Trying to figure out where The Great American Beauty Contest stands on the women’s lib movement is a headache. Actually, the whole thing is a little misogynist but not for the obvious reason–not because the titular contest’s participants are being objectified (I doubt director Day could competently objectify anything or anyone), but because it presents all the women as shallow enough to want to be part of such a ruse.
Oh, Stanford Whitmore’s script forgives a couple of them. Tracy Reed is all right because she’s black and she’s doing it to set an example. And Kathrine Baumann’s okay too. She’s just too dumb to be anything but sincere.
But Whitmore successfully demonizes Farrah Fawcett (and not for her terrible performance) and Susan Damante (she’s atrocious too, actually worse than Fawcett) so well… I spent the big reveal hoping neither of them won. Whitmore’s dialogue’s terrible, Day’s a bad director, but together they do manage to get some kind of investment from the viewer.
Maybe it’s because there are some decent elements. Eleanor Parker’s troubled contest organizer has a good arc. Robert Cummings is surprisingly sturdy as her sidekick. Best has to be Louis Jordan, who’s utterly odious and gleefully so. Jordan and Parker make the film worthwhile. Well, as worthwhile as it gets.
Another big problem is Whitmore’s artificial structure. He treats it like a two parter–Fawcett gets the first half’s big story, Damante the second.
Aside from occasional good performances, Beauty’s best as a strange artifact.