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9/10
It's Norman's movie
Claudia24 August 2006
I believe this as one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen. I enjoyed the story, the dialog and above all I enjoyed the atmosphere and the actors. All of them are great but to me Fredric March is outstanding.

Norman/Alfred is a wonderful character: frail, undignified, touchy, weak and able to love Vicki/Esther so much, with all his heart.

Fredric March brings all of it on the screen, providing one of his best performances here.

If you would like to become an actor, I believe you should watch this movie and Mr. March's way of acting. Pay attention to his eyes, his hands, his face and his moves, especially when he interrupts his wife thanking everybody for the Oscar she got and claims he deserves three statues for the worse performances.

He is overcome by himself and starts dying. I just shivered.

To me, this version can't be compared to its remakes. The allure and the fascination of Hollywood have been perfectly represented here, together with an unpleasant and creepy feeling of emptiness.
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10/10
Simply wonderful...
classicanne8 October 2006
I had not watched this movie until today, passing up each opportunity over the years to view it, as I feared it would not live up to the 1954 blockbuster starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

I was right, it does not; it far surpasses the 1954 remake. Judy Garland is my favorite all-round entertainer, favorite singer, and the songs in the 1954 movie are classic treasures, and James Mason never disappoints in any film. However, in the 1937 version the story is told more sensitively, with more shading. Janet Gaynor is perfect as the home-grown farm girl seeking to make her mark in Hollywood, and Fredric March is very convincing as the has-been who cannot cope with his declining value in Hollywood, especially since he caused much of it himself.

I had thought that I might miss the music in this earlier version, but I found after having watched it that I didn't miss it at all. The movie was engrossing from beginning to end and stood on its own merits. I was moved by this film in a way that I never had been by the later remake.

SEE this film if you love a good story; don't put it off for years the way I did. Simply, simply wonderful...
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colour stardom of Esther Blodgett
didi-58 March 2003
Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodgett beautifully, a girl who leaves for Hollywood with dreams of film magazines and the blessing of her granny. Once there she finds it tough-going until meeting Norman Maine (Fredric March) at a party. We've already seen Norman drunk at a theatre but here he charms Esther and actually gets her into the movies before marrying her and watching his own career crumble. March is excellent in this, and the look of the film is surprisingly modern with its lovely technicolor and gadgets (I particularly like the shower in the motor home Esther and Norman take on honeymoon). Esther's move to become star Vicki Lester, Oscar-winning actress, is unbelievable but as her real-life tragedy unfolds, compelling. And who can stay dry-eyed at the end? Remade with music and Judy Garland in 1954 (very well) but this first version is a jewel amongst other 30s classics.
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8/10
The best version
Martin Bradley16 July 2005
Fredric March gave a magnificent performance, probably the best of his career, as Norman Maine, the actor whose career is in the descendant as that of his wife, Vikki Lester, is in the ascendant in this, the first 'official' version of "A Star is Born", (the 1932 film "What Price Hollywood" roughly told the same story). March displays just the right degree of brashness, of knowingness, and a combination of ego and a real actor's almost complete lack of ego. It's a miraculous piece of work.

As Lester, Janet Gaynor is touchingly blank but the star quality she is meant to display seems conspicuously absent; (in the 1954 musical remake Judy Garland was almost too much a star). It seems inconceivable that she could eclipse March on screen (even with his drinking). If Lester is a star and possibly a great actress Gaynor keeps the secret to herself.

The script for this version was partly written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell and it shows. It's an acerbic and, at times, savage movie about the movies, quite cynical for a major studio picture of it's day. It is very well directed by William Wellman who draws first-rate performances from the supporting cast, in particular Lionel Stander as a heartless, slime-ball studio hack. This remains the best of the three versions to come thus far.
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10/10
Superb and Memorable
felixoscar26 September 2003
When you see this masterpiece, remember that more than 65 years have passed since it debuted on the big screen. How many contemporary films will dazzle and delight in 2065?

Sure, we have seen this story before, but this was the first incarnation. Sure all films are in color today, but notice the rich, full-rigged use of color here, only a decade after talkies began. Dialogue sound familiar, well many of the lines originated here (thanks Dorothy Parker).

First caught this in the movie theatre around 1975 as this David O. Selznick production had been out of circulation. Judy Garland's troubled but ultimately engrossing and hugely entertaining remake was already familiar to me. So how does a classic compare to its first version. To me, it is one of the 1930's masterworks.

How perfect to cast Janet Gaynor in the role, an Oscar winner herself at 20 --- that child-like voice unforgettable. Fredric March, like Gaynor already a star and early Oscar recipient, world weary and helpless. The art deco, lavish production, haunting music, and scene after scene of "behind the scenes Hollywood", well they sure worked for me. "Kitsch" an old friend labeled it, but to me, memorable.

