Starring: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Johnathan Sheilds (Douglas) is a movie producer who has no scruples about using people to make it big. But his behaviour has alienated three people who he now needs to make a career making film. An actress, a writer and a director who all refuse to take his calls and who hate him are reminded, in flashback, that his awful treatment of them actually made their careers.
Based loosely on David O Selznick, but also on other stories known on the Hollywood lot at the time, this film caused some anxiety amongst studio heads as none of them wanted to be lampooned or made to look bad on screen. (Think Hearst’s reaction to Citizen Kane) It’s a wonderful film about Hollywood and the real lives behind the screen. At the time that this film came out, movies were generally cheerful affairs overseen by a board that could veto anything that seemed immoral and there was a rule that bad guys could never be seen to prosper. Magazines pushed out manufactured lives of the famous for the public, often with no real relationship to the truth of stars lives. And even the whiff of scandal could ruin careers where a morality clause was written into a contract. In that context, you can imagine how powerful this film would have been.
It’s still powerful today, resting on the broad shoulders of Kirk Douglas who manages to be domineering and megalomaniacal to just the right degree. He’s really wonderful in this film, charming enought to really make you believe you’d fall for his line, but able to turn on a dime and be intimidating and cold. He’s surrounded by an all star cast in a film that feel huge and dramatic.
This film really showcases an attitude that has been dominant on film shoots and in the industry for a long time: that if you’re the big man in the studio, even while you’re hurting and using people it’s all OK because they are learning from being hurt. It’s there in Hitchcock calling his actors “cattle” and stalking his female leads. It’s there in stories of how people in the Weinstein office were treated. And it’s there in the Me Too movement. I think even at the time, this film wasn’t really advocating this film of behaviour but rather pointing it out, showing it to the light of day, but putting an ending on it that made it pallatable to the studio and to audiences.
So you can really watch this film as a great entertaining film about Hollywood made during it’s Golden Age and enjoy it that way, or you can watch it and see how much the mindset of the film set has been passed down, that is to say, how it’s still relevant. Either way, it’s a really entertaining film with plenty of drama and truly excellent performances, and a bit of film history too.
See It If: I think this will appeal to a few people, those of you who love movies will get a lot out of this film and it’s story, those who love the classic stars will find plenty of them in this film, and those of you who enjoy a good melodrama will also be satisfied.