Norman Maine, a movie star whose career is on the wane, meets showgirl Esther Blodgett when he drunkenly stumbles into her act one night. A friendship develops, then blossoms into romance before tensions increase as Esther's career takes off while Norman's continues to plummet.Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As Matt Libby (Jack Carson) dictates the cancellation/resignation of Norman Maine's (James Mason) contract, a theater marquee featuring "Black Legion" starring Norman Maine, outside his window is being taken down. "Black Legion" was a 1937 movie starring Humphrey Bogart, one of the actors that turned down the role of Norman Maine for this picture. See more »
Contrary to popular belief, the film was not originally at 181 minutes, but rather 196 (3hrs. and 16mins.) at a post-premiere shown on August 8, 1954 in Hunnington Park, California. After its second post-premiere - the very next day - two scenes of 15 minutes total were deleted; making the film run its original world debut length at 181 minutes. One was a number called "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street" that came after Judy's take of "I'll Get By" in the 'Born in the Trunk' sequence, the other was a scene where Garland and James Mason's characters (Vicki and Norman) were picnicking on the beach; production stills and promotional advertisements are the only thing left in existence of the footage. After its world premiere on September 29, 1954, 27 minutes was cut, bringing it down to a mediocre 154 time length. Those scenes were:
1) Esther quitting the band
2) The Trinidad Coconut Oil Shampoo
3) Esther working at a drive-in
4) Norman being driven away drunk in his car
5) Norman inquiring Esther's old landlady
6) Spotting Esther on the TV commercial
7) Tracking down Esther at her new boarding residence
8) Driving down the strip - Esther getting sick
9) "Here's What I'm Here For" musical number - Norman proposes
10) "Lose That Long Face" musical number - Vicki breaks down
On a brief getaway this past weekend, the hotel where I was staying had TCM (Turner Classic Movies) on its cable roster and, lo! and behold, there was Judy singing and acting her heart out in letterbox and stereo sound. TCM...you're the best!
It was the restored version, thank the good Lord, with that sad reminder of Warner Brothers' pathetic timidity in trashing Cukor's original cut, but recalling for us his masterful use of the widescreen ratio. (A "formatted" version would be simply unwatchable, what with numerous scenes played by actors perched on the outer reaches of the screen, opposite each other.)
James Mason turns in an absolutely brilliant performance, especially when one recalls the rigors of production, with filming going months over schedule, due to Judy's unhappy vicissitudes (so evident in her appearance even within the same scene!) With the very able support of Charles Bickford, as the most benign studio head ever, and Jack Carson proving why Warners kept him employed so often for so many years.
Plus musical direction taking fabulous advantage of Warners' studio orchestra (and WB's sound technicians who were, for several decades running, the envy of all the other major studios), and arrangements that must have overwhelmed first-run audiences with their incredible richness.
It's a must-see, all right, and is in a class by itself, among the several screen versions of this beloved Hollywood saga.
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