I love watching this movie --- hope you enjoy it as well.
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10/10
Superb, Superb, Superb
drednm26 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
One of the all-time greats, A Star Is Born (1937) is a classic Hollywood story of power and love and the fickleness of fame. Janet Gaynor has her great talkie role and Fredric March has one of his best as the star-cross lovers, Esther Blodgett and Norman Maine. Both had already won Oscars, but both were worthy of wins here. Gaynor is wonderful as the country girl who yearns for Hollywood fame. She is a great comic actress, doing impressions of Hepburn, Garbo, and West while serving snacks at a party and trying to get noticed. She is also heartbreaking in her famous finale, "This is MRS. Norman Maine." March, who had a tendency to be hammy, strikes just the right balance between Norman's vulnerability and his pomposity. You never doubt that he loves Esther. The supporting cast is peerless, with Adolphe Menjou, May Robson (one of her best roles), Andy Devine, Lionel Stander, and Edgar Kennedy all good. The color photography is, although maybe a tad washed out now, still striking in its use of shadows. Great script and direction. One of the best. Gaynor and March deserved their Oscar nomination, but May Robson was robbed by not being nominated. Her character was left out of the 1954 remake, but she is the anchor of the 1937 version. A Star Is Born is a must for all film buffs, especially for those who have only see Gaynor is silent films, including the great Sunrise (1927).
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9/10
Good story and well presented.
azamahmad9930 April 2001
A very touching story and should be watched by everybody. The best part of it is you can value a person's love which is very precious and should not be wasted. The moral of the story, don't be too enjoyed with your victory or popularity and you may forget about who you are, originally. Once you are married, try to balance it with your career and your personal life.
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"Caption: Their Honeymoon Ceases Abruptly"
stryker-519 April 1999
Warning: Spoilers
She is a fresh-faced young star, rising in the Hollywood firmament. He is a downwardly-mobile leading man whose fondness for the bottle has ruined his career. The story is one of love and self-sacrifice within this most selfish of all industries.

Roughly once every 20 years, Hollywood remakes this paean to its own heartless glamour. James Mason and Judy Garland starred in the 50's version, and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson on the 70's rendition, but for sheer emotional impact, this 1937 original is still the best.

Technicolor was taking its first faltering steps with this picture, and if the colour is a little sketchy in the first half this is forgiveable. Dorothy Parker had a major hand in the screenplay, and in this movie about Hollywood artifice and the illusion of cinema, intelligent use is made of an actual script at the beginning and end, showing dialogue and screen directions.

Janet Gaynor is very appealing as Esther Blodgett, the naive North Dakota country girl who makes it as Vicki Lester, megastar. She combines a wholesome girl-next-door charm with a strong talent for humour, running through a string of funny voices in the Acme Trucking Co sequence, and providing good impersonations of Garbo, Hepburn and Mae West.

The leading man who falls for her gamine innocence, Norman Maine, is played with dignity by Frederic March. He does the drunk scenes realistically without hamming it up, and conveys the pain of a man who knows he is hurting the woman that he loves.

Hollywood's celebration of itself extends beyond the self-referential use of a shooting script. We see planes, trains and buses bringing wannabe's to Hollywood (and this is where the Technicolor really comes into its own). The pavement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre features prominently, and the screen test captures the bustle of the assembly-line studio mentality. Vicki jumps at the crack of the clapper-board, as if the Hollywood monster is to be feared. William Wellman's direction contains knowing ironic elements, such as the 'wipe' which imitates the closing elevator doors.

The stark shadow half-across Esther's face in the first love scene is dramatic, and symbolises the tenuous nature of the relationship, with Esther in awe of the big star while Norman is all too aware of his fading powers. The scene in the night court is excellent in its restrained realism, as a line of drunken derelicts is paraded before the magistrate.

One small fault that came to my attention is the clumsy edit over the end of a reel as Vicki removes her puritan mobcap. Other than that, the film is a flawless and accomplished piece of work.

In the end, after the great 'sunset over the ocean' scene, Vicki decides to go on, rather than be that thing that no American can ever agree to being - a 'quitter'.
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8/10
Swimming with sharks
jotix10019 May 2004
Having seen the two later versions of this tale, it was a surprise to find the original one, even if it doesn't compare with the 50s remake with Judy Garland. This one is worth a look because of the great cinematography and the use of color for a film made in the early years of its invention. William Wellman deserves credit for his direction of a Hollywood story about itself.

The mere idea of young and very naive, Esther Blodgett making it big in Hollywood, is stretching the imagination big time. This girl from the heart of the country yearns to be somebody in the pictures that are her escape from the dreary life she leads. To even think that she would have a chance in becoming a bit player, is a stretch of the imagination, but to have her become a star in her own right with her unsophisticated looks, is even harder to believe. Hollywood of those years was a factory of dreams where many went to be part of it, but for one Esther Blodgett, there were thousands who were rejected.

We watch as Esther is transformed into Vicki Lester, a star larger than life, who captures the public's imagination and goes to eclipse bigger stars such as Norman Maine, her discoverer, and the man she falls in love with. Norman's decline is very fast, while Vicki's ascent into glory is even faster. His drinking habit will get the best of him at a time when help agencies such as A.A. didn't exist. Unfortunately for Vicki, she ultimately has to pay for her own meteoric success.

The cast is superb. Not being a fan of Janet Gaynor, I have to confess that she strikes the right note with her Esther/Vicki role. She is totally believable even though we never even see her take an acting class, much less see her waiting tables to help herself. Frederick March brings an intensity to Norman, the self destructive star, that makes us pity him.

Adolphe Menjou is the studio head who sees a winner in the young, aspiring actress, and gives her the chance. Most surprising of all is the star performance of Lionel Standing as Matt Libby, the studio publicist who is behind the creation of the new star. Andy Devine, May Robson, and the rest are equally satisfying.

This film was a happy surprise in many aspects and will not disappoint.
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10/10
One Star Born, One Star Fades
bkoganbing12 May 2007
A Star is Born has had two remakes since this 1937 version, but when this film is discussed this is usually the version that stands out.

I guess if the story has a moral to it, it's that for one star in 'shimmering firmament' to be born one has to die. It can be a funny end like what happens to Lina Lamont in Singing in the Rain or it can be a tragic tale as what happens to Norman Maine in this film. But Kathy Selden and Vicki Lester do go on.

Esther Blodgett as played by Janet Gaynor is a symbol for all the young people, women in this case, who dream of seeing themselves on the big screen. Encouraged morally and financially by her grandmother May Robson, Gaynor goes to Hollywood and experiences all the frustrations of a young hopeful. But fate is on her side in the person of leading man Norman Maine, played by Fredric March in one of his best screen performances.

Though Gaynor and March were both nominated for Gaynor the part of Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester was no stretch for her. She'd been doing the part of fresh small town girls for most of her screen career, this being the best of them. For March however, he has to play a weak character, something he had not really tackled before.

I guess Hollywood knows itself better than anyone else and films about the industry can be scathing. The star is a creature with a fragile ego, one moment a whim can move mountains, a slip in public affections and no one wants to know you. March as Maine has been slipping for some time and he catches on, way too late.

But as March is going down, Gaynor is on the up escalator and they meet mid point and fall in love. How they deal with their joint careers or lack thereof in one case is what A Star is Born is all about.

March and Gaynor get good support from Adolphe Menjou as an understanding producer, Andy Devine as Gaynor's fellow boarder at her place of residence and most of all from Lionel Stander as the cynical press agent who inadvertently puts the finish to March's career.

Gaynor's final moment on the screen is one of the great classic events as she proclaims to the world she's Mrs. Norman Maine. And why March does what he does is will start an endless discussion of speculation. Watch this film and come to your own conclusion.
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Good Cast & An Interesting Story
Snow Leopard5 July 2001
This early version of "A Star is Born" is well-performed by a good cast, and an interesting story. The basic idea is fairly simple, but filled with potential, and it is done skillfully.

Janet Gaynor and Frederic March work very well as a Hollywood couple whose careers are headed in different directions, with March's performance being especially good. The rest of the cast rounds out the picture nicely with good performances of their own. While the inside look at Hollywood is interesting in its own right, the heart of the story is the way that the couple's marriage and relationships are affected by her career taking off at the same time that his is crashing. It's the kind of story that only works with believable characters, careful writing, and convincing acting, and all of those are present here.

While overshadowed by the lavish 50's remake, this earlier version is still quite worthwhile in its own right.
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Flawless Masterpiece
ivan-2221 July 2000
This is perhaps my favorite movie from the thirties. The writing, the acting, the directing, the music are virtually perfect. It is a rare kind of movie. The dialogue is sharp, smart, witty, compassionate, mature and incredibly contemporary. It could have been written last week. It is not afraid to deal with real life: alcoholism, drunk driving, failure, success, suicide. The characters are real. The drama is firmly anchored in real life. The writers are obviously good people who feel and think deeply. This movie was blissfully free from the usual contrived plots. What a breath of fresh air! The music alone makes it worth HEARING again and again.

I loved the fact that the movie didn't try prove anything. It just tells a story in an esthetically satisfying manner. It is of the same high quality as "The Best Years Of Our Lives". I haven't seen subsequent versions, but they cannot possibly be as good.

This the the most wonderful homage Hollywood ever paid to itself, to all those ordinary folks who became stars, or who valiantly tried and failed, or whose goals were more modest, and who achieved fulfillment behind the scenes.

