Ambition is the ruthless, inevitable downfall of an anti-hero or dirtbag protagonist to follow it for their personal gain. The Bad and the Beautiful provides both to Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), whose ambition stomps on those that help him to his powerful position. Yet it is the moment he hits his high that stops him in his tracks and takes him down a peg or two. Told through the eyes of his collaborators, the Vincente Minnelli directed drama is a fascinating object of interest. Its detailed analysis and takedown of the arrogant Hollywood producer has a sudden modern intensity in the wake of what we as an audience now know about the horrible men behind the scenes. The Bad and the Beautiful has the benefit of happenstance on its side.
It uses that well, and Minnelli’s striking portrayal of a man pushed by passion is a certainly strong piece. A love of the movies is inherent to this feature, and it is found in the swooping camera shots and portrayals of these minor characters. Minnelli has turned the camera on to those of a fictional movie industry. Shields Pictures Inc. is the production company of interest, and as Douglas saunters down corridors and lays into his cast, crew and employees, there is an inevitability waiting to be had for him. He is soon to succumb to his own outbursts and the bullying effect they have. Shady dealings and distasteful characters are at the forefront, and it is through flashbacks that this story comes to life so well.
Shields may be a distasteful character, but the trio that The Bad and the Beautiful relays its story upon are not faultless. Telling the tale of their introductions and eventual hatred towards Shields feels rather conditional and bases itself, primarily, on the charm of Douglas, but Minnelli does well to interact with not just these characters but the scenery around them. He displays abandoned mansions after the funerals of dead heroes of the silver screen, stuffy offices and screening rooms, they are all inherited by Minnelli as a way of portraying the torturous behind-the-scenes tribulations of creatives at war with one another. Movies about movies find themselves discussing the details of the fallout on the sets and sound stages, the parties of the stars they initially admire, and soon overtake. Minnelli has much at his disposal, yet little of it comes together with graceful effect. Had it not been for Douglas, The Bad and the Beautiful would be a jarring and disconnected series of satirical jabs at the state of producing in Hollywood.
It is just that, biting and brittle, but with a narrative thread running through it. The Bad and the Beautiful lives or dies on the dependability and believability of Douglas’ role. For the three supporting characters, he is the union of hatred. Fluttering between past and present, Minnelli handles the blend well but there is little of it that feels independent of Douglas. It is one thing to make him the crux of these jaded starlets, but it is another entirely to make him their whole reason for falling out of love with life and the industry as a whole. Convincing enough to work, and thoroughly enjoyable too, but The Bad and the Beautiful is too dependent on Douglas for it to be anything more than an entertaining, well-performed jab at the industry that supports its creativity.