by Gary Meyer
On Friday night, January 29, Noir City and EatDrinkFilms present two film noir classics, set behind the seamy back doors of the Hollywood studios, at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.
This is where deals are made, even if at least one of the parties involved doesn’t want it. Inevitably, there are skeletons in closets that can either be outed or made to disappear. The upcoming new Coen Brothers’ film Hail, Caesar! (opening February 5) is a comic look behind the Golden Era but The Bad and the Beautiful and The Big Knife are essential viewing to prepare for it.
Rarely seen on the big screen, as was intended by their makers, this double feature is also a perfect way to prepare for the Academy Awards ceremony on February 28.
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is a classic directed by Vincente Minnelli that won five Oscars®, including Best Supporting Actress for Gloria Grahame as part of the ensemble starring Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon and Dick Powell.
Gloria Graham is a film noir icon. Read a terrific Film Comment appreciation here.
An insightful article written by “The Lady Eve” offers a terrific overview of The Bad and the Beautiful.
The Big Knife (1955) is equally cynical, based on a play by Clifford Odets and directed by Robert Aldrich. Jack Palance plays a movie star who wants out but the studio bosses, led by Rod Steiger, won’t allow that to happen. And what does his wife (Ida Lupino) know?
(Editor’s postscript on January 31: A packed Castro Theatre audience had the rare opportunity to watch both films on excellent 35mm prints. The Bad and the Beautiful was the first movie about Hollywood that I ever saw and it fascinated me. As a teenager in the 1960s I read every book I could about making movies. Clearly this movie was a big studio film with important movie stars making its image of “the industry” only partially a dark tale of tinsel town backstabbing. It always has been an important part of my memories. In 1970 MGM held an auction to sell thousands of props and costumes and I went to the preview in Culver City. Obviously I could not afford to bid on the Time Machine or Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers but I had my eye on the emblem of Shields Pictures, the company owned by Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas playing the unsympathetic studio boss). I do not know how much it sold for but certainly more than a college student could afford. Ironically the prop wound up in the San Francisco Bay Area as the inspiration for a company named Shields Pictures Inc. representing several wonderful series of short films produced by Jerry Fairbanks and operated by his heirs.
The Big Knife shares a desire to look at the not-so-nice side of Hollywood but takes its cynical story into unrelentingly dark territory with hardly a likable character. Jack Palance plays a movie star trapped by his studio contract. It is about to expire and his estranged wife (Ida Lupino) is willing to return to him if he does not renew it and retires from the film business. But the boss (as evil as Rod Steiger ever played) holds some secrets that would send Palance’s character to jail—and he is ready to reveal them if a new contract is not signed. Based on a play by Clifford Odets it has nothing nice to say about the movie business and is a perfect companion to another show business noir written by Odets, The Sweet Smell of Success.
The audience was transfixed and maybe a bit shocked.
If you missed them the movies are available on DVD.