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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Bad and the Beautiful

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“The Bad and the Beautiful” from 1952 starring Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas (in one of his most memorable roles) fits in nicely with the de-constructionist Hollywood movies of the time. It comes two years after 1950’s “Sunset Boulevard,” and around the same time as “The Star,” two movies that peel back the veil of glamour around the movie business to show a darker side. “The Bad and the Beautiful” does this as well, showing the chaos, craziness, and considerations that go into making a movie.

The structure of the Oscar-winning screenplay, from writer Charles Schnee and based off a story by George Bradshaw, creates a sense of comfort. At least it does for those versed in the classic three act structure of modern drama. We get a prologue in which we meet all of our main characters: Georgia Lorrison (Turner), a famous actress; Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) a talented award-winning director; James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), a respected and highly paid writer; and Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), a penny-pinching executive producer. The only major player missing from the bunch is Jonathan Shields (Douglas), a rich and powerful studio mogul. Shields has fallen on hard times and wants Pebbel to convince the other three to make a movie with him to get him back on track. We then sit back and relax as the story of the director, actress, and writer are all told in flashback, comprising each of the three acts of the screenplay. A final epilogue then ties it all up, albeit in an ambiguous way.

The upshot of each story is that we find out why they each despises Shields and needs some convincing in order to work with him. They each have their reasons to be sure, however as Pebbel points out, they all got their starts and were able to go on to successful careers because of Shields. With all three stories taken into account, we get a well-rounded portrait of Shields as a mogul and as a man. We see him manipulate his way into the studio system, but we also see the loyalty he has by bringing a friend with him. We see him believe in an emotionally troubled, marginally talented bit player actress enough to coach her into becoming a star. Then, in the movie’s best scene so powerfully acted by Douglas and Turner, he shatters her love for him in a million pieces. He doesn’t just give it to others either. We even see Shields be hard on himself by shelving a movie he did a terrible job directing, knowing that it will mean disaster for his studio.

The part of Jonathan Shields is a great one for Kirk Douglas, who is able to express all of the passion and rage, the highs and the lows, of this character. Shields has an interesting trait in which he gets a bout of melancholy after he finishes making a movie, and it gets worse with each one. There are some speeches in “The Bad and the Beautiful” that are very well written and take a truly committed actor to pull off. Douglas’s performance is vibrant and lived in. He’s present in each and every moment and I was right there with him. If this type of acting was done on stage it would earn the actor a five minute standing ovation at the final bows. He’s that good in this movie, and did receive an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Much credit should also be given to director Vincente Minnelli to coax such a great performance from Douglas. Additionally, I couldn’t help but be captivated by Minnelli’s eye. Working with cinematographer Robert Surtees, who won an Oscar for this movie, Minnelli’s shot selection, camera angles, and camera movement are all very impressive.  He knows how to properly light the sets, which also won an Oscar, to take advantage of the black and white cinematography, then move around them to give a sense of space. While Hollywood may be portrayed in a dark way in “The Bad and the Beautiful,” the movie itself is a bright spot of cinema. Buy it.

More New Releases: “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” live action movie of the popular Nickelodeon television series in which the young explorer grabs her backpack and takes some friends on an adventure to save her parents and solve the mystery behind a lost city of gold, starring Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo, and Temuera Morrison; and “Memory: The Origins of Alien,” documentary about director Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror/sci-fi classic.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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