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« Gurus of Gold Begins | Main | Visual Index ~ The Bad and the Beautiful »
Thursday
Aug222013

"In the dark all sorts of things come alive"

I'm a day late getting to The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) for Hit Me With Your Best Shot but I think the drama queen players onscreen would understand: they're often behind schedule and over budget themselves, victims of their own masochistic impulses and grandiose ambitions!

To understand my choice of best shot, a brief preface as spoken by the film itself. About twenty minutes into the film the fledgling producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) and his hungry director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) are trying to figure out how to transcend the limitations of their budget on a B movie called Attack of the Cat Men. If they're movies are always terrible they'll never get out of B pictures. The cat suits look shoddy and cheap but Shields has a stroke of genius when he suggests that they never show the title characters at all. 

Shields: When an audience pays to see a picture like this what do they pay for?
Amiel: To get the pants scared off 'em.
Shields: And what scares the human race more than any other single thing

[TURNS LIGHTS OFF]

Amiel: The dark
Shields: Of course. and why? because the dark has a light all its own. In the dark all sorts of things come alive.  

And a final question

Now what do we put on the screen that will make the backs of their necks crawl?"

Once we've moved away from the context of this conversation (the B picture calling card) and into the shark-infested waters of their subsequent powerful Hollywood careers, this final question begins to haunt us properly. 

Though it might not be popular to say I find The Bad and the Beautiful something of a muddle in its impulses between melodrama and satire. It wants to swim with sharks but it lacks that final killing bite. Perhaps it's the way it which its three stories dovetail in the final scene which suggests that we ought to admire the shark and excuse all the blood in the water. I wish the movie had found a way to end shortly after its scary Act Two finale. For its then when we get the answer as to what would make the back of our necks crawl: Human Nature. 

BEST SHOT

GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT"

Kirk Douglas's ugly soul-baring in a vicious pitiful monologue hurled at both himself and his star and love Georgia (Lana Turner) culminates in this moment when he is reduced to animalistic snarling in the shadows. It's a great inversion of the playful showmanship at the beginning of the film, and more terrifying than any supernatural beasts in B pictures could ever hope to be. In this superb sequence, which stands your every hair on end, Minnelli and Surtees have found a way to riff on both the frequent visual motifs of their movie (where figures in shadow are often watching brightly lit movie creens) and illustrate the lurid thrill of the movies themselves. They only come alive in the dark.

see seven other "Best Shot" opinions from this classic

Don't forget!
On August 31st we'll discuss Gloria Grahame's Oscar win from this movie iin the return of the Supporting Actress Smackdown! Next week we're Best Shot'ing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Join our movie-loving club!

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Reader Comments (10)

I also wish the film had ended after Act Two. When we start that 3rd flashback, the film just loses so much momentum and energy. It's like we were starting a whole new movie again. It's a poor plot structure if you ask me.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

The scene which contains that first shot - the one in the darkened screening room - was the first thing in the movie that made me sit up and pay attention. The whole film is almost supernaturally well-lit, but that scene in particular is just great.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Good choice! A round of applause for Helen Rose. What a dress!

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I was so convinced that everyone was going to choose the first scene, "in the dark all sorts of things come alive," that I purposely avoided it. I love how you work that set up into your choice.

Squasher, I agree that the third act doesn't have half as much romance as (especially) the second act or even the first, but that's what happens when you put Lana Turner in a film and taker her out of it. Besides that, though, I think the third act is important to dispel any lingering romantic ideals you may have about Jonathan Shield.

Also, as far as Hollywood Movies About Hollywood are concerned, it's nice to see one that doesn't pretend the entire studio system was comprised of stars and directors only. There were screenwriters. They were abused pretty constantly. And actually, losing only his wife means Dick Powell got off pretty easily. He could have lost a lot more, including his freedom (something tells me HUAC wouldn't like a college professor who wrote about sex).

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

That's a great shot Nathaniel.

Mine comes in the following scene at the end of Georgia's frenetic drive through the rain after the car's mad spin comes to a stop and she's destroyed. The rain's running down the windshield in torrents as lights shine through mirroring her inner devastation. It's wonderfully shot but I think Lana's performance, her best (her Oscar nomination should have been for this not Peyton Place), adds a lot to the impression the scene makes.

My runner up would be when Kirk & Barry break into George Lorrison's house and they are surprised by Georgia in the shadows. All we see are her lower legs and feet. It was probably shot that way because the studio or Minnelli felt Lana was too mature looking for the age Georgia was supposed to be at that point in the story but it adds an extra creepiness to the scene as well as a touch of mystery to her character so when she reappears later the audience is already intrigued by her. Also it plays into the theme of the unknowningness of the dark.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

joel 6 -- thanks for sharing! that is a memorable shot. because i hadn't seen the movie yet i momentarily thought it was gloria grahame because i kept waiting for her to show up :)

Anne Marie -- i get that those notions are supposed to be dispelled but doesn't it seen like the film wants to have it both ways since it wants us complicit in wanting the team to reunite with that final shot? or is this is a case of "you're horrible people. you can have each other!"

August 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Love the breakdown and the shot selected. More than anything I am glad I got introduced to this movie through the Best Shot/Smackdown selections for this month.

Speaking of the Smackdown, have you already selected the panelists? I loved reading them way back in the day (snerk, because it was so long ago) and wanted to give a try at actually contributing this time.

August 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPoliVamp

PoliVamp -- i'm not actually opening it up this time (Stinky started small which is what I'm doing) but I am doing a "reader selection" thing as can be seen here.

August 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I saw the movie just yesterday for the first time to enjoy this series. Then, I did my homework and clicked on the links and read all the entrances. I think I must've had some Bad and Beautiful overdose because last night I had bad dreams with the silent dancing woman of the beginning. More specifically, it was that woman but with the creepiness and the moves of the alien woman in Mars Attacks. Really weird.

Add me to the list of people surprised by Gloria Grahame's oscar part. I guess it was her momentum, he must have been seen as overdue, playing quite unexpectedly funny against type, but with a tragic end. She had all the ingredients working for her.

As for the movie itself, I also think the structure works against the movie, just because you can compare the different parts and choose which ones are better than others. As for myself, I think the movie could improve if it had only the first and third stories which share the same tone and some goofiness about them which fits with that comic final shot, but don't quite complete or connect with the whole melodrama in between. As much as I can appreciate Lana Turner in other movies, I don't buy her performance here. And also, I felt I wanted to know more about the director in the first part - we leave him standing there in the office just dumped by Douglas- and his story could be connect better with that of the writer than with Lana Turner's.

August 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

iggy -- yeah, i see where you're coming from though i like the middle section better than the last. but they are "of a piece" if you will.

thanks for receiving this in the spirit it was intended - communal movie watching.

August 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

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