Bad and the Beautiful, The (1952): How Minnelli Staged the Famous Driving Scene with Lana Turner

The films most celebrated scene was the drive that Georgia (Lana Turner) takes after visiting Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) late at night and finding him with another woman.

Shocked and humiliated, Georgia stumbles outside the mansion and leaps into her car. Stunned and terrified, she drives faster and faster down the coast highway, until she goes berserk. Sobbing and screaming, she disregards the steering wheel and oncoming traffic, until she spins out of control and lands on the roadside, miraculously safe.

Instead of presenting the drive as a montage, cutting back and forth between Georgia's reactions and her car, Minnelli shot the entire drive in one take, cutting only once to show Georgias shoe pressing on the accelerator. He also dispensed with music. The scenes intensity derives from the hysterical acting, the sound effects, the visual effects of the flashing lights, and the swirling camera movement, which by now has become Minnellis specialty.

Minnelli attached Geirgias car to a vast turntable on the back lot, which made it rock from side to side. Mounted on a dolly, the camera sweeps in little arcs around Lana Turner, viewing the action over her shoulder, or looking into her face. As lights rake across the screen, Georgia becomes a blur of white mink and rhinestones.

Screaming, Georgia closes her eyes and releases the steering wheel. Her cries are punctuated by the rain on the windshield, the stroke of the wiper blades, and the horns of the passing traffic. The car spins and rocks wildly. Theres more traffic, more horns, then soft sobs, rain, windshield wipers. After the fade-out, theres fade-in to a close-up of Georgia at present. Dressed in a widow's black, framed by a veil and a dark fur stole, she's lit by a ring of diffused light. "I told you I'd never work for him again," she says. The sequence was so effective that Minnelli tried it again in Two Weeks in Another Town, when Kirk Douglas and Cyd Charisse go for a drive in a red sports car. But the 1962 version is just movieish, lacking the brilliant photography, unceasing movement, and emotional power of the original 1953 sequence.

Albert Johnson pointed out that the "auto hysteria" gains much of its strength from the context: The vaguely dizzying scene inside the mansion raises the stakes by employing "silent movie technique. The frantic drive provides a cathartic release of tension. Georgia's behavior is chaotic and violent, and at the same time, she is the epitome of artifice, a movie star sitting in a studio mockup of a car.