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Comments above give you the basic plot summary. (I enjoyed reading
comments above---you will too.)
I too can't help seeing Judy Garland as the "real' Norman Maine! If you know her rather tragic life, and her death, she did not totally give up as did Maine, but kept coming back regularly to sing & act---mostly with great power. However, overuse of prescription substances no doubt shortened her life...
Maybe the movie hits me because Garland is ravaged already...great lighting and costuming can't hide the fact that this woman trying for stardom is not a young ingénue' but a woman who looks maybe 15 years older than her actual age of early 30's.
Yet when Norman Maine (the great actor James Mason) tricks the studio head played by another great--Charles Bickford --into listening to Judy sing, .....all that matters to you is her "knock 'em dead" voice. Give her a contract!!! Maine is right to get Esther a chance!
Garland really beats out the prettier but insubstantial 1930's Janet Gaynor's rendering of the same Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester role. Janet can mug at parties,(where she give shallow imitations of famous actresses) but Judy's singing shows her as one of the greatest 20th Century singers...
My favorite scene is when Mason (who had just met Judy earlier) discovers her singing her heart out in a late nite after work jam session. WOW!
And Mason, who should have won some kind of Oscar at some point in his long career...for this role or for perhaps his role in Julius Caesar, shows enough personal torment and disgust with his previous shallow young girlfriend (s) (and is himself old enough) for us to believe in his love for Judy's character. The studio wisely did not over soften James Mason's face. He, tho quite handsome, looks his then-mid 40's age.
Yes, the Oscars blew it on this film. But you should acquire it!!!
I think my expectations were a bit too high while starting to watch
this. I don't know why I just thought this was going to be something
magnificent, well it didn't. But it turned out to be a good musical.
The plot is quite easy and the acting won't be the best you'll see, but the musical score is something I'd like to flatter. And not just the music, the musical scenes were well directed and played. Judy Garland did a good job.
The version I saw, was the restored version, which was almost 3 hours long and the missing scenes were placed by pictures and dialog. I think it worked quite well, except when the "picture scenes" started to last for like 10 minutes. But I guess it's better than no scenes at all.
But in a summary: a decent good movie, with an interesting story, well acted, but maybe a little too long.
6/10 A decent good film
I read the review The Star That Fizziled with great interest. It's
about time that someone has seen the imperfections in this movie and
its problems. I know that there are a great many Judy Garland fans out
there that probably do not remember her when she was at the peak of her
movie career at M.G.M., but she never was at the top after she left
M.G.M. and with A Star Is Born and others to follow, she just didn't
have that magnetism on the screen that she had, let's say, with Meet Me
In St. Lous, or Easter Parade.
I have to agree with the other reviewer, this movie is just Judy Garland playing Judy Garland. I have to agree with the fact that some of these songs should have been deleted, or even not filmed, and I have to agree that if they would have had Judy do a rousing version of Swanee, instead of the overlong and boring Born In A Trunk, which could have brilliantly been used in one of her T.V. Variety Show, it would have a much better effect as to why Vickie Lester was born for Stardom in Hollywood! They should have completely deleted Somewhere There's A Someone For Me, and when she tries to bite into that sandwich that was bigger than her mouth, have the door bell ring, and have Mason answer the door, etc. etc. etc.. This would have had a more powerful effect on the scene.
It's A New World was a perfect spot, and showed us the old Judy Garland as we all remembered her - a great singer! They should have deleted the Long Face number, and instead, have her talk to the head of the studio, Charles Bickford, as played, maybe with a little less hysterics, and then have them call for her on the set, and then film a musical number with her sing "Melancoly Baby" singing by a piano like in the Born in a Trunk number. As she's singing, she could show the pain she's going through with shots back and forth to Bickford showing the pain he feels for her. Then at the end of the number, she turns to the piano in tears; Bickford quickly goes to her side, and they both,in Bickford's arms, cry and share the pain with each other. Now, if they had done that; there would have been no dry eye in the theater, and even I would not have been able to contain myself, and there would have been no amount of boxes of Kleenex to go with what I would be feeling for Vickie Lester. That would have made more sense! Now, everyone will probably hate me for this, but James Mason was all wrong for the Norman Maine role. Originally, Judy Garland wanted Cary Grant, and he would have been great. Just think of Grant going from the debonair Cary Grant to the depths of degradation to suicide. He would have been perfect and I'm willing to bet that he would have been awarded the Oscar for his performance!
