NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers!
This film takes some time to get going, but when it gains momentum- yowza! Near the start of the film, ambitious movie producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) notices potential in young actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner). Boldly, he goes over to her ratty apartment very late at night. Georgia stumbles home drunkenly and finds him just sitting in her armchair. Georgia is a bit shocked, but then hits on Jonathan. (That’s how she gets parts, after all.) He’s disgusted, letting her know that she needs to quit drinking and sleeping around, if she ever hopes for a real career.
It turns out that both of them had successful fathers. Georgia keeps a little shrine to her father, a Hollywood legend, in one corner of her place. At first, it’s all (show) business: Jonathan boosts up Georgia’s confidence by standing up to her detractors, believing in her potential, and promoting her for a juicy part.
Georgia falls deeply in love with Jonathan, but he can’t return her feelings. They have a tremendous fight instead of celebrating their mutual success. Georgia never works with Jonathan again, but she becomes one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading ladies.
A Southern academic, James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) writes a novel which becomes very popular. Jonathan wants the author to write the screenplay for a feature film, so he invites the unassuming professor and his devoted/lovely wife, Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) to Hollywood. To ensure that Bartlow has time to write, Jonathan plans a weekend getaway for Rosemary and a suave actor. It goes tragically wrong, but compels Bartlow to write a write a book about Rosemary. Bartlow feels that only Georgia Lorrison is capable of bringing his wife to life onscreen.
In the last scene, we see a director (one of Jonathan’s business partners), actress (Georgia), and writer (Bartlow) come close to the phone to listen in on Jonathan and a studio head. They all want to be in his light (literally) once more. Jonathan used them to get ahead in his career, but their own careers were improved because of him.
Kirk Douglas is impressive as a complicated anti-hero. Jonathan feels alive when he’s working, but after that, he goes through a troubling time. Douglas is more than up for the challenge of this role- you can’t see the acting! Lana Turner is much more than a (very) pretty face. Her character goes through a transformation- from troubled B-movie actress to headliner. Gloria Grahame’s role is small, yet pivotal. She’s a Southern belle who loves her husband, believes in his talent, yet is awed by the glamor of Hollywood.