This is the Hollywood epic standing proud and tall, and it is impossible not to shed a tear of admiration and affection.
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7/10
In Hollywood, you grin and bear it, or bare and grin it…
Roger Burke28 August 2010
This movie has been done three times: this one in 1937, then in 1954 and finally 1976. I've now seen only this original, and only because I wanted to see a young Janet Gaynor for the first time. Beware, however: a 2012 version is now in pre-production; although, as we all know, it may never be completed – Hollywood being what it is.

Of course, this story – rags to riches in the acting business - was done first by others – principally Katherine Hepburn in Morning Glory (1933) and, oddly enough, again in Stage Door (1937), and again with Katherine Hepburn ably assisted by a host of well-known Hollywood actors, including the tireless Adolphe Menjou who never seemed to mind playing a Hollywood boss, in this and many other similar movies. The difference with Star, of course, is it's maybe the first movie to dig into Hollywood screen acting and make an attempt to lay it bare.

So the story is banal, as most rags to riches fantasies are. Equally, however, it's an exceptionally well-done narrative that strips the gloss off Hollywood – in a genteelly, low-key manner – to show 1937 viewers just what it took to claw your way to the top. And, let's face it: being released in the dog days of the Great Depression and as America geared up for war, audiences of the day lapped it up. Hard times and war drums were on the way again: the people needed to see rags to riches in action, needed to know that hardship and sacrifice were just around the corner. And, failure was not an option.

Today's mainstream audience, on the other hand, would probably laugh at the perceived and implied naivety of the 1930s crowd.

The acting – from Frederic March as Norman Maine (the main actor in the story – such an appropriate name!) who is already on the slippery slopes to alcoholic and acting oblivion just as he meets and falls in love with Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett as the aspiring Hollywood wannabee; and both ably assisted by Adolphe Menjou as Hollywood producer, Oliver Niles – raises it to the level of simplistic melodrama and without descending into bathos, fortunately. And that's largely due to March, who is outstanding – literally and figuratively – as the actor with everything to lose. Menjou does his usual, highly professional turn – and never misses a turn or beat. And Gaynor? Well, I'd say she was perfectly cast as the newcomer who makes good, to a point: her down-to-earth, home-spun, wide-eyed trusting nature is personified with her looks, tone and carriage – almost to the point of outdoing Shirley Temple.

Oddly enough, though, Gaynor made her last movie in 1938 and did not reappear until 1957, with a guest appearance in Bernadine with Pat Boone, whom some would remember.

This production of Star, in color, certainly appeals to the visual senses, displaying the lavishness that beckoned neophytes and to which stars become accustomed, all too easily. In contrast, it also shows – with comedy or gentle satire – the daily grind of making movies and is, perhaps, the genesis of the much over-use of out-takes, bloopers and so on in some of today's productions. Photography, editing and script – particularly the last – are all up to scratch, as you would expect from a Selznick/Wellman venture. Dorothy Parker – who wrote the screenplay and who was one of literature's bete noire of the 1930s set – constructed some of the most memorable lines in Hollywood history, especially those from Menjou. Worth seeing just for that alone, in my opinion.

Interestingly and coincidentally, Nathanael West – one-time Hollywood screen writer – published The Day of The Locust in 1939, a novel that takes the Star story and twists it into a horrific nightmare. Not until 1973, however, did John Schlesinger direct a screen version of the same name that has not been repeated; see that one and find out why. Not to be outdone, David Lynch, film noire auteur extraordinaire, has gone one further with Muholland Drive (2001), arguably the ultimate screen statement to date about the prostitution of screen art in the pursuit of fame and fortune, and one of the grittiest horror stories ever put to film. Considering some of the scenes of both, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Lynch has seen this version of Star.

As a significant piece of Hollywood history, this 1937 version should be seen by all film lovers and the starry-eyed. Highly recommended.

Then, come down to earth with The Day of The Locust and deliver a coup de grace with Mulholland Drive, both of which I've reviewed for this site. Enjoy.
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8/10
what price,fame?
disdressed1219 October 2008
this is the first version of this movie made,and the only version i have seen so far.i liked it.i thought it was touching and ironic,and also tragic.it basically tells what the movie business can do to you,and the sacrifices that are made.it also shows how disposable the industry and the people in it are.as long as you are the flavour of the week,everything seems fine.but when you're no longer useful,reality hits and things can come crashing down.that's what basically happens in this story.it's an indictment(ironically)of the movie industry,however subtle.regardless,i thought it was well done.the acting by the tow leads,Janet Gaynor,and Frederic March,as well as the supporting performances,are terrific.i also thought the writing was very good,and the movie flows very well.for me,A Star is Born gets an 8/10
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9/10
Horribly actual with its dark vision on fame!
Ryu_Darkwood25 September 2007
'' Grandmother Lettie: Esther, everyone in this world who has ever dreamed about better things has been laughed at, don't you know that? But there's a difference between dreaming and doing. The dreamers just sit around and moon about how wonderful it would be if only things were different. And the years roll on and by and by they grow and they forget everything, even about their dreams. Oh yes, you want to be somebody, but you want it to be easy. Oh you modern girls give me a pain! ''

These lines say it all. This story is about our struggle to fulfill our dreams and the sacrifices we have to make for them. This is about how we can reach the unreachable by fighting for it, not by sitting on the sidelines watching it all fade away in oblivion. This is about the cruelty of love, making us vulnerable and weak. Great themes that'll never get old. Of course other flicks had the same themes, but this one really shows the pain and the effort that has to be put in it to fulfill any dream.

I really liked this movie for its ironic vision on fame and how it alters the personality of the stars in a negative way. We see a man getting pushed aside because of his own destructive behavior and attitude. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan,Amy Whinehouse, they weren't the first stars that went down in oblivion and they most certainly won't be the last ones. Those who want to survive in the cruel world of the showbiz must fight and stay clean from booze and other addictions. Only the strong survive! ( and that most certainly also applies for mere mortals as ourselves! )
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10/10
Very poignant
mjr111425 August 2010
This is a very good film with a great cast. I've seen reviews stating this film pales in comparison to the remake, due to the fact that you get to 'see' that Judy Garland's character can sing, but you don't get to 'see' that Janet Gaynor's character can act. This is where I think the point of what this story is meant to portray is being lost by the viewer. The title isn't referring to the 'meteoric rise' of the female character, it is referring to the tragedy she endures, and how she chooses to overcome it that brings the birth of the 'Star'. In a way, Norman Maine gave his life for his wife to be born, he felt he was hampering her career and her life, so he wished to free her. Janet Gaynor was a star long before this movie came out, so it is really unfair to state that one can't believe she didn't appear to be someone that could have made such an impact in Hollywood. She'd been playing the naive type for quite some time, she played it well here, but she, also, portrayed her progressive maturity quite well and quite believably. As for me, this version shines far above the remake, because of the main character portrayals and for the outstanding supporting cast. This movie focused on the Gaynor character's experiences influenced by those around her, mostly with March's character. The remake seemed, to me, to focus mostly on the Garland character a little too much, not really getting the feel of those around her other than James Mason's character, but even it wasn't as deeply explored and conveyed as the Norman Maine character of the 1937 version. This is not taking anything away from Mr. Mason's performance, because there's no doing that, he was a great actor. However, the Frederic March portrayal was more compelling due to the fact the script allotted him to be, plus, Mr. March was a wonderful actor, one of my all time favorites. Then, you, also, have Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Lionel Stander, and Andy Devine, all giving stellar performances. When you have a great cast like this, with a script this well written and a great director like William Wellman (whom had some very, very great pre-codes under his belt), it's a win-win situation. This movie deserved it's best picture award. And just reading comments on this movie, especially, in regards to the ending of the Norman Maine character through to the end line, I tear up, so corny, but true. This was, and still is, a great film.
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10/10
Mrs. Norman Maine
Petri Pelkonen8 December 2007
Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) wants to be a star.She goes to Hollywood to find her way into the pictures.There she meets the big star Norman Maine (Fredric March) and soon the big Hollywood romance is blooming.Esther finds herself in the same movie with her sweetheart and soon there will be more.Her Hollywood name is Vicki Lester.Norman Maine is a troubled star.He drinks too much but she makes him stop.But fighting against alcohol is much harder when he finds his wife a bigger star than he is.William A. Wellman's A Star Is Born (1937) is perfect drama.It touches you the way it should.You really feel for Norman Maine when he loses what he once had.Fredric March does a brilliant job portraying him.The true star Janet Gaynor is wonderful in the role of Mrs.Norman Maine.Adolphe Menjou gives a great performance as Oliver Niles.Andy Devine is in a really sympathetic role as Danny McGuire.May Robson is fantastic as Grandmother Lettie.This movie from 70 years back does very good job showing the downside of fame.A Star Is Born is ageless.
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9/10
Sunrise, Sunset
wes-connors1 June 2008
Perky aspiring actress Janet Gaynor (as Esther Blodgett) leaves her small town for Hollywood; instead of extra work, she finds work as a waitress. Ms. Gaynor breaks dishes; imitates Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Mae West; and meets alcoholic actor Fredric March (as Norman Maine). Mr. March likes Gaynor's sweetness and sincerity; he arranges a screen test for her, and the two become romantically involved. Then, Gaynor becomes Hollywood's newest star sensation (as "Vicki Lester") while March (as "Mr. Lester")'s star sets...