As for the length of the film. There were scenes in it that looks like they were drawn out because they felt that the longer the movie, the better the movie. Many of these sense could have been scaled down or deleted to make a more powerful punch to the story, for instance, the ride in the car after Norman picks up Vikie, Esther at that point in the movie, it was just a scene of babbling and could have been cut to get to the excellent scene when she asks him how he knows that she's a great singer and he simply says, "I heard you sing!" This whole scene is brilliant! They could have also deleted all that business on Norman going to sea on a movie and loosing touch with Esther. I wish, at the time, I had been able to get my hands on that script!
The one actor in the film that has been overlooked is Tommy Noonan playing Judy Garlands pianist/friend. His performance near the end of the film with Judy Garland as she's in her self-pity state and not wanting to go to the benefit is a great scene for Tommy Noonan while doing a better acting job in that film than Judy Berharts acting.
And one more thing before everyone decides to put my head on a chopping block: George Cukor was all wrong for the director. Who they "really" should have hired was Michael Curtiz. He was still alive and working for Warners. He would have seen all the problems and I believe,with Cary Grant playing opposite Judy Garland, would have got such powerful performances out of them that both would have received the Oscar!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First, I agree with Tony Bennett (and so many others) that Judy Garland
was THE entertainer and singer of the 20th Century. "No one could touch
her," he said. But he was talking about her stage concerts. Having seen
her live, I think Bennett is probably right. Electrifying (at least on
her good nights).
Second, I own this film but seldom watch it. Why? It's simple, really. I find it tedious, talky and full of clichés. Judy's song performances (mostly) are wonderful. Yes, "The Man That Got Away" is cinematic history. "Melancholy Baby" is the best arrangement of that song I've ever heard, but it's truncated to fit in with all the other snippets of the infamous "Born in a Trunk" sequence, as is the rousing "Swanee." "It's a New Day" is just mediocre treacle, musically and lyrically, and was never heard again. "Somewhere, There's a Someone" is interminable showing-off that, one supposes, is supposed to showcase Garland's comedic versatility but instead reeks of "look-at-me-aren't-I-brilliant?" egotism. Plus it displays Garland at her least attractive. The song and her "improvisations" with banana leaves, throw pillows and the bearskin rug are silly, rather than impressive. It feels uncomfortably forced and contributes nothing, either musically or emotionally, to the story. It's, for me, an utter waste of her talent and the film's time.
Garland could be a terrific actor. Yet in scene after overlong scene, she's given hackneyed lines.
Others have mentioned, for instance, the scene in the car when James Mason drives her home to her apartment, where she recounts her struggles to get where she is. Sure, Judy acts up a storm.
Or when she tells Tommy Noonan she's leaving the band because she has a screen test. "Then why do I feel this way?" she bleats breathlessly about her newfound feelings for alcoholic Norman Maine, in yet another clichéd scene.
Or her almost unwatchable overacting with Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford) in her dressing room when she confesses her helplessness to deal with her husband's alcoholism. Director George Cukor was reportedly so impressed with her playing in this scene that he had her do it several times, and each time she supposedly brought something new and different to it. When he complimented her, she pointedly replied, "Oh, you should come by my house any afternoon. I do that every day. But I only do it ONCE at home." (See Gerald Clarke's remarkable biography of her, "Get Happy.") All the actors are excellent, really, including Judy when she wasn't allowed to be overindulgent. But the script keeps lapsing into bathetic pathos, particularly after Norman Maine is let go by the studio.
James Mason is remarkable. He's so convincing as a self-loathing, mean-spirited egotistical drunk in his initial scenes that it's impossible to see what ANYBODY sees in him, much less the supposedly innocent and trusting Esther Blodgett.
That plot point makes her look like an idiot, as a character. Even in those days, NOBODY would abandon a perfectly decent and relatively secure career as an up-and-coming band singer for a "screen test" promised by what everybody else recognizes as an abusive alcoholic has-been actor. "What was she THINKING?" you keep asking, as everything works out exactly as you knew it would.
By the time poor Norman wades into the Pacific to drown himself while Esther / Vicki sings (a capella) the excruciating "It's a New Day" out the kitchen window in Malibu, you almost wish you could join him, having given three hours of your life to a string of cheap sentimentality and painfully obvious (and tiresome) emotional manipulation.
