Thursday, April 18, 2013

275. A Star Is Born (1954)

Running Time: 176 minutes
Directed By: George Cukor
Written By: Moss Hart, from the 1937 screenplay by Alan Campbell and Dorothy Parker, story by William A. Wellman
Main Cast: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan
Click here to view the trailer


Having already watched four George Cukor movies (five, if you count "Gone With the Wind") and, at least, liking the majority of them, I decided to clean up the other two - two long ones - with a "Double Shot of Cukor", taking care of his two musicals - one from the 50s and one from the 60s. First up, "A Star Is Born".

Actually, in a way, the plot of "A Star Is Born" resembles the plot of recent Best Picture winner "The Artist". The film tells of the rise in fame of Esther Blodgett a.k.a. Vicki Lester (Garland), a virtual nobody, who is discovered by big time Hollywood star Norman Maine (Mason). During a Hollywood event, in which Maine shows up drunk, he is saved from embarrassment by Esther, as she manages to hold him up long enough to incorporate him into her dance number. Maine, feeling grateful for the saving of face by Esther, tracks her down and when he listens to her with a sober ear, realizes that much talent lies in her voice. Norman convinces Esther to leave the band that she's been traveling with and let him take over her career, promising to shoot her to super stardom or die trying. After a while, Norman follows through with his promises, getting Esther a contract at the studio that handles him and it isn't long before she's starring in her very own picture. Meanwhile, Norman's star is falling, as he continually turns to the bottle, allowing his career to be washed away by the alcohol that consumes him. However, Esther, even as her star continues to rise and she becomes the studio's hottest commodity, never forgets Norman and eventually they get married. Following the marriage, however, the studio decides to drop Norman's contract, citing that they can no longer babysit a drunkard. This only forces Norman even further into the bottle, as he is now jobless and losing large amounts of his pride by the day, living off of the celebrity of his wife.

There, that outta get you up to speed. Now, doesn't that sound awfully bleak for a movie musical? It does to me and by the end of the picture, every time they'd begin another musical number, I'd have to keep reminding myself, "Oh yeah, this IS a musical, isn't it?"  Usually Hollywood musicals, especially those of yesteryear, are so happy that they nearly start tickling your gag reflexes and it gets to be a little too jolly for one to stomach. Here the musical numbers are heavily overshadowed by the plot that is unfolding: a pretty good love story;  the fall of a Hollywood superstar, as he buries himself in the bottle and the rise in celebrity of a young girl. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the music in "A Star Is Born" barely has a voice and by the time the picture finished, I could barely remember a single song from the movie. There are no memorable songs, only memorable choreography. For example, as I sit here, I can remember Judy Garland dancing around her living room, showing Norman her new number and the two actors looking like they were having a blast shooting it, however, I can't, for the life of me, remember the tune that Judy was singing. Forgettable music sacrificed for a strong plot and decent choreography is how I'd sum up "A Star Is Born".

I was more excited to watch this that I would've been had I not watched "Bigger Than Life" and fell instantly in love with James Mason's acting abilities. I actually couldn't wait for another chance to check out Mason in action and it's a shame that I didn't recognize him a little earlier in my journey, for I may have liked "The Reckless Moment", "Odd Man Out" and "Lolita" a little bit more. He was great here, playing a drunken falling star to near perfection. Judy Garland on the other hand didn't really impress me that much and more annoyed me than anything. I could've done with a more talented actress in her role, as I think the picture would've benefited greatly from that...but who am I to doubt Judy Garland? It wasn't a particularly great movie, but it certainly had it's moments. For being three hours in length, I thought it used it's time wisely and honestly, it barely felt like three hours had gone by. I won't stoop to spoiling anything here, but what finally happens to the Norman Maine character took my by total surprise - was not expecting that, at all. I liked how the film ended and all in all, I'd say that I liked the bleakness of the whole affair. Had the music been better and Judy Garland been replaced, I think we could've been looking at a serious TOP 20 contender.

RATING: 7/10  But, as it is, this is barely a Ten Worth Mentioning contender and that '7' is probably me being just a sliver too generous. We shall see...


April 18, 2013  4:21pm


  1. A musical with Judy garland? This had 'NO' written in large