David O. Selznick's version of "What Price Hollywood?" (among others) is beautifully photographed (W. Howard Greene) and directed (William A. Wellman); especially noteworthy are the location scenes, with its near-final "sunset" providing an excellent thematic statement.

Few of Gaynor's contemporaries could have played the early scenes with the same sincerity (which parallels her character). She is terrific as the naïve young star; most importantly, she is believable as a woman who steps from obscurity to stardom. March is perfect as the eclipsed movie idol; it would have been nice to know more about his character's history of, and reason for, drinking (amusement is a given reason). Lionel Stander (as Matt Libby)'s portrayal of a prickly publicist stands out, among the supporting cast (Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, and Andy Devine).

This film was heralded as realistic depiction of "Hollywood" stardom; and, there are cute, clever, and realistic details throughout. Nothing too extraordinary is revealed, however. The film barely scratches the surface; and, it is curiously more asexual than previous cinematic trips down the walk of fame (it was affected by the "Hays Code", no doubt). Still, due to its strengths, this version of "A Star Is Born" compares most favorably with subsequent versions.

********* A Star Is Born (4/20/37) William A. Wellman ~ Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Lionel Stander, Adolphe Menjou
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7/10
An entertaining film but March steals the show
Space_Mafune14 January 2008
A young country girl named Ester Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) arrives in Hollywood filled with dreams of becoming a famous movie starlet. However, she gets nowhere until she's noticed by famous movie star Norman Maine (Fredric March), a performer on his way down in terms of popular appeal. The two fall in love but just as Ester's star, under the stage name Vicki Lester begins to rise, Maine's begins to fade.

The best thing about this film is the performance given by Fredric March as actor Norman Maine. He nails the inner emotional turmoil going on inside his character and makes him always sympathetic to the viewer even as Maine falls in and out of sobriety. It's Maine's character that proves most interesting to the viewer here as March completely steals the film away from star Janet Gaynor.

Gaynor doesn't prove quite as appealing or convincing in her lead role as Ester Blodgett/Vicki Lester and honestly it's hard to see why the public should favor her so. Maybe this was to symbolize the fickleness of the public in that they should prefer a pretty new face over a talented older one. Who knows? Nevertheless Gaynor just doesn't ever prove as appealing here in her role as she should.
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9/10
The tragedy of Norman Maine
Jem Odewahn26 May 2006
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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6/10
Notable mainly for March's great performance but inferior to the Garland remake...
Neil Doyle13 November 2008
Sorry, but I can't get on the bandwagon here of glowing adjectives to describe A STAR IS BORN with mousy Janet Gaynor in the Esther Blodgett role--a girl swept into big time stardom by a man whose own career is on the descent.

FREDRIC MARCH plays the alcoholic Norman Maine (modeled after someone like John Barrymore) who meets Gaynor at a party, is presumably dazzled by her enough to get her a screen test, and that's how the career of Esther Blodgett starts. This would make sense if Gaynor had the sort of charm and personality suggesting she could be turned into a major star and win an Academy Award. Gaynor's screen persona here is dull and naive. Period.

But somehow, that doesn't matter as much as it should because all the other characters are much better realized. The second half of the movie builds up some dramatic intensity completely missing in the dreary first half. And for some reason, the Technicolor improves as the film goes on. The interior scenes in the first half are darkly lit and look like primitive use of color.

The touching ending is well handled, but I can't believe Janet Gaynor in the role of a girl whose talent is so arresting that she immediately is scooped up into the frenzy of film-making. The role should have been played by a girl in her early twenties who looks the part and has the out-sized talent needed to convince us she could be molded into a star of Vicki Lester proportions.

Summing up: Disappointing, especially when compared to the Garland/Mason version, but worthwhile for Fredric March's performance as Norman Maine.
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6/10
Dying star's story far more interesting
zwrite218 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
If this movie's title was "A Star Slowly Dies," I would have probably given the film a better rating because the parts about Norman Maine were far better than the parts about Esther Blodgett.

The central problem with the movie is that there is NO evidence that Blodgett became a star because of her talent. In the 1954 movie, James Mason's Maine is blown away by the singing ability of Judy Garland's Blodgett. In this version, Fredric March's Maine makes Janet Gaynor's Blodgett a star because he wants to get her into the sack. I'm not making this up.

The start of "Star" sets us up for an Horatio Alger story – an ordinary woman who takes a huge gamble to become an actress despite most of her family's wishes. I waited for a scintilla of evidence that Blodgett had any acting ability or experience. Did she act in a community theatre? Why did she think she could be an actress? These questions, and others, are never answered.

Blodgett's story is supposed to be inspirational. Instead, it is depressing. After moving to Hollywood, she gets a job as a waitress at a gathering of entertainers. There, Maine, a huge star, meets her and finds her really hot. Subsequently, he dates her and then gets her a screen test and a co-starring role in his next movie although he's never seen her perform.

