"Art is born from what it burns," says the cineaste of Le Mépris, here is a glittering ode to a mighty flamethrower. Hollywood plays itself, the introductory view of a sound stage might be a vast mirror, Vincente Minnelli’s lenses are all but reflected on the camera craning its way toward a sprawled starlet. The producer (Kirk Douglas) is a studio-building glickster, his emblem is a knight’s helmet adorned with feathers and, in a Cocteau joke, a painted-on mustache. Now ruined, he summons the bitter chimera of director (Barry Sullivan), actress (Lana Turner) and screenwriter (Dick Powell), all former victims. The flashback structure begins with a dissolve from a shelf full of Oscar statuettes to a bastard’s funeral packed with paid mourners (Citizen Kane is visible throughout), a flash of ingenuity lifts Sullivan’s struggling filmmaker out of Poverty Row but it’s the hardnosed partner who gets the keys to the kingdom. A great thespian’s wayward daughter, Turner is the bundle of raw nerves molded into a platinum diva via a strict regimen of screen tests, rehearsals, and harsh romantic manipulation. (Her suicidal car ride through rain and skidding lights is the bravura eruption of all the tension that’s been accumulated, in other words a sublime Minnelli musical sequence.) Finally, Powell’s Southern novelist is Faulkner parachuted into a Beverly Hills bungalow with a frisky belle (Gloria Grahame), his case of writer’s block is cured at a high price. "You can’t be a star in a cemetery!" The master class in piquant flash tends to Hollywood’s warts like sumptuous flowers, the camera slithers through a soirée to chart a roman à clef cacophony. (Overheard: "Montage, montage! But where is the story?") The grinding system of Sunset Blvd. and In a Lonely Place is here a plush, well-oiled machine feeding on neurosis, the go-getter’s vicious hustle and the visionary’s elusive humility fuse into art on occasion. A fountain of inspiration for 8½ and The Player, though the most trenchant analysis is Minnelli's own in Two Weeks in Another Town. Cinematography by Robert Surtees. With Walter Pidgeon, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Elaine Stewart, and Ivan Triesault. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce