similar reasons! Even though there's a lot of great stuff that came before, it's just such a perfect note to go out on.

    1. great minds think alike! i also love that the shot references the earlier shot where james lee and rosemary share the phone to listen to shields' offer to come to hollywood.