But wait! There's more! Tommy Noonan gets his last (terrifically acted but soap-opera dialogued) scene where he berates Judy to convince her to fulfill her obligation to appear onstage at some awards ceremony that night.
She ultimately does, of course. And gets to deliver the film's famous supposedly heart-tugging final line, "This is Mrs. Norman Maine." Good thing this was a musical. (The only non-musical Garland ever made was "The Clock.") Because, without the songs, "A Star is Born" is just an overproduced, overacted (by Judy) B-movie soap opera that would have long ago faded into oblivion.
Last night I popped in the video again. And I watched it all the way through again. And once again I heard myself asking: What were they thinking? I adore Judy Garland. I have always been a fan of James Mason. The original film is a timeless, example of the classic Hollywood story, penned (mostly) by Dorothy Parker. The bottom line here is you cannot sell us Judy as Esther. By the mid-fifties, sadly, Judy's youth was gone -- corrupted by drugs. Esther's transformation is one from a child to a woman -- we do not see or feel this character development. We can't. It is impossible. Going one step more, Judy is playing Judy -- Esther is lost in a sea of quirky mannerisms, a caffeinated and over the top performance further mared by a 'doomed' sense of 'meller-drama' (sic) like a soap opera on speed. If you can't sell me Judy Garland as Esther then I cannot buy James Mason as the tortured soul. Am I the ONLY ONE who sees no chemistry between the two leads?? Well, there you have it. I understand few will agree with me, Sooooo why not seek out the original film and then compare. As a footnote, Babs' attempt at "A Star is Born" is not worth the time. Of the three, it is the worst.
A Star is Born begins at a big Hollywood event. Esther Blodgett (Judy
Garland) is singing at the event with her band. Norman Maine (James
Mason) is a film star who is supposed to appear before Blodgett's band,
but like usual, he's drunk. They try to keep Maine from heading out on
stage, but he ends up waltzing out while Blodgett is performing,
anyway. She tries to make him appear as part of the act. Later he
thanks her, and at the same time, becomes infatuated with her. When he
looks for her and finds her later, singing in a dive, he becomes
equally entranced with her artistic abilities. He convinces her that
she can become a star. There are some complications, but eventually
Blodgett is on her way. At the same time, Maine is on the downslope of
his career, and seeing Blodgett so loved just makes it worse. How will
these relationship complications resolve?
A Star is Born has been quite a popular story, and not just with film fans. It was first made, by the same director, George Cukor, in 1932 as What Price Hollywood?, with Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman. The first remake appeared in 1937 as A Star is Born, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Later, it was remade again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Maybe the Hilary Duff and Orlando Bloom version is right around the corner.
Why is the story so popular? From the audience's perspective, it seems to give them an inside look at their dreams--a plain-Jane gets lucky when she's seen by someone with power in the industry, and ends up being given the keys to the kingdom. From a film-making perspective, there is probably more than a nugget of truth to the story. A large part of success in the arts & entertainment industries rests on contacts--who you know and how you know them. It also provides an opportunity to give a bit of a self-reflexive look behind the curtain. In some respects, including this as well as other plot similarities, there are resemblances to the much superior Singin' In The Rain (1952).
As a self-reflexive portrait, and in the music and the story overall, A Star is Born is a success. Viewers particularly enamored with Garland or Mason will love it even more. However, there are a number of problems, most sourced in the facts of making the film.
A Star is Born was planned as a comeback for Garland, who had been absent from the screen for four years, partially due to breakdowns and substance abuse. Her husband at the time, Sidney Luft, was one of the film's producers; he planned a big showcase for Garland's talents. They hired Cukor, who had helmed many hugely successful films throughout the 1930s and 1940s, to direct. Cukor tended to work slowly and regularly came up with additional ideas for shots and small scenes. Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin were hired to write the songs; they turned at least seven. Moss Hart was to adapt the previous films to a musical format, and he did so by additions--he added songs and depth of characterization. All these factors contributed to a film that grew out of control in terms of shooting time and budget, and at the same time, kept growing in length. And it feels like it when you watch the restored version. A Star is Born could benefit from about an hour's worth of judicious cuts.
This was one of the earlier films shot in Cinemascope. There is an odd lack of close-ups, probably caused by trying to come to terms with the new process. Cukor has said, "We couldn't move the camera up or down because of distortion, and we couldn't move back and away from the camera. Everything had to be played out on a level plane." Cukor didn't want to film A Star is Born in widescreen, but Jack Warner was adamant about it.
