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.
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.
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!