This narrative is depressing because she became a star as a result of Maine objectifying her, and a plain-looking woman with talent would have failed.

In a good story, the writers would have shown us that Blodgett was a great actress. Instead, we're just told that she is. We're shown approximately 10 seconds of her first movie, and she spends most of that time kissing Maine. But, we do hear critics lavishly praise her. By contrast, the 1954 version SHOWS us that Blodgett/Garland is a terrific singer.

As I watched the first half of the movie, I was tempted to label it a failure. However, it gets much stronger in the second half as it focuses less on Blodgett and more on Maine. Once a star, he declines as she rises. His alcohol-fueled psychological breakdown riveted me.

In short, Maine's breakdown was portrayed far better than Blodgett's rise. The movie also has an interesting, sardonic take on the phoniness of the movie industry and how it treats even its stars with a total lack of respect.

Interestingly, one of the problems with the 1937 version of "Star" is that it is too short while the 1954 one is far too long. This is partly because the 1954 movie is a musical while this one is not. This version should have spent more time developing its characters.

I gave "Star Is Born" a 6, balancing the 4 that I gave Blodgett's story with the 8 that I gave Maine's story.

ZWrite
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8/10
Not quite up to the remake, but very little is.
alice liddell29 September 1999
I had real fears about watching this film because the 1954 remake is one of my ten favorite films, and absolutely perfect in every way. It stars Judy Garland and James Mason, in my opinion two of a handful of truly great actors, and Garland's own tragedies gave the story an extra frisson and force. It makes the greatest ever use of Technicolour, intense, excessive and emotional; and its subject matter shook George Cukor out of his habitual gentility into his best direction, unafraid for once to be vulgar. It is a melodrama, it is a musical and I love it to bits.

So you can imagine how initially this original felt inferior in every way. There was no musical numbers to take the load of emotions too intense to be verbalised. Janet Gaynor seemed like a mouse compared to Judy's tornado. Fredric March was a wonderfully versatile actor, particularly good in comedy, but James Mason, behind his trademark suavity, sadism and insanity, always had a sadness and resigned loneliness, a great generosity of spirit that was just right for Norman Maine. Worst of all, Wellman's direction was far too discreet and distant, making the storyline seem rather childish.

And yet, as it began to build momentum, A STAR revealed itself to be a very wonderful film, quite different from its remake. For a start, it's as much a comedy as a tragedy, and there are many funny lines. The film is very bitter about Hollywood, and the sacrifices necessary for fame, as one might expect from a script co-written by Dorothy Parker, although it lacks the attention to detail that would have made the film truly corrosive. There is a seething cynicism that provides an interesting counter point to the film's weepy elements, without ever betraying them: the film opens and closes as a script, laying bear the artifice and manipulation we are about to see, mocking us for succumbing to the very canker it wants to expose. There are subtle attacks on Hollywood anti-Semitism - the very ethnic Henckel becomes WASP-worthy Norman Maine. Lionel Stander ('Moidah' Max from HART TO HART) is a very bitter publicity agent whose treatment of Norman towards the end is truly hateful, yet, we must admit, very funny.

Far from being childish, the film is very mature, and is the most sensible and sensitive film about alcoholism until LEAVING LAS VEGAS. There is no judgmentalism, no trite explanations. The great tragedy is precisely this mystery: why should Norman - so attractive, so talented, so popular - give up everything at the height of his powers. It suggest demons that are way out of the depth of conventionally pat Hollywood narratives. Also sex is quite frankly present, and they got the shower sequence - where March is quite clearly naked - past the Hays Office is a mystery and a delight.

A STAR is a sublime melodrama, building up to an unbearable tragic pitch. Even if you know what's going to happen, it's hard to resist the tears. This is principally due to the magnificent acting. Gaynor is truly great, convincingly maturing from a callow, ambitious, small-town girl, to a great actress who must helplessly witness the dissolution of the man she loves. March is truly heartbreaking, a worthy partner to James Mason. Norman is so patently warm, amusing, loveable, loving, that it's unbearable and unfair to watch his decline, his loss of control. As forces beyond his control topple him, he may lose his public dignity, but never our respect. Our world can't be all bad if it can find room for this masterpiece and its even better remake. Well, until we remember Mecha Streisand that is.
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5/10
More Corn Than The Green Giant
jonathankamiel27 October 2009
It took me a long time to get round to seeing this classic and perhaps my expectations were a little unrealistic but I struggled through this film. May Robson plays the role of grandma admirably enough, but the beginning was unbelievably corny and the dialogue throughout the film is not particularly sophisticated apart from a retort or two from Fredric March. Without March, I don't think I could have made it through to the end of the film. And I'm prepared to accept that Janet Gaynor is a great actress but she's so underwhelming as Vicki Lester. Judy Garland might not have been a stunner but as soon as she opened her voice to sing, all was forgiven. And I think Gaynor's casting makes the whole film's premise extremely difficult to believe. I remember reading more than once that this film is still one of the most accurate portrayals of Hollywood at the time and it definitely touches on the cruelty of the star system which sees one actor catapulted into the stratosphere while another falls from great heights into the gutter. However, I think there's a more cynical side to this movie's message. And that was to keep feeding the audience with the mantra that anyone can make it in movies, however "average" your looks or talent.
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10/10
A great three-story film of hope, love, heartbreak and more
SimonJack20 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I saw all three versions of "A Star is Born" in the past, and enjoyed watching this original and the 1954 remake again after so many years. What superb acting by Frederic March as Norman Maine, Janet Gaynor as Vicki Lester/Esther Blodgett, and all of the rest of this excellent cast.

After many years between viewings, I was struck by the uniqueness of this film. Two aspects in particular stand out. First, that it is really three movies in one, with distinct stories. Second, that it has at least three major messages. The latter are so carefully woven into the script – and so well acted out – that most viewers may not be consciously aware of them. So, the genius of the script is in its putting all of this together in a most enjoyable and watchable story, without hitches or glitches.

Most movies have a single story, with the different characters and roles as part of it. Usually, they center on the hero or heroine, the romance of the two, or a major plot of war, crime, intrigue or adventure. But, in this original, we see first, a story of a young small-town girl, Esther/Vicki, who dreams of becoming a movie star. The opening scenes set the stage for her "escape" to Hollywood. The message is about taking risks to chase one's dreams (as her grandmother counsels and relates of past family history).

The next scenes show her difficulties in trying to break into the movies. She is behind in her rent and finds odd jobs as she looks for a break. We see the hopelessness and little likelihood of someone making it in Hollywood (one in 100,000, the woman at the acting agency tells her). But, we also see her determination to keep trying.

Now the second story begins to unfold. Only, we understand that the male lead's story (Norman Maine) has been going on for many years in Hollywood. He has reached his peak, and while still near the top, he has become a headache and problem to his studio because of his drinking the past several years. We don't know why he apparently has never married, but it's clear that his career has been his obsession. Now he is becoming a big publicity problem for the studio.

By coincidence, these two people meet, and the third story begins. A deep love blossoms between the two with their ultimate marriage. Lester's star rises and the first story fades as her dream is fulfilled – she has become a star. The male lead's story and the love story are now tightly (no pun intended) intertwined. In his love for her, and awareness of his drinking problem and acting decline, Maine bows out of films and stops drinking. Over time, he becomes distant as he realizes that he is no longer recognized. Finally, after a messenger boy calls him by his wife's stage name ("Mr. Lester"), he snaps and goes back to drinking.

After more run-ins with the law and drying out in a sanitarium, Maine is set to return home. But a chance encounter with the studio publicity man, Matt Libby (excellently played by Lionel Stander), spells doom for Maine. He can't stand the PRs insults about being supported by his wife, and after a brawl, he steps up to the bar to resume his drinking.

The next scenes show Lester and studio head Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou) worrying about where Maine is after four days. They get a call and Lester gets a judge to release Maine to her care. The courtroom scene is a great example of the humiliation of the man, now having sobered up, standing with other drunks, many of whom may live in the gutter, and being further embarrassed by having his wife appeal for him.

Back in their California beachfront estate, Lester and Niles have put Maine to bed. They think he is sleeping but he hears them talking in the next room. Because of her love for Maine, Lester tells Niles that she is quitting the movies, and that she and Maine will go away together. Maine can hear Niles urge Lester not to give up her career at its peak. We can see the anguish and torment on his face. In Maine, we have a real story of conflict between the man, with his ego and no longer being revered as a movie idol, and his deep love for his wife and genuine respect and hopes for her success.

I won't describe the last scenes – of Maine and Lester. His story ends on a tragic note. And the love story ends on a sad note. The subtle messages become clear. First, stardom, wealth and success don't buy happiness. Remember the veranda scene when Maine tells Lester that she now owns the world as they look out over the city lights below? And then he says that he has never found happiness with success. Second, that pride and ego can destroy love when one person can't humble himself and struggle to rise above his failings for himself and that love. Even as an alcoholic, Maine was able to quit once – with help. But now he doesn't want to try again. Third, we should not be fooled by the allure of Hollywood and success that come mostly from phony build-ups and PR (i.e. the fictitious bio and lies by the studio PR guy to the press and public).

I couldn't help but think of the adulation so many still heap on the movie stars and celebrities of today. And, how so few of them seem to have real happiness and love with their wealth and worldly success.
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