The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincente Minnelli, 1952)

I wish I had known beforehand that this was actually about Selznick and Lewton and all those weird-ass early Hollywood people (and, for that matter, that I could’ve figured it out without reading a review or two just now, at which point the lightbulb finally went off in my head. Shame on me for not being more receptive to that and just figuring it out on my own, especially since “THIS IS MEANT TO SHOW HOW LEWTON TURNED CAT PEOPLE FROM NOTHING INTO SOMETHING” was practically flashing in lights ), then I probably would’ve gotten something more out of this, like a clever history lesson or something. As it stands, though, this was quite good. Some images/moments were unexpectedly fascinating, like Kirk Douglas paying strangers $11 to attend his unliked father’s funeral, or Lana Turner’s creepy yet sad legs-only introduction in that dilapidated house. After that I gradually started losing interest and getting bored, but even then I can’t deny that this was a clever, insightful look at the film industry and how it seemingly has more backstabbing and scheming than the Caesars of ancient Rome. Even though the why-we-hate-him flashback structure wasn’t exactly original, nor were the occasional cut-backs to the present so the head of the studio could give his flashback de-briefings of sorts explaining how Shields made these people in terms of money and fame but ruined them emotionally, it was a nice little way to ironically explain how fame and fortune aren’t everything in this world. Like Citizen Kane, this movie shows Jonathan Shields solely in flashback, from scorned others’ completely subjective points of view, making him an unknowable enigma (another instance where an unreliable narrator proves to be an effective storytelling tactic), and perhaps for that reason, the writer, the director, the star, and the candlestick maker know all too well that fame-and-fortune-ain’t-everything message, while the only one who’s still out of the loop is the guy pathetically trying to make that phone call from Paris.

I just wish this was a little more attention-grabbing and didn’t peter out towards the end, especially since the story of the writer, his starstruck wife, Gaucho and that plane had the potential to be the most interesting and tragic of the three and to really put Shields at the point of no return of losing the last shreds of his soul, but overall I have few complaints


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