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If somebody wins a fortune at a Casino, will you finance the winner to have another go? Absurd, right? That's what I'm afraid happened here. Robert Wise and Julie Andrews were coming out of the most sensational success with "The Sound of Music". The kind of success that tends to be unrepeatable. What were they thinking then? The experts, I mean. The green light guys. Gertrude Lawrence was not Maria Von Trapp. But Julie Andrews was, is and always will be Julie Andrews. For an actor that must be a blessing even if most actors treat it like a curse. We can accept Julie in everything as long as you don't expect us to forget that she's Julie. She can poke fun at herself and show her boobs in "S.O.B" or pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman in "Victor Victoria" She can also play a quadriplegic in bed with Liam Neeson in "Duet for One" because the writing and the treatment of the character is, one way or another, tailor made. She managed to be Julie Andrews without betraying what the public, her public expects of her. A blessing or a curse? It doesn't matter, the actress herself can decide whether is one thing or the other. Julie Andrews has remained a name to be reckon with. Right up to Shrek. Star! gives her some fantastic moments, musical moments. Surrounded by great production values and wonderful costumes plus a delightful Daniel Massey as Noel Coward. But the shape of the film is a mess. We can't truly connect with her and we get lost in the masses and masses of information. From biopic to comedy, to drama to musical the film never finds the right tone. Disjointed, confused and confusing. I'm sure the film will find a new breath of life after we stop breathing. There is something in it that it's valuable and great but, at the moment, remains buried under the puzzling heaviness of its intentions.
It's de rigeur to dish this film; yes, it's interminable, and it's
inevitable that Andrews outlives her welcome. (Not sure I can think of
any star who WOULDN'T become somewhat wearisome in a biopic of this
length). The pace is incredibly leisurely; the decision to work towards
a wedding means that there is simply too much material. Unfortunately,
there is no motor in the plot, no 'desire' that runs throughout, no
theme; Andrews can't find a line for character development. Instead,
there are endless changes of image, and endless set-piece re-creations
of theatre history. Whatever else, you can't say that you're
short-changed, but the experience is a little like having a whole box
of chocolates force-fed to you at a sitting.
But Andrews works her tail off; she sings, she comedies, she thesps. She does her all-time best dancing. She generally outshines the frocks and the sets. It's probably deliberate that Gerty is chosen as the subject: it's an ADVANTAGE that most of the audience has never seen the real thing. Andrews is not trapped into a Streepish impersonation - she plays the script as if it's fiction.
Daniel Massey's Noel Coward is trapped by audience expectation; personally, I think it's very good, provided you accept that 'Noel Coward' is a fictional character based on a real person. He and Andrews have an excellent rapport, although I suspect the real Noel and Gertie were a bit more feral as performers. (Coward liked his godson's impersonation: but "A shade too many 'dear boys', dear boy.") In other roles, Beryl Reid and Bruce Forsyth are worth the price of admission (it's the English musical numbers that work best). The "beards" are dull: dull performers with a script that gives them absolutely nothing. (How much Sound of Music depended on the implicit threat of Christopher Plummer! )
In other news, Lennie Hayton's musical direction of this film is exemplary. The arrangements are simply splendid; this must just about be the last gasp of Hollywood's ability to pastiche all the styles of vaudeville and Broadway.
Bernie Leven's production design is so pervasive that it warrants savouring. You could argue that this is a movie that has been hi-jacked by its tradesmen: Wise hires all these great talents, and then "gives them their head".
I think "Star!" has all the joys of a triumphant folly. It's utterly predictable, but never dull (cf. Jumbo!) You have to be in the mood for it, and probably its pleasures are best savoured over several days, interspersed with Godard and Ken Loach.
Star! is publicized as the flop that ended Julie Andrews' career. None of the blame should be laid at Julie's feet however. Her performance, especially in the musical numbers, is unparalleled. Julie WAS the greatest musical star of her day: if you don't believe me, imagine Barbra (whom I adore also) being tossed around by chorus boys in the "Jenny" finale. Also, kudos must go to Daniel Massey as Noel Coward: he could have really "camped" up the role but, thankfully, he played it with restraint. The problem with the movie is that it is constructed with the great musical numbers connected by a very flawed & minimal plot. Furthermore, the musical numbers don't advance the plot at all (only in a few spots do they even parallel Gertrude Lawrence's life-situations of the moment). So, what we're left with is a revue...a pastiche of musical numbers..a Ziegfield Follies of 1968!! So, the character of Gertrude Lawrence isn't fleshed out enough for audience sympathy to develop. Finally, the choice of imitating b&w newsreel footage just doesn't work and further distances the audience from the movie. Check it out though---the musical numbers are super-spectacular and Julie Andrews gives a Star!-performance
*THUD* Like that the romance between box office and Julie Andrews was
There are a variety of answers. Tastes had changed. Big-budget musicals were on their way out (and continued to fall out of favor as the decade proceeded--see "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Camelot," and "Paint Your Wagon" for further evidence). And the public had mysteriously cooled on Julie Andrews as well, although the reason behind that eludes those of us who still carry the torch for her.
Caught in the downward spiral, unfortunately, was "STAR!" the musical that was supposed to recapture the magic of "The Sound of Music" by allowing Andrews, Wise, and Chaplin the opportunity of working again. According to critics and box-office receipts, this reunion failed miserably.
But there has been a revisionist feel to "STAR!" over the past few years, as evidenced by the VHS and laser releases, and that's a good thing. This treasure certainly didn't deserved to remain buried forever.
Andrews gives a tour de force performance, tackling a barrel full of unforgettable songs from some of the world's greatest composers/lyricists. She's also given amply opportunity to show off her acting chops, as her Gertie is alternately dazzled and dazzling, enraged, funny, drunk, enamoured, witty, urbane, base, coy, and even sad, lonely, and depressed.
Last, Julie/Gertie is dolled up in some of the most exquisite costumes to ever grace a screen--the Donald Brooks outfits and Cartier jewels will knock your eye out.
That Andrews voice... that Andrews face... that Andrews talent... that Andrews dancing... All up on the screen with nobody to appreciate it in 1968. Luckily, it's now all within grasp.
I tell all my friends I own one of the biggest flops in movie history but it is also one of my favorite movies of all time, and they look at me like I'm nuts. Well, the people of the late 60s who didn't see this movie and therefore made it flop are the ones who are nuts. Star! is an absolutely wonderful movie. It's so big and bright and loud and irreverant and stimulating that I can't help but watch it over and over again. I don't care if I'm not getting an accurate picture of Gertrude Lawrence-I'm getting my favorite actress doing what she does like no one else can (singing, dancing, and giving a wondeful performance). The costumes are awesome, the musical numbers are supurb (especially "Saga of Jenny"-where else do you see Julie doing gymnastics?), and Julie is never more in her element. The frivolity of this movie will stick with you for days, long after the songs finally get out of your head. Congrats to Julie for doing so well in this, and I'm sorry it's taken over thirty years for people to recognize a cinematic gem when they see one.
'The Sound of Music', starring Julie Andrews and directed by Robert
Wise, became (for its time) the biggest box-office smash in movie
history. 'Star!', a big-budget musical tailor-made for Andrews and
directed by Wise for the same studio (20th Century-Fox), was expected
to be a second bite of the cherry ... but it sank like a stone. This
film flopped so thuddingly, one critic joked that Andrews's next movie
would be a musical biography of Al Capone, titled 'Scar!'.
'Star!' is the alleged life story of Gertrude Lawrence. In 1968, few movie-goers knew her name: Lawrence was primarily a stage performer, and her few films are seldom revived. In 'Star!', the only reference to Lawrence's screen career is a brief shot of Andrews wearing a copy of Lawrence's costume from 'Rembrandt'. Next offence: During the overture, there is a long long boring static shot of an orchestra against a backdrop emblazoned with some seemingly arbitrary phrases: 'Susan and God', 'Tonight at 8.30', 'Nymph Errant' and so forth. (I'm omitting one phrase from this description; I'll return to it later.) Movie-goers in 1968 were unlikely to recognise these phrases. In fact, these are the titles of Lawrence's stage vehicles (some from Broadway, some from the West End) ... and, after the overture, most of them are never mentioned anywhere in this film!
We get that hardy cliché of movie bios: the subject is first seen in middle age, then the rest of the film is in flashback from the subject's youth or childhood. Most biopics do this as a technical necessity: James Cagney was in his forties when he played George M Cohan in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', so we first see Cagney (in appropriate make-up) as the older Cohan; then, after the audience have accepted that Cagney is Cohan, we see the middle-aged Cagney portraying Cohan in his younger years. But this device wasn't necessary in 'Star!': Julie Andrews was young enough and fit enough to give a convincing portrayal of the young Lawrence. Yet the opening sequence gives us Andrews in dowager make-up (lamb dressed as mutton?), playing Lawrence at the oldest we'll ever see her in this movie, cueing the flashback to her youth. Also cueing an excellent title song: the only original song in this movie.
