The Bad And The Beautiful (DVD)

The Bad And The Beautiful (DVD)

Auteurists tend to ignore the oeuvre of director Vincente Minnelli, possibly because Minnelli essentially kissed off the idea of auteurism with the 1952 "inside Hollywood" melodrama The Bad And The Beautiful. Kirk Douglas plays a ruthlessly ambitious movie producer in a story that cherry-picks classic Hollywood anecdotes about the Barrymore family, David O. Selznick, and Val Lewton (among others), then fictionalizes them and strings them together in a flashback-riddled narrative as lively and inventive as any this side of Citizen Kane. The film opens with a down-on-his-luck Douglas asking for a favor from three old friends—a director played by Barry Sullivan, an actress played by Lana Turner, and a writer played by Dick Powell. As they each prepare to say no, they reflect in turn on how they met Douglas, and on his ascent from inventive B-picture purveyor and son of a disgraced mogul to the manipulative force behind soulful historical epics. Minnelli, working from an Oscar-winning script by Charles Schnee, presents a portrait of the movie business that's both alluring and unsentimental. The Bad And The Beautiful is packed with scenes of creative types experiencing the spontaneous joy of collaboration, then clawing at each other to get more than their due credit. Great performances abound, but the most intense work comes when Douglas, at his craftiest and most morally bankrupt, toys with the emotions of Turner's insecure alcoholic ingenue in order to maximize her acting ability. (As she often did in her career, Turner trades on her real-world reputation as a scandalous sexpot, and the DVD edition of The Bad And The Beautiful comes packaged with a highly watchable 90-minute Turner Classic Movies documentary about the ways her movies reflected her personal life.) But all the elements of The Bad And The Beautiful are top-drawer: the punchy dialogue, the noirish voiceover narration, Robert Surtees' chiaroscuro-heavy cinematography, the swoony David Raksin score, and especially the dynamic tone shifts of the triptych story. This is studio-system product at its juiciest and most sophisticated, full of insights into the mess behind the art.

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