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Minnelli May - The Bad And The Beautiful (1952)

Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Leo G. Carroll, Gilbert Roland, Elaine Stewart, Ivan Triesault

An actress (Turner), writer (Powell), and director (Sullivan) recount their experiences working with ruthless producer Douglas.

Playing a hybrid of Val Lewton and David O. Selznick, Douglas delivers arguably his greatest performance. When Pidgeon acts on his behalf in attempting to reunite him with Turner, Powell and Sullivan they flat out refuse at first, recounting stories of how his professional obsession screwed them over personally. The irony of course is that none of the three would have their success without him. He may lack social skills but anyone who ever dreamed of making a movie can fully understand his immersion in the world's largest train set. He never sets out to hurt anyone, they just expect more from him than he can give. Sullivan is really the only member of the trio you can sympathise with when his ideas for adapting a troublesome novel are gifted to an established director by Douglas. Turner falls for Douglas but he lets her know from the beginning his work is all he has time for so it should be no surprise when he rejects her approaches. Powell's writer tries to stick to his artistic guns but allows himself to be seduced by Hollywood. His tragedy is the result of an accident which certainly had no direct relation to Douglas, though he does seize on it to immerse Powell in his work.
The other great performance comes from Turner, shaking off the blond sex symbol tag in her portrayal of a boozehound actress, haunted by the spectre of her father, a once respected actor. Pidgeon is charismatic as an old school producer whose motto is "Give me a picture that ends with a kiss and black ink on the books". It's quite bizarre how the cast member awarded an Oscar was Grahame as her performance seems particularly hammy compared to the others on display here.
Minnelli always worked with the best cameramen and here it was Robert Surtees, best known for his widescreen work on "Ben Hur". As to be expected it's a beautiful looking film with brilliant use of shadow and light which plays up the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Douglas' character.
Usually Hollywood producers are portrayed as philistines who have no clue about the creative process but Douglas is the exception. He seems to genuinely know more about making a movie than the people he hires, dispensing acting, writing and directing tips which serve to elevate his material. With his "less is more" attitude he recalls the great B-movie producer Val Lewton who changed the horror genre by keeping the monsters in the shadows. There's a great scene where he demonstrates with a desk lamp to Sullivan just how effective this technique can be. Powell receives some wise instruction too when Douglas crosses out lines of unnecessary dialogue from his script, telling him the audiences imagination will be far more powerful than anything he could possibly write. If only today's overly verbose screenwriters could receive such guidance.
9/10