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Norman Maine, a movie star whose career is on the wane, meets showgirl Esther Blodgett when he drunkenly stumbles into her act one night. A friendship develops, then blossoms into romance before tensions increase as Esther's career takes off while Norman's continues to plummet. Written by
Col Needham <email@example.com>
The film was re-edited several times. Premiering at 181 minutes, the studio (Warner Bros.) cut the film by 30 minutes despite the objections of director George Cukor and producer Sidney Luft (Judy Garland's husband). In 1983, all but 5 minutes of the cut footage was found and re-instated, but some footage had to be reconstructed using production stills. See more »
When Esther and Norman are in Norman's Lincoln convertible, in the closeups the seats have a blanket over the backrest, but in earlier and later shots only the car's standard upholstery is visible. See more »
Based on a 1937 movie with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March this version is not only the best version of this tale (there's a pretty bad version from 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson) but one of the greatest musicals ever filmed. Almost 20 years before Cabaret made movie history with it's grown-up and serious story (and with Garland's daughter Liza Minelli) this film explores already pretty bleak and serious stuff like alcoholism and the manipulative studio system.
It tells the story of Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), a singer and Norman Maine (James Mason), a famous actor with a serious alcohol problem. He's smitten by her voice and her talent and takes her under his wing. With his help she gets a studio contract and makes quickly the transition from simple girl to an Oscar-winning star. Their happiness seems perfect as they also fall in love and get married. But Norman cannot control his alcoholism forever, soon he starts to drink heavily again, especially after he is fired by the studio. While Esthers (or Vicki Lesters, as she's renamed by the studio) star rises, his sinks into oblivion, which slowly destroys their marriage as well.
The movie never over-dramatize or plays down Normans alcoholism, it's a very realistic and depressing picture we get about this problem. More surprising is the realism and insight we get about how the studios worked when actors were merely contract players, obliged to do what the studio dictated them. Though it never openly criticizes this system, the film definitely shows how little freedom stars had (Change of the name, complete makeover, typecasting). It is also clearly inspired by some real events of that time (just think of Elizabeth Taylors grieve over her husbands death, and the disgusting pictures that were taken on his funeral), which is chilling.
Intense is what you can call Judy Garland and James Mason performances. Both are brilliant and are perfectly matched here. Garland, with all her memories of her time at MGM, gives her best performance ever and one of the best performances of the 50's (this should have secured her the Oscar - alas, as so often it was awarded to Grace Kelly for a lesser performance). James Mason, often overlooked, is her equal, seldom are actors so perfectly matched (and with considerable chemistry too).
The sad thing about this film is the unnecessary and brutal cutting of several scenes after the film was already released and quite successful. Warner Brothers literally butchered the movie, without the restored scenes (as far as those are still available) some developments make no sense. So be sure to get the restored version, not only to get a feeling of what it might have looked like with all the scenes intact, but also to enjoy the rich colors, the beautiful score and cinematography. A real treat!
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