The Archivist #115: From Script, to Screen, to the Oscar Stage [THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL &…

Celebrating this year’s Oscar-winning screenplays with a look back at two former winners.

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

Well, the Oscars are done. Sunday night’s history-making ceremony did its due diligence in crowning what the Academy believed best represented all that the film world had to offer in 2019. As with any Oscar year, there were the shocks as well as the moments which were expected. Each of the acting wins were the definition of anticlimactic, Parasite’s swoop took everyone by surprise and this year featured more female nominees in the Best Picture category (eight) than ever before.

For me, it’s always the screenplay categories which continue to peak my curiosity the most. The two have the biggest space to be controversial and surprising, while also not being bound to too many of the unofficial awards practices, such as the campaign juggernaut taken on by the likes of Laura Dern and Joaquin Phoenix. They’re given less scrutiny compared to other high-profile, non-acting categories such as Best Director or Best Picture. In short, the wins for screenplay, both original and adapted, are largely anyone’s game. Although a win for a script such as Knives Out would have been a dream, and although the most recent iteration of Little Women shows the power of screen adaptation, I can hardly be upset with the films which emerged as the winners. Parasite’s superb structure and pace is matched only by its deep social commentary. Meanwhile, Jojo Rabbit will go down in history as a sterling adaptation of a novel that many would seem all but impossible to bring to the screen.

In celebration of the latest additions to the Oscar-winning screenplay family, I thought a tribute to a pair of classic titles which took home Oscar gold for their richly-written screenplays was more than in order in the wake of this past Sunday’s ceremony.

The Bad and the Beautiful

The great Vincente Minnelli directed Charles Schnee’s adaptation of a short story titled by George Bradshaw, which went on to win a number of Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Set in the heart of Hollywood, the movie tells the story of a once-celebrated producer named Jonathan (Kirk Douglas) who is attempting to stage a comeback with the help of a director (Barry Sullivan), a screenwriter (Dick Powell) and a starlet (Lana Turner). The problem is, each of the three has a reason for turning their backs on Jonathan, despite his ushering each one to the top of the Hollywood A-list.

It’s always fascinating when Hollywood puts itself under the microscope and in front of the camera, willing to present itself up for dissection. The Bad and the Beautiful is one of the quintessential examples in this sub-genre with the vast emotional ground it covers. Sure, there are moments within Minnelli’s film which can’t be described as anything else but melodrama, but the movie carries with it an honest portrayal of what tinseltown can throw at a person, and what it takes to survive it. Much of this is seen in it’s main protagonist. An Oscar-nominated Douglas makes what was perhaps the most morally grey character of his career into someone so driven and determined that he’s borderline maniacal. The movie’s incredibly taut structure does wonders for ensuring that we embark on a true journey with Jonathan as he makes his climb to the top and changes the lives of the people he finds himself drawn to for whatever reason. Powell, Sullivan and Turner all do solid work, showing the different forms of aspirations that exist at each side of the Hollywood spectrum. Beyond the ambition factor, The Bad and the Beautiful surprises by what it ultimately has to say about loyalty in a town built on illusion and the inherently curious nature of the people who live there.

Splendor in the Grass

Elia Kazan’s groundbreaking film was the brainchild of playwright William Inge, who adapted his own works for the screen (namely Bus Stop and Picnic) before taking home the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for this incredibly frank and poetic tale of young love in a small town. Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are a pair of high-school sweethearts who have each other and need nothing else as far as they are concerned. Although they both come from completely different families, the two believe their love to be a solid one and cling to one another as they navigate the end of high school and the heavy, life-changing events which lay ahead.

Beyond just being the only film with the credit “introducing Warren Beatty,” Splendor in the Grass could well be the one movie of its generation that captures both the beauty and the tragedy of youth. Some might call the movie soapy, which it can be every now and again. But there’s such a bold frankness regarding some of the territory Inge’s script ventures to. Splendor in the Grass tackles alcoholism, institutionalization and even includes a scene of an attempted gang rape as it tells the story of people in small town America. At the heart of the movie though is the beautiful young couple doing whatever they can to hold onto each other as fate and destiny prove to be forces they just cannot overcome. Kazan tracks their young idealism and the notion that the world is their’s as long as they have each other so exquisitely, slowly revealing to them, that it isn’t true. Beatty and an Oscar-nominated Wood are so excellent in the movie, turning in a pair of performances which were so accomplished beyond their young years. Their moments as a pair of hopelessly in love teenagers carry a surprising weight which is only matched by the movie’s final scene and the years which have transformed them both.

The Bad and the Beautiful and Splendor in the Grass are now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

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