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Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) used to be a great studio mogul in Hollywood, but his perfectionism has practically bankrupted his studio. He calls three former associates, Academy Award winning director Fred Amiel, blockbuster actress Georgia Lorrison, and hit writer James Lee Bartlow, to help him with a film that could save his studio.
Except his need for perfectionism also caused him to betray each of these three associates, so they want nothing to do with him. The studio's former head, Harry Pebbel, pleads for them to help, and the film plays out with each of the three recalling their time with Shields.
The film is one of the most notable of the "Hollywood on Hollywood" genre, and is part of the library of congress. The films is also a famous mix and match of real people in the business, almost bordering on Roman à Clef.
This film contains examples of:
- B-Movie -- What Shields's studio made until he bought it out.
- Chewing the Scenery -- The scene where Shields betrays Georgia is supposed to be him revealing his "true self" to her, but it's so hammy compared to his otherwise calm and restrained performance, it colored perceptions of his acting for years.
- What's often overlooked, even though it's just as over the top, is the next scene, with Georgia in her car, weeping and then finally breaking into screams. All the while she's still driving.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder -- Shields, even when he doesn't have to be.
- Doing It for the Art -- Shields puts the quality of his films ahead of anything else, even to the point of not releasing a film vital to the studio's bottom line.
- Executive Meddling -- In-Universe. Shields is continually dissatisfied with one director, who finally has enough and tells him that he can direct the film himself if he's going to make so many demands. It doesn't turn out well, as Shields himself admits.
- Horrible Hollywood
- How We Got Here: The movie is made of three long flashbacks, one for each of the people Shields wants to help him.
- Ignored Epiphany: Shields concedes that his father was "the king of the heels" and notes that he was held in such low regard when he died that he literally had to pay the mourners at the funeral to be there, but all he takes from that is that he'll have to be an even bigger bastard to pay back those who failed to give the Shields name the proper respect.
- Latin Lover: Gaucho. He's even referred to as such.
- Nothing Is Scarier -- Shields utilizes the concept to turn a low budget horror movie from Special Effect Failure to psychological horror.
- Parental Issues -- Both Shields and Georgia had to crawl out from the shadows of their fathers.
- People in Rubber Suits -- Shields and Fred are assigned to make a low-budget horror film about cat men, who are supposed to be played by people in crappy suits. They declare that "five men dressed like cats look like five men dressed like cats", and they make the film without showing the monsters.
- Pimped-Out Dress -- The fox-trimmed dress Georgia wears to the premier of her film.
- Pretty in Mink -- At least one major fur in each flashback.
- Right in Front of Me -- How Fred met Jonathan.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules
- Villain Protagonist: Shields.