Gertrude Lawrence was a notorious scene-stealer, reluctant to share the limelight. 'Star!' appears to have scripted as if seeking Lawrence's personal approval. In real life, Lawrence became a Broadway star in 'Charlot's Revue', co-starring with Jack Buchanan and Beatrice Lillie. In 'Star!', Buchanan is a mere dancing footnote, while Lillie (whom Gertrude Lawrence despised in her later years, after their early friendship) isn't even mentioned. When Andrews as Lawrence stars in 'Lady in the Dark', there's no mention of Danny Kaye ... who became a star in that production, and who famously had to defend himself against Lawrence's scene-stealing techniques. (Andrews gives a splendid and sexy rendition here -- surely much sexier than Lawrence's original -- of 'The Saga of Jenny', Lawrence's show-stopper from 'Lady in the Dark'.)
I was delighted by Julie Andrews's performance (in male drag) of 'Burlington Bertie from Bow' ... but this song is not to my knowledge a Gertrude Lawrence speciality. The song was written for Vesta Tilley, referencing an earlier song performed by Ella Shields. Bunging it into a movie about Gertrude Lawrence would be like casting James Cagney as George M Cohan but then having him sing 'Mammy' and 'If You Knew Suzie'.
Any biopic of Gertrude Lawrence must include Noël Coward. He's brilliantly played here by his godson, Daniel Massey. Massey's duet with Andrews on 'Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?' is delightful. On the one and only occasion when I met Noël Coward, his eyes lighted up with pleasure when I asked him about Gertrude Lawrence. It was clear that he deeply and sincerely loved her ... other factors in his personal life notwithstanding.
This too-long movie falters when the music stops and Andrews as Gertie Lawrence descends into soap-opera argle-bargle. We get Gertie in a scene with the teenage daughter whom she has largely ignored in her pursuit of the limelight. The daughter is touchingly played by the young Jenny Agutter, unfortunately in an outfit that displays the birthmark on her sternum. After we've seen Lawrence shove aside everyone who got between her and the spotlight, we now hear her lamenting that all she ever really wanted was (pause, wistful smile, half-formed sob) to be truly LOVED!
I mentioned that the overture curtain contained one phrase that modern audiences would recognise. That's 'The King and I', Gertrude Lawrence's last Broadway vehicle (now perceived as a vehicle for Yul Brynner). That phrase on the curtain is the ONLY time that 'The King and I' is mentioned in 'Star!'. We never see Lawrence performing in a scene from that musical. Were Fox unwilling to have Julie Andrews share the screen with Yul Brynner? Or unwilling to have another actor impersonate Brynner? Lawrence's stint in 'The King and I' is especially poignant, as she was dying of cancer during the Broadway run ... but you'd never know it from watching 'Star!'. The biopic ends arbitrarily, with Gertrude yammering during a motor trip: 'Lady in the Dark' behind her and 'The King and I!' still unmentioned.
In the original production of 'The King and I', Gertrude Lawrence was billed over Yul Brynner. On her deathbed, Lawrence's dying request was that Brynner be given top billing. All the people who knew the selfish Lawrence were awed by this act of generosity. To which I say: Rubbish! It wasn't generosity at all, since giving top billing to Brynner would have meant taking it away from Lawrence's replacement (Constance Carpenter), not from Lawrence herself. The real Gertrude Lawrence was phony and superficial ... and so is this movie. I'll rate it 4 in 10, for the superb production values ... and for Julie Andrews's passion for this period in showbiz history.
