Filmsite Movie Review
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Second Flashback: Actress Georgia Lorrison

The next story is about a would-be actress (a trampish, alcoholic extra) who was ultimately made a big-time superstar by Shields. He cynically exploited her infatuation for him - and pretended to love her to rehabilitate her into a glamorous and confident star (and then discarded her by having an affair with another starlet).

Georgia's flashback begins with a zoom-in to the cartoon drawing of the devil (a caricature of Jonathan's father drawn by her own father), and a dissolve to a film set. Her voice-over bemoans the fact that she is only a "bit player" who is unable to "get into a major producer's office":

The first time I saw Jonathan, I wasn't a woman and I wasn't an actress. The next time I saw him five years later, I wasn't an actress. I was a nothing...

Jonathan first met her in her father's home as a teenager. (He also had noticed her in a screen test for The Faraway Mountain.) In their second encounter in his production office, she is chosen from a lineup of five girls for a small role - a "drug-store bit." As Georgia recalls: "My call came two days later. By then, I'd memorized my one line." In the first take of her only scene, Georgia provocatively asks a well-dressed man (Gilbert Roland) in a drug-store: "Read any good books lately?" Grooming her to be a more effective actress, Shields advises her to be more coy and not look up from her pulp fiction book (My Memories of Mexico) that she is reading - this time, the take is printed.

He visits her, unannounced, in her sordid, tawdry apartment in the middle of the night, where she lives as a trampish alcoholic:

Georgia: For a one-day bit, you sure expect a lot of company.
Shields: With the kind of company you're talking about, I don't have to trot over here at four in the morning. All I have to do is pick up a phone.
Georgia: Oh, pick one up.

She has set up her place as a morbid memorial to her late father - a famous but dissolute Shakespearean actor/star, with news clippings and pictures from his career, phonograph recordings of his readings, and his pipes. As she changes into a masculine pair of pajamas and pulls down her hideaway Murphy bed, she reveals her self-deprecating, vulnerable nature by calling herself "another cluck" for a movie studio. He asks the bit actress if she has ever played "a real part in a picture" - but she has really only played "straight man to a chimpanzee" in Jungle Tigress. When he proposes that she make a screen test for him - she promiscuously sits on his lap. Mocking his stereotypical role as a wolfish producer, she plays out the screen test amorously in front of him:

Georgia: All right, Mr. Shields, isn't this scene supposed to go something like this? I'll make your test for you and you'll be good to me and I'll be good to you. (She kisses his forehead.) Oh, who's kidding who at four in the morning? If it's for the test, I don't want it. I wouldn't be any good anyway. Just a waste of good film. (She pours herself another drink.) But - you're a nice-looking guy and you did go to a lot of trouble. And it is getting late so, shall I turn out the light?
Shields: (sneering) You're very generous, too generous. You're a Lorrison all right.

He plays one of her phonograph records of her father performing a famous soliloquy from Macbeth (voice by Louis Calhern) [Act 5, Scene 5 after the suicidal death of Lady Macbeth], a reverie about our inconsequential lives without point or purpose, as the camera pans over her collection of sketches and photographs (many in profile) of her father [paralleling the relationship of John Barrymore to his daughter Diana]:

She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools, The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing...

He brutally yells at the fledgling actress when she shouts for him to turn it off and vows: "I'm one girl who doesn't want to be a star." He criticizes her self-pity, her alcoholism, her suicidal tendencies (on two occasions), her love affair with the memory of her father, her loose living, and her obsessive wallowing in the past:

Make up your mind. You hate him and you build this shrine to him. He died over ten years ago and you've been holding your own private wake ever since. You can't be a star in a cemetery... Because he was a drunk, you're a drunk. Because he loved women, you're a tramp. But you forget one thing. He did it with style.

She is uninterested in following her drunken father's career, while adopting his worst bad habits - drinking and whoring:

Don't waste any sleep over me, Mr. Shields. The last time I tried to commit suicide was six months ago. There won't be any next time...People who knew my father give me extra work and a line to say now and then. I drink what I want, sleep where I want. Who knows? Some day, I may even get married to a nice, upright assistant assistant.

He believes her salvation and curse is that she was "born to live by make-believe" as the offspring of a famous Hollywood actor. Then he challenges her to "pull herself" out of her "cheap" noirish, drunken and sordid lifestyle and make a "star" performance on a real film set rather than hidden away in her private residence:

And make him miserable for the rest of his life because you're a Lorrison, haunted, born to live by make-believe. Look at you. You're acting now, playing the doomed daughter of the great man. Well, let me tell you something. The acting isn't good enough. It's a cheap performance of a bit player, not a star. And that's all it'll ever be until you can pull yourself out of this tomb. Until you can see people as they really are, yourself as you really are, until you can do this to your father's picture, (he draws a mustache on a profiled picture of her father), and laugh the way he would have laughed. That's not a God talking, Georgia, that's only a man.

