Walter Pidgeon

Thoughts on the Ultimate Hollywood Film

Kirk Douglas is pleased with Lana Turner's performance - for now. Image: The Guardian

Kirk Douglas is pleased with Lana Turner’s performance – for now. Image: The Guardian

*SPOILER & CYNIC ALERTS*

Quick! Without searching online, do you know who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year? … Anyone?

Alas, this is the downside of winning a Big Prize. In time, winners’ names become reduced to a trivia answer. (“I’ll take last year’s winners for $200, Alex.”)

There are countless movies that examine winning big prizes or, rather, winning big in life. One film, the 1952 drama, The Bad and the Beautiful, examines winning in Hollywood.

We think The Bad and the Beautiful could be the ultimate Hollywood film, but not in the way you might expect.

First, let us say this is a well-crafted film with inspiring performances. It would take us at least week to describe how brilliantly cast these actors are, under the expert direction of Vincente Minnelli.

Told through flashbacks, the film is cordoned into three sections as told from the perspective of three characters, each a member of the Hollywood elite. Common to all of these characters is Jonathan Shield (Kirk Douglas), a ruthless but charming movie mogul who uses people then beats them at their own game.

Douglas’ character has been exiled from Hollywood and is languishing in Europe. In an attempt to resuscitate his career, he arranges a phone meeting with the three people he’s used the most: a film director (Barry Sullivan); an actress (Lana Turner); and a screenwriter (Dick Powell). Each of these has a heart-wrenching story of how Douglas used them and knocked them aside.

At first the trio is reluctant to have the teleconference with Douglas, let alone work with him again. But Douglas’ ally/producer (Walter Pidgeon), a smooth-talking diplomat, explains to each of them how Douglas has actually boosted their careers. The director has twice been awarded an Oscar. The actress is a top box-office draw. And the writer has won the Pulitzer Prize.

See? Douglas’ character isn’t that bad, explains Pidgeon. He’s actually helped you people. It’s not like he’s killed anyone.

Oh. Wait a minute.

Let’s look at Powell’s character. He wrote a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel about a southern woman based on his late wife; a woman who died in an accident during an illicit rendezvous that Douglas had arranged. Douglas didn’t mean for the woman to die; after all, it was her choice to jump at the bait he offered. Is it Douglas’ fault he spotted her weakness and gave her a push? But now that she’s dead, Powell ends up writing the Great American Novel. Pidgeon’s character tells Powell he should be grateful.

Grateful? For losing his wife?

Similarly, Sullivan’s character thinks he’s Douglas’ friend and entrusts him to direct a screenplay he wrote. Douglas steals the screenplay and manages to get Sullivan fired from the project. As for Turner’s character, she falls in love with Douglas; their relationship lasts during the filming of a movie, then he dumps her without warning.

Pidgeon also tells Sullivan and Turner they should be grateful, too. Being used and stabbed in the back in return for more money and fame is worth it, apparently. Why else would you develop relationships?

Is this really the underlying message here? Relationships are expendable when furthering your career? It’s all worth it if you attain greater material success?

The Bad and the Beautiful is a perfect example of a character-driven film and, if you haven’t seen it, you really ought. You may not agree with our cynical view of the film, but we think you’ll be intrigued by its steely-eyed view of Hollywood.

The Bad and the Beautiful: starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Written by Charles Schnee. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., B&W, 1952, 116 mins.

Mrs. Miniver’s War Effort

This post is part of the William Wyler Blogathon hosted by The Movie Projector, which runs June 24-29. You won’t want to miss it!

It's just bombs, darling

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon as the Minivers during The Blitz.

Yes, Dear Reader, we can tell you’re in the mood for a Movie Of Influence; a film that may have Changed The Course Of History.

You think we’re pulling your leg? No! We would never joke about such a movie as this. Look:

  1. Acclaimed director William Wyler used this movie to help persuade the American public to support World War II.
  2. Winston Churchill felt this movie positively affected the outcome of the war.
  3. The sermon delivered by the vicar at the movie’s conclusion was published in Time magazine and printed on leaflets dropped over Europe.

You could argue that it was one of the most influential films during the second world war. Even Hollywood thought so; this movie received six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The 1942 war film Mrs. Miniver, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon chronicles the life of a middle-class British family during the early days of WWII. The movie is based on a series of London newspaper columns by Jan Struther, which later became a book, then a Hollywood movie.

Wyler is still regarded as one of the best directors Hollywood ever produced, and Mrs. Miniver is one example why. The film opens with the Minivers living a bucolic life in a quaint village in southern England. In the opening scenes we see Garson as Mrs. Miniver, buying a silly hat and then fretting about catching her train. Wyler uses scenes like this to impress upon us that the Minivers’ pre-war life is lovely and sweet, hardly touched by the cruelties of life.

But it’s a set-up, all this cheery complacency. As the audience, we feel a little uneasy because we know that trouble’s brewin’ across the Channel.

With this movie, Wyler tells us to be patriotic and to rally around the cause. He tells us that to overcome great evil, one must make great sacrifice. And he warns us – without expressly saying so – that the Minivers will have to make such a sacrifice. (We dare not reveal any more of the plot for fear of giving away the shocking twist in the story.)

Greer Garson is almost a bit too glamourous for the role of an English housewife, but she still manages to be believable. Walter Pidgeon (with an American accent that is never explained) gives a charming performance as a man who greatly admires his wife. Clearly, this is Garson’s movie and Pidgeon seems comfortable with his role as “the husband”.

Mrs. Miniver reminds us that ordinary people who overcome extraordinary circumstances are society’s heroes. During war, it is not always the generals or the admirals who win the battles. Wyler shows us that heroes are people with the courage and strength to grind through the tough business. They are the ones to be praised.

Mrs. Miniver: starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright. Written by Arthur Wimperis, Arthur Froeschel, James Hilton. Directed by William Wyler. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, B&W, 1942, 135 mins.