Another odd but related aspect to the cinematography is the plethora of rear projection shots. These are very obvious and give the film an unintended kind of surrealism. Many have a "veiled" appearance, as if you're seeing the background through a screen door. Occasionally the projection is from the front and ends up on top of an actor (look at Mason coming out of the door of their house--the ocean is projected on him), and occasionally rough edits to create loops are visible (again, the ocean as reflected in the home's windows is a good example).
Also not helping was the fact that the original, complete film is not intact. After Warner Brother's chopped off about a half-hour, that original footage seems to have been lost over the years. The present DVD version is the "partial restoration" done in 1983. At times, the film stops and a slide show with rougher sound tries to fill in the blanks. It's a bit difficult to follow in these sections. There still seems to be chunks of exposition missing. It probably would have been better to re-edit it with extant film only.
Making it a bit more difficult for me to like A Star is Born is the fact that Garland doesn't do much for me. I don't find her particularly attractive and her performances--both acting and singing--come across as more affected than they should to me, primarily because it's very difficult for me to watch them without thinking of her daughter, Liza Minelli, aping her, and I'm not the biggest Liza fan. I do love Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939), which is one of my favorite films, but here, she seems prescient of Liza's disturbingly schmaltzy campiness. On this respect, aspects of A Star is Born, including Mason's disposition, unpleasantly reminded me of Cabaret (1972).
So, a 7 may seem slightly high from me, but that's a "C", and the film does deserve that for its positive aspects.
Sometimes when a film goes through the restoration process the result
is like replacing a missing piece of a puzzle. The result is a more
complete vision of what the work was intended to be.
Other times it is like putting a removed appendix back into a patient; it may not harm the patient, but it really doesn't do much good either. It is especially bothersome if the restored portion is incomplete or strangely deformed. Nothing good can come of that, other than maybe a scholarly understanding of the film-making process. A STAR IS BORN, the 1954 Judy Garland version, famously underwent such a reconstruction back in 1983 and it was praised for restoring a masterpiece. It is debatable whether A STAR IS BORN was ever really a masterpiece, but it is clear that the restoration made the film bigger, though not necessarily better. At two and half hours the meager story would seem sadly stretched and restoring another supposedly lost half hour makes the film lose its focus even further. And a portion of the restored version featuring black-and-white production stills, replacing lost or incomplete film footage, make the film stop dead in its tracks.
A STAR IS BORN is the oft-told tale of two stars whose paths cross briefly while speeding in opposing trajectories. Garland's Esther Blodgett (a.k.a. Vicki Lester) is on the rise as a young singer, while her mentor and lover, movie star Norman Maine (James Mason), is in a downward spiral. He pauses briefly in mid-air to give her a career boost and a crack at being a movie star. It is pure soap opera, though any student of Tinseltown knows it is rooted in more than one Hollywood legend. This is the third of four versions of the tale, with the key plot twist being that it is a musical, designed to showcase Garland's distinctive talents as a bona fide song and dance legend -- which is both the film's saving grace and its ultimate undoing.
Using flimsy boy-meets-girl stories as an excuse for all-singing, all-dancing musicals is part of Hollywood tradition; the stories never being as important as the musical moments they frame. When the framing story is merely a light-hearted romp, in the Astarie-Rogers mode, it doesn't seem to matter that much. Indeed, the plot is sometimes just a bother. But when the melodrama begins to get heavy and the film strives for pathos, the reality of the drama and the artificiality of the music can compete more than contrast. Either the musical numbers seem extraneous or the drama seems trite -- and with A STAR IS BORN, it is more than a little of both.
Like the lamentable Streisand version that would follow, this was clearly intended as a vanity production, produced by Garland and her husband Sid Luft to rejuvenate Judy's sagging career and her damaged reputation. Therefore, it is not surprising that as a musical it is designed to play to her formidable talent (and it's not surprising either that the Norman Maine character is just an actor and not a singer as well -- thus there is no one to upstage Judy in the musical numbers). The various numbers are generally well staged and Garland belts them out with gusto, though the songs themselves are strangely banal; only "The Man Who Got Away" really endures, possibly because it does reflect the film's theme of love and loss. Otherwise, the other songs seem intrusive and beside the point. The "Born in a Trunk" number, for instance, may tell us a lot about Judy Garland, but not much at all about Esther Blodgett. Overall, the musical and melodrama never quite meld together -- often it is like switching back and forth between two unrelated films.
