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Esther Blodgett is just another starry-eyed farm kid trying to break into the movies. Waitressing at a Hollywood party, she catches the eye of alcoholic star Norman Maine, is given a test, and is caught up in the Hollywood glamor machine (ruthlessly satirized). She and her idol Norman marry; but his career abruptly dwindles to nothing Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Fredric March and Janet Gaynor co-star in this early 30's Technicolour film. It is one of the best of it's era, and was justifiably nominated for a swag of Academy Awards.
Gaynor portrays small-town dreamer Esther Blodgett, who comes to Hollywood courtesy of assistance from her sympathetic, determined grandmother. Trying to break into the movies, she gets a job waiting at an A-lister party, where she happens to meet alcoholic matinée idol Norman Maine (March). Despite his drunken, foolish state he finds her inherently appealing in a sweet, attractive manner, and arranges for her to get a screen test. After a name change (hello, Vicki Lester), make-over and acting lessons she is soon starring with Maine in his latest picture, and garners enormous public and critical praise. Inevitably, as these films go, Esther and Norman fall in love and marry. However, as Norman starts to achieve great personal happiness his career goes down the plughole, and even Esther/Vicki is powerless to stop his decline.
March is terrific in a challenging role. He handles Norman's decline brilliantly; March was always terrific at accurately capturing a character's emotional state. It is one of the best portrayals of an alcoholic that I have seen, because March focuses on the pain, the resentment, that causes him to drink, rather than just the ugly aftermath that a binge leaves in it's path. He makes Norman more than a superficial Hollywood star- he makes him REAL. There's no Method applied to his work, it's just darn good skill at characterization. March could play comedy equally well as drama, so Norman is not a one-dimensional, tragic star in March's hands. Rather he is a multi-dimensional, charismatic, lovable yet ultimately flawed individual caught up in the money-hungry giant that is Hollywood.
One is reminded of John Barrymore in the character of Norman Maine. Barrymore was also a big-shot whose career declined heavily in the 30's because of his alcoholism. It was no secret in Hollwyood as to what he was. March, a smart actor, would have drawn on this in his portrayal.
Ganyor, the winner of the first Best Actress award, is also very good as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester. Her natural sweetness and quite nature give Esther a unique spirit. Esther is not just a wishy-washy, typically 'nice' girl- she is strong and willing to stick by Norman because of her faith and her faith in their love. Gaynor also does rather funny impersonations of Garbo, Hepburn and West at a Hollywood party that reveal a knack for comedy. Yet, it is almost impossible to see Esther/Vick's 'star' qualities in this film. Gaynor certainly keeps them under wraps, and one has to stretch the imagination to imagine that Gaynor, as capable an actress as she was, could possibly out act the great March.
Nice supporting work from Adolphe Menjou as a Hollywood producer, and Lionel Stander is just poisonous as the vile Libby, who, while justifiably fed up with March and his chronic drinking and star tantrums, has not a sympathetic bone in his body. May Robson as the Grandma is good also, but a little tiresome after a while (I think it's more how her character was written than her acting abilities). A nice bit of trivia- she was a native Australian! The early Technicolour looks quite good, but it is slightly primitive, so one must overlook this fact to appreciate the film properly. There are some wonderful sequences here- March's outburst at the Academy Awards, Esther and Norma's first meeting, March's final scene. The film loses a bit of class in the parts March is not present. This is understandable, as he was such a dominant presence and magnificent actor. Gaynor perhaps couldn't carry a film by itself at this stage in her career, which is ironic as her star was actually sliding in real life, not March's. He was enjoying the best success of his career; she would only make a few more motion pictures before retirement from the screen.
A satire on the entertainment industry and also a heartbreaking character study of a marriage ravaged by the effects of alcohol and one partner's growing dissatisfaction with life.
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