He smashes the phonograph record that is playing. She retaliates by throwing her liquor bottle at him and attacking him with raised fists. But she is profoundly affected by his challenge.

In voice-over, Georgia describes how she was prepped for a screen test in a make-up room, where she practices her lines:

It takes two hours to get ready for a screen test, two very early in the morning hours. ["Inside" references are made here: Lana Turner is attended to by her real-life personal makeup man (Del Armstrong) and hairdresser (Helen Young).]

After the film test, she watches her own projected image in a viewing room where Jonathan also watches the clip with British director Henry Whitfield (Leo G. Carroll) [an impersonation of Alfred Hitchcock] and others from the production office. In the poorly-acted scene, she insults her caddish male co-star and douses his face with her drink: "They told me about you. I didn't believe them but you're everything they said. You hear evil, you see evil, you speak evil. You are evil!" Whitfield (reinforced by Miss March (Kathleen Freeman)) is critical of Georgia's acting style ("She's wooden, gauche, artificial. Completely out of the question"). Assistant Syd Murphy (Paul Stewart) adds, "She stinks," and penny-pinching Pebbel denounces her awful screen test:

I know we can get her for nothing. For nothing, you get nothing. She's nothing.

In Shields' office, Georgia confirms how lousy her acting really is: "I told you not to waste your film." Jonathan gambles on her future stardom, however, as an unknown in his new film that will begin shooting in six weeks. He believes in her potential star quality as part of the Lorrison dynasty:

Shields: I'm very (stubborn) when I'm right, and I know I'm right about you. I gave you no help. The test was atrocious, but bad as it was, it proved one thing. When you're on the screen, no matter who you're with, what you're doing, the audience is looking at you. That's star quality, Lorrison quality.
Georgia: Careful, Mr. Shields. You're looking at me, but you're seeing my father. He gave me his name, but that's all he gave me. Don't make a mistake.
Shields: Georgia, no more 'doom daughter,' no more whimpering, no more drinking...
Georgia: And no more men?

He reforms her and grooms her for a glamorous lead role in his war epic:

(Georgia's voice-over)...six weeks seemed like forever. Then, suddenly with fittings and hair-dressing and make-up tests, five of them were gone.

In order to elicit the best performance possible from his "star," he exploits her infatuation for him and bestows his love on her during the pre-production planning of the film. He charms her, restores her confidence in herself and her acting career, rewards her with a trip to Palm Springs before shooting begins ("You've worked very hard. You've been a good girl...), and shares a bottle of champagne with her for a toast (and a kiss): "To Georgia, my star."

Georgia apprehensively describes what happened after her return during a lonely backstage visit to the set the night before her stellar debut - and before filming is to begin:

The night before we started shooting, I came back from Palm Springs. I tried to sleep, I couldn't. I don't know what drew me to the empty stage. I guess I was scared.

She enters her dressing room where she finds a wrapped present from Jonathan - a necklace with a card, reading: "To my new star who will make me very proud of her." She leaves the dark shadowy set for a drink:

It was cold on the set and suddenly my throat was dry, so dry, I-I knew I had to have a drink.

The next day, the director, his assistant, Shields, and Pebbel wait patiently when Georgia fails to show up on the set. When Pebbel suggests crossing her off the cast list, Shields reluctantly agrees to replace her with another star. They have searched everywhere for Georgia - "the waterfront, jails, hospitals...the main street booze parlor" and other rat holes: "Either she's found a new one, or she's far, far away." On a hunch that she is dozing off her drunken hangover in her own apartment, Jonathan breaks down her door and finds her slouched in her chair in her disheveled place.

He carries her limp in his arms to his mansion and sobers her up by dropping her in his pool. Afterwards, while she is snuggled in his oversized coat, he threatens her like a reprimanding father. She is sorry and repentant and explains why she ran away:

Jonathan: You're sorry, aren't you? What do you want me to do, wash out your mouth with soap and send you to bed without your supper? Why'd you do it, Georgia? Do you know why? (She first nods no, and then yes.) Why?
Georgia: Because I-I was afraid I'd louse things up for you. Because I love you. I do, you know? It's cold sitting on the ground.