The film is mostly revered for the Garland showstoppers, but it comes at the expense of the love story. Which is a shame because the main story is handled fairly well. Garland, always hyper and a bit theatrical, gives a performance that nicely contrasts Mason's quiet intensity and skilled underplaying. As much as Garland is overly praised for this film, Mason is equally underrated, lending a haunted quality to his character with his sad, grave eyes and solemn voice. On the other hand, Garland seems needy, almost desperate to be loved in her role, which may have been what put off Academy Award voters who denied her the much anticipated Oscar that year (she lost to Grace Kelly's bitter and melancholy performance in THE COUNTRY GIRL). It was Mason's star that was born as it bumped him up to leading man status; he proved he could more than hold his own against Garland, even as the film brushes him into the wings during the long stretches when Judy holds the spotlight hostage.
And ironically, though the film was meant to revitalize Garland's film career, it slowed, but didn't stop, her downward slide. Not only is Garland a bit old to once again be playing the spunky wide-eyed ingenue, in reality she was more like the self-destructive Norman Maine character, a troubled and troublesome star struggling with too many demons, real and imagined. A STAR IS BORN was meant to be her Esther Blodgett, the second chance at redemption. Instead, though many triumphs and tragedies would follow, including a Oscar-nominated performance in the drama JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG, Garland took the film's relative failure as a personal affront and more or less shunned Hollywood thereafter. The film would eventually enhance her post-mortem status as a legend, but as an attempt to recapture her place as a film star, it was more a last hurrah than a rebirth.
This, Contrary to Many, is not Judy Garland at Her Peak. It is More
like an All Out Performance that says with Bravado, "Don't count me out
quite yet." After Seeing this No One did, and it Reaffirmed that Her
Talent had not Dissipated, but was on Demand Anytime She Wished it.
It is a "Pull out all the stops." Movie with Technicolor, CinemaScope, Top Talent, and a Length that would have Judy's Fans Saying give us more, but Others saying that a Good Trimming is in Order.
What is Available Today is Mostly its Full Length and the Movie is Full to the Brim with Garland Singing at Every Turn and some of Her New Found Belting Style is Either Ecstasy or Cacophonic, depending on Taste. There are some Charming Musical Numbers, but the Often Praised "Born in a Trunk" is Clunk and at 15 Minutes it does Test the Tolerance of Anyone not Hypnotized by Judy's Personal Charm.
You can Feel the Strain Many Times in this Overlong Attempt to Give Them Everything (those wishing for a Garland comeback and her masses of admirers) and the Movie cannot be Faulted for its Effort. But the Film does not Fully Succeed.
James Mason is Fine and Judy's Dramatic Acting is Soulful, but Overall it Seems Disjoined, Uneven, with what may be a Sub-Conscience Apologetic Embrace that Might just be Hugging the Fragile and Charming, Multi-Talented and Ever Popular Judy Garland as a Performer more than this Inconsistent Picture.
This was an attempt to restore this classic musical romance to its full
almost 3 hour length. Unfortunately the 'restored' bits are often still
photos taken from the production photo library, with the restored
dialogue track playing behind them. Better than nothing, it at least
gives the viewer a glimpse of what the total package once contained; a
more complete restoration would certainly have been preferable. That
said, this is Judy Garland's last great screen musical performance -
before pills and stage fright made her too unreliable to center a film
around - and it is a wonderful showcase for one of the Hollywood
Musical genre's greatest talents. As an actress she had few peers and
as a singer none, and this film and especially its staged production
numbers create a permanent record of this.
Recommended for any fan of the musical genre and essential for any fan of Judy's. Oh and James Mason was in it too...
As the career of an alcoholic actor goes downhill, his wife becomes a big star in Hollywood. The second of three filmed versions of the story is the best, thanks to Garland, who has the definitive role of her career as a small-time singer who is discovered by movie star Mason. The latter gives a finely tuned performance in the difficult role of the husband who loves his wife but is also somewhat jealous of her success. Bickford and Carson also provide good performances. The only complaint is that it is a bit too long and uneven. Musical highlights include "The Man That Got Away," "Someone at Last," and the extended "Born in a Trunk" sequence.
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