Films That Expose Hollywood: The Bad and the Beautiful

The Movie Sleuth begins an expedition into films that expose Hollywood.

"It's your mom. She says it's time
to put down the bourbon and come home."
Hollywood. Beneath the lights of admiration is a facade made of glitz and glamour. It’s where red carpets pave the way for industry royalty while legions of fans cheer in devotion. It’s where those who have it look down from their pedestals at those who have not. Yet, for all that sparkles comes an unspoken price. Its not a price that can be rolled over into a deflated film budget, it’s the sacrifice that haunts many who are willing to do whatever it takes. 

For all the envy and nostalgia, the golden age of Hollywood was paved with broken promises. Like many things, it was built with blood, sweat, and tears, yet it demanded more. Many notoriously lost their dignity, virginity, and even their lives to the silver screen machine. It became a business that thrived on its ability to buy respect and friendship, only to kick it to the curb a day later. While films like Sunset Boulevard and Day of the Locust portray the industry as a whole, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) gives it a name and a face. Kirk Douglas' Academy Award nominated performance as fame obsessed producer Jonathan Shields is a behind the scenes look at just one of the many men who manipulated countless talents in search of making it big in Hollywood. 

Directed by Vincente Minnelli during his divorce to wife Judy Garland (yes, he is the father of Liza Minnelli), Minnelli still incorporated the comedic undertones that made his musicals so successful. While not as dark as Sunset or Locust, the lighter approach does give the victim scenes a more serious tone by comparison, and the lighthearted nature of the film creates an easy like-ability for its characters. Their eventual suffering thus holds a deeper resentment for viewers as a result. Told in flashback, the film focuses on three up and coming talents that all share the same Hollywood ambition. Lana Turner plays Georgia Lorrison, an alcoholic bit part actress living under the shadow of her famous deceased father. Barry Sullivan stars as Fred Amiel, a director who inspires to break free from the lower budget B movie scene. And Dick Powell portrays James Lee Bartlow, a reluctant author who eventually agrees to write the screenplay to his best selling novel. All cross paths with Shields as he recruits each and uses their talents to better his position in the industry.

"I know how to pick up chicks."
Despite bringing to light one of the negative aspects of Hollywood, the film was well received in the silver screen community and would collect 5 Academy Awards for it's efforts - a record still today for the most awards won by a film not nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. The only nomination not to win was Kirk Douglas for Best Actor. Never-the-less, It's a fantastic performance by the classic actor, providing the backbone to an impressive ensemble. His complex portrayal is a mixture of charm and cynicism, and only solidifies why he is considered one of Hollywood’s greats. It’s also interesting to note, years later Douglas would be one of the driving forces responsible for putting an end to the Hollywood Blacklist. Overall, The Bad and the Beautiful provides an important look at what many with red carpet ambitions have endured. Many do whatever it takes, and often, those who refuse find doors and opportunities less accessible as a result. It has always been the nature of the spotlight beast. 


-Lee L. Lind

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