As she adoringly sits in his lap (as he latches the necklace around her neck), and after she proposes marriage, he bluntly tells her that he is too old for love and has no time for it. He needs a "star," not a "wife." He wishes to keep her emotionally distant and longing for more:

Jonathan: Georgia, love is for the very young.
Georgia: For the very young. I like that. Would you marry me, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Not even a little bit.
Georgia: That's too bad.
Jonathan: Why?
Georgia: Because I'd make you a good wife.
Jonathan: Well, right now, I don't need a wife. I need a star.
Georgia: It's cold not sitting on the ground.

By the fire, she promises him that if married to him, she "wouldn't take up much room." During a phone call from Harry Pebbel, Jonathan assures him that Georgia will play the role - knowing that she is eavesdropping on their conversation from the bedroom extension: "Georgia's in. We'll shoot her first scene in the morning...Don't worry. Everything's gonna be all right. I know just how to handle her now." When she appears in his blue pajamas and white bathrobe, he kisses her in front of the fire. She swoons into his arms and falls in love with him, but is ultimately the victim of Shields' manipulative love, seductiveness and unfaithfulness.

During the film's production, Jonathan attends to Georgia every minute, treating her like a star, instructing her in the nuances of effective acting (e.g., how to "make love" while lighting and smoking a cigarette) and coaxing the right expressions from her - she becomes a perfect product of the Hollywood movie-factory. ("Gaucho" later tells her that her performance glows due to her love, between takes, for Jonathan: "Every day, I watch you grow more and more an actress. To give truth to a performance, there's nothing like love"):

(Georgia's voice-over) We were fourteen weeks shooting the picture, the most wonderful fourteen weeks I'd ever known....Jonathan was a perfectionist. When he was in love with a scene, money meant nothing to him, fatigue even less, his or anyone else's. We did it over and over and over till we could hardly stand.

Exasperated by repeated takes, Lila (Elaine Stewart), one of the vampy, impatient, and cynical starlet-extras who is being romanced on the side by "Gaucho," jealously complains about her non-star treatment: "Oh brother, this is amateur night in Dixie. Well, they'd better make up their minds soon or they're gonna lose Baby...You were going to get me into pictures...This is experience! Ha! By the time they get me a speaking part, they're gonna have to carry me off and on the set." Experienced in the ways of Hollywood, she knows the truth about show business when she delivers a famous line when Jonathan is referred to as a great man:

Lila: She gets to be a star. I get to park the convertible.
Gaucho: Don't talk like that about Georgia - or Jonathan. He's a great man.
Lila: Ha, ha. There are no great men, buster. There's only men.

During the last two weeks of the filming of the historical costume-drama, Georgia neurotically recalls being in "a bad dream" - she is sick, frightened, and exhausted: "I keep feeling like I'm gonna scream but I can't help myself." The last scene was finished "a little before dawn" - a death-bed scene with Georgia kneeling before her dying officer/lover and espousing her love for him. As the emotional scene is played, [in homage to Citizen Kane's famous shot that moves up into the rafters of the Opera House], the camera pans up and away across the set. It captures the glowing admiration and intensity on the absorbed faces of the director, producer, and technical crew regarding her acting. Wearing a torn dress, and clasping her hands prayerfully in front of her, she sobs:

We're alone now and I can talk to you. Now I can tell you what I never could tell you before. You must forgive me, my darling. You mustn't mind my crying, now that it's too late. Now at last I can tell you. I love you...I love you so!

The spotlight next to the lighting technician dissolves into another spotlight at the opening-night cast party after the film's premiere, as Georgia is escorted into the festivities, sought after by autograph-seeking fans, and toasted: (voice-over)

It was a lovely, happy, top-of-the-world party. It was my party, and everybody was there. And everybody made a fuss over me, everybody but Jonathan.

Shields doesn't attend the celebration, so Georgia, still wearing her white mink and a white, rhinestone-encrusted dress, goes to his home with a giant bottle of champagne to celebrate alone with him - her lover and producer. She is an unexpected guest after being allowed in - after repeated rings of the doorbell. Descending the staircase, he must cover up the reason that he didn't attend by explaining his post-premiere slump:

Georgia: Well, you wouldn't come to my party, so I brought my party to you. Jonathan, it was so wonderful. Everything you wanted for me just as you promised. They applauded and cheered, and they oohh-ed and aahh-ed.
Jonathan: Georgia, go back and enjoy it.
Georgia: But there's no one to enjoy it with.
Jonathan: Why that's silly! Everybody in town is fighting with each other to be near the new star.
Georgia: You know what I mean, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Georgia, I have to be alone tonight. After a picture is finished, something happens to me. It's a feeling of letdown, emptiness. It's bad. It gets worse. I can't help it.
Georgia: I know, Syd and Harry have told me about that. Oh, but tonight.
Jonathan: I will only depress you. I want you to go back, now. You've got bows to take. Take them.
Georgia: Darling, I was afraid you might be angry or resent my coming here, but - but I had to take that chance. Why, right in the middle of everything, suddenly I knew one thing so clearly, the party's where you are. Depressed, or gay, or angry, or tender, or in any of your moods, I know them all.
Jonathan: Georgia.
Georgia: Oh, let's have our party, darling. We've got so much to celebrate. We'll ice the champagne, we'll light the fire, and we'll put on the records and dance, and I'll help you pull yourself out of this - the way you helped me. Oh, give me that chance, darling, please! (She hugs him.) Please don't shut me out. Please!

Then, the shadow of the slatternly, ambitious starlet Lila, who makes no claim on his feelings, crosses over them. She appears from upstairs in a strapless gown, crassly demanding Jonathan's attention after displacing Georgia as the latest starlet. As she undulates her way upstairs again on her way to the bedroom, she critiques Georgia's picture:

Lila: I thought you said you were gonna get rid of her quick.
Jonathan: (to Georgia) Now will you go back to your party?
Lila: The picture's finished, Georgia. You're business. I'm company.
Jonathan: (to Lila) (snarling) Shut up! Shut up and get back upstairs.
Lila: All right. I forgot to tell you, Georgia, I saw the picture. Thought you were swell.

When his ugly deception is uncovered, an enraged, two-timing Shields lashes out at the stunned and disbelieving Georgia that he is not pleased to see her. He vehemently spits his words at her and bluntly discards her in the film's most powerful and melodramatic scene:

Stop looking like that. Remember, I didn't ask you here. You couldn't stay where you belong, could you? You couldn't enjoy what I made possible for you. No. You'd rather have this. Well, congratulations, you've got it all laid out for you so you can wallow in pity for yourself. The betrayed woman. The wounded doe with all the drivel that goes with it going through your mind right now. Oh, he doesn't love me at all. He was lying. All those lovely moments, those tender words. He's lying. He's cheap and cruel. That low-woman Lila. Well, maybe I like Lilas. Maybe I like to be cheap once in a while. Maybe everybody does, or don't you remember? (She recoils.) Get that look off your face! Who gave you the right to dig into me and turn me inside out and decide what I'm like. (He grabs her by the hair.) How do you know how I feel about you, how deep it goes? Maybe I don't want anybody to own me. You or anybody. Get out! Get out! Get out!

Crying hysterically and uninhibited in her anguished despair, a shocked, spurned and rejected Georgia stumbles from his front door. She realizes that his tender affection during the film had all been an artificial and empty ploy to make her act more persuasively. Suicidal again, she recklessly speeds away in a raging downpour, driving faster and faster as headlights flash past her from oncoming traffic. In one miraculous take, the camera rocks uncontrollably back and forth, swirling next to her in small concentric arcs as she becomes disoriented and flails about. As a truck horn blasts at her car, she spins out of control when she releases her grip on the wheel (the steering wheel rotates wildly as she lets go). She slams on the brakes (an inset close-up of her high-heeled shoe) and screams, as her automobile lurches and hurtles around and finally comes to rest on the side of the road. Emotionally broken and in agony, she bends her head into the steering wheel where she dissolves into tears - and the car is cleansed by the deluge.

[As a postscript to Georgia's story, learned in the next flashback, she becomes a box-office smash, but not for Shields: "Georgia is the best - the best actress, the best box-office. Her last three pictures for Fred Amiel million, six hundred thousand domestic."]

Returning to the present a second time, the film dissolves into the face of Georgia in Pebbel's office, where she is now well-dressed in a black mink stole, black hat, and veil and vowing:

I told you I'd never work for him again - and I never will.

The executive comments upon the influence Jonathan had on launching her successful acting career:

I don't blame you, Georgia. Jonathan certainly ruined you. You were a drunk and a tramp, playing bit parts around town and he made a star of you. You had an iron-clad contract with Shields Productions - iron, I know, because I drew it myself. Starting at a hundred dollars a week, we owned you body and soul. And the next morning, you walked right into this office and you stood right here with that same look you've got on your face now, and you threw the bits of your contract into my face. Jonathan laughed and let you get away with it. I wanted to take you to court, but he said no. So you signed with A & L and made them the millions that we should have made. For the last seven years, you've been in the top ten in every popularity poll in this country. Ah, yes, Jonathan sure fouled you up.

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