The Batrachian and the Beautiful

Movie:

The Bad and the Beautiful, directed by Vincente Minelli, starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Gloria Grahame, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan and Walter Pidgeon (1952): A fairly early Hollywood movie about Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful won a number of Academy Awards and has dated remarkably well, all things considering. We follow the career arc of Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas) from rags immediately after his bankrupt father’s death to riches and back to (almost) rags again within a frame narrative.Three characters (star actress, star director and star writer) who Shields both helped and screwed over on the way up (literally in the case of Turner’s actress character) provide a subjective triptych of Shields’ career in film. Will they agree to work with him again and help him restart his career? There the movie ends.

The screenplay zips along (and won one of those Oscars), and Lana Turner and Gloria Grahame (another Oscar) give stand-out performances in what is basically a comic melodrama. Cinematic in-jokes abound (one feature is obviously meant to be the original, much-lauded B-movie Cat People; a Germanic director seems to be a carbon copy of Erich Von Stroheim), as does a surprising amount of sexual innuendo, the funniest bit of which is completely wordless (the Latin lover character Gaucho stares appraisingly at a woman’s butt as she gets into the backseat of a car. Frankly, I’m surprised the shot got past the Hayes Office). The movie ends up being a paean to the old Hollywood studio system, a system that doesn’t exist any more, when placed in the hands of an innovative thinker such as Shields. Recommended.

Book:

The Trail of Cthulhu by August Derleth (1944-1951): Five linked stories form this collection/story cycle following the efforts of a diverse group of individuals attempting to forestall Cthulhu’s always-imminent invasion of our universe from his prison on the intermittently sunken island of R’lyeh in the South Pacific. The quest narrative, and Derleth’s tendency to literalize pretty much everything about H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos (a name Derleth himself coined after Lovecraft’s death in 1937 to describe a loose-knit collection of stories by Lovecraft and others about ancient alien ‘gods’ who want to return to Earth), tend to dampen the horror elements while highlighting how similar certain aspects of the Mythos are to high-fantasy constructs such as The Lord of the Rings.

Technically, we’re dealing with a fellowship (no women allowed) trying to stop a Dark Lord from taking over the planet; the last story here was even published in 1951, the same year as LOTR came out in hardcover in England. In any event, it’s an enjoyable romp with some striking scenes (the desert journey to the Nameless City and a brief depiction of the war between the relatively benign ‘Elder Gods’ and Cthulhu and the rest of the Great Old Ones are particularly nice). Having read a lot of Derleth in a short span, I will say that I’m heartily sick of the evil, sea-dwelling Deep Ones, who Derleth almost reflexively plugs into his stories as the ‘infantry’ of the Great Old Ones. A little more Tcho-Tcho or Mi-Go would be nice. Heck, I’d even like to find out what a Voola or a Dhole is. Recommended.

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