Too bad this film was overlooked by so many, when it was originally released in 1968. Hollywood was fawning all over Katharine Hepburn's Bryn Mawr Eleanor of Aquitaine and Barbra Streisand's dreary and unfunny Fanny Brice. Best performance by fingernails! The best performance of the year was Julie Andrews' Gertrude Lawrence. If Gertrude Lawrence's life story, as depicted in "Star!" leaves something to be desired, the film still has enough wonderful moments to please anyone. I'm one of those people who believes that Julie Andrews reading the phone book, would be a evening's entertainment. That she is singing, dancing, acting and looking radiant, for almost three hours, is a bonus. "Star!", has always been THE Julie Andrews movie. She is almost never off the screen, and she uses her glorious voice in number after number. What numbers, too! Written by some of the greatest songwriters, "Star!" is a perfect showcase for the most beautiful voice that ever was. See a widescreen home-video version, which does partial justice to Michael Kidd's wonderful musical sequences, in this Todd-AO production, made for the big screens of yesterday. Try and catch the widescreen video tape or laser disc editions. (Unfortunately, the current DVD is the wrong color!!!). "Star!" is an underrated, beautifully crafted film, starring the screen's greatest musical talent. See it!
Yes, the story is somewhat thin. But Julie's performance, the music, the backstage scenes, the glamorous locales, the automobiles, the stage -- fill in where plot is lacking. This is, after all, a docu-musical that is, from what I know, a more literal rendering of Gertrude Lawrence's razzle-dazzle lifestyle, than a falsification of what actually happened. Robert Wise has said, to paraphrase him, that this is the one film he wished he could have done something else with. I personally would have included more scenes of Gertie being interviewed as she watched her life on the black & white tinny newsreels, and thus it may have bracketed her full color TODD-AO widescreen recollections. It might have drawn us more into her point-of-view. Still, the stage numbers, locales, party scenes (drunken one or two may have been) are fun to watch and experience. Script aside, the film is very well crafted, indeed.
After working with Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music", Robert Wise and Saul Chaplin were eager to find a vehicle to showcase her prodigious talents. In choosing the story of Gertrude Lawrence, it seemed they had found an ideal subject. But some serious mistakes were made along the way, which I think are the main reasons audiences rejected this extravagant production. Most important was the casting. There is very little chemistry between Andrews and her leading men, which makes it hard to empathize with the character's romantic entanglements and problems. Another problem was in one of the plot threads: Lawrence was depicted as being somewhat irresponsible with her personal life, especially her finances. If there's one quality Julie Andrews has always projected on screen, it is a down-to-earth, feet-on-the-ground sensibleness which is at odds with this aspect of the character as written. The musical numbers are the biggest reason for seeing this film, but they are staged to give little sense of the context in which they originally were presented (a common problem with show-biz biographies), so they come off looking more like production numbers from a late 60s TV special. Another quibble is that despite the fact that there were songs from shows by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill, the script implies that all the music was by Noel Coward, even to the extent of having Coward at the piano at the opening night party for Gershwin's "Oh, Kay". Despite these problems, I find the film fascinating because of the lavishness of the production, which (unlike many show-biz bios) depicts a very believable historical setting, and because Wise and company were obviously trying to recreate an all but extinct musical genre: the star vehicle specifically tailored to the talents af a particular performer. For maximum appreciation of "Star!", I recommend the laser disc edition with commentary by Robert Wise, Saul Chaplin, and many members of the cast.
Forty-five years have passed since this film debuted! A notorious flop
in its day, the film looks better all the time. An old-fashioned,
full-throttle musical starring diva Julie Andrews as diva Gertrude
Lawrence in a series of musical numbers with dramatic scenes
interspersed. As biography, it's bosh, but as entertainment it's aces.
Andrews is superb as Lawrence, capturing the blazing talent and her inability to deal with reality and men. The film nicely captures the razzle dazzle of Broadway in the 20s and 30s when there were such things as stars on stage. The musical numbers of terrific. The costumes are eye popping. Only the story lags.
I suspect that those who say Andrews is "stiff" in this film haven't seen it. Andrews is a whirlwind of singing, dancing, and acting as she covers Lawrence's life from early adulthood til her marriage to Richard Aldrich in 1940 and her triumph in LADY IN THE DARK.
Co-stars include the marvelous Daniel Massey as Noel Coward, Richard Crenna as Aldrich, Michael Craig, Robert Reed, Anthony Eisley, Jenny Agutter, Beryl Reid, Bruce Forsythe, and Alan Oppenheimer as Charlot.
Look quick for Conrad Bain, Tony Lo Bianco, J. Pat O'Malley, Anna Lee, Ballard Berkeley, Bernard Fox, and Don Crichton (CAROL BURNETT SHOW dancer)in the "Limehouse Blues" number.
STAR! ranks as one of Julie Andrews' very best performances. And that's saying a lot.
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