Bad and the Beautiful: Part Two
Houseman asked Charles Schnee, a former financial partner in his Mercury Theatre, to write the script. Drawing on “Memorial to a Bad Man,” and ideas taken from a second Bradshaw story, “Of Good and Evil,” published earlier in Cosmopolitan, Schnee created the character of Jonathan Shields, an independent producer who’s in decline. In the initial script, Shields makes a call from London to three of his former associates–a director, an actress, and a writer–asking them to participate in his new, comeback film.
At first, they all refuse. In flashback, they recall how they were first lured and then betrayed by Shields. Shields pretended to love the actress Georgia, when, in fact, he was sleeping with another woman. Shields attempted to gain control over the writer’s work by arranging a secret (and fatal) affair between the writer’s sexy wife and the studio’s Latin lover. All three, who have since pursued successful careers, claim they’ll never work for him again. The ending of the movie was ambiguous, however, showing the trio as they eavesdrop on Shields’s call to his assistant Pebbel, curious to learn more about the new project.
Minnelli’s interest in the project made it easier to mount a big glossy film in the mode of MGM’s prestige ensemble productions, like Dinner at Eight, or Grand Hotel. in the 1930s. The cast’s names jump one by one during the credit sequence, unfolding to the rhythm of David Raksin’s bombastic music.
Helping to devise the final script, Minnelli had to handle a “list of suggestions” that were meant to avoid accusations that the fictitious character of George Lorrison, Georgina’s father, was based on John Barrymore. Hence, it was all right to show a love scene in a bedroom, but such love scene should not be too reminiscent of any specific love scene of Barrymore. And it was all right to have a recording of excerpts from a Shakespearean play, but Minnelli could not choose a Shakespearean play too closely associated with Barrymore.
For Minnelli, The Bad and the Beautiful was about the tawdry absurdities and operatic splendors of a bizarre dream factory (not industry) like Hollywood. In his picture, the characters are less conniving and more frustrated dreamers who, despite disappointment, still yearn for art, glamour, and sophistication. Having experienced moments of exhilaration, they relish to recreate and to relive those moments.
To highlight the ironies, Minnelli requested some changes in the script. The original draft was hero-as-heel story. It was Kirk Douglas’ screen specialty, as was evident in his previous films, The Champion or Ace in the Hole. The first version was about a man who was more of a villain, who stepped on everybody’s shoulders to get to the top, lacking any human qualities or redeeming graces. By contrast, Minnelli’s conception emphasizes Shields’ charm, flamboyance, and above all sheer talent. Minnelli argued that greater attention to psychological realism, accentuating his charisma and gifts, would discourage the audience from making quick and harsh judgment of Shields.
In the end, Minnelli’s picture was milder and softer than the script. Initially, the yarn contained two darkly comic scenes about Shields’ unpleasant character. In the first, Shields accepts the Oscar for a film called The Faraway Mountain, paying lavish tribute to his dead father, but barely mentioning the work of the fledgling director. This scene was actually shot but later dropped from the final cut, because it didn’t fit.
The second scene, which wasn’t filmed, occurred at the end of the story, with Shields in a Paris hotel, aware that the people he once betrayed are eavesdropping on his call to Hollywood. Pretending to be unaware of their presence, he apologizes for what he had done to “three fine people that he loved.” Then, in midst of outlining his idea, he deliberately breaks off the connection. Leaning back in his chair, he awaits a return call while talking to his press agent. The phone starts to ring, and Syd reaches for it, only to be told by Shields, “Let it ring for a while.”
In contrast to the script, the released film ends on a more ambiguous but also cleverer note. The three characters gather around a telephone in an outer office, eavesdropping on Shields’ conversation with Pebbel. The audience doesn’t see Shields. He is, as James Naremore has observed, an “absent presence,” an image mediated by memory, an overheard voice. Shields’ collaborators, standing in for the real audience, indicate their endless attraction to the alluring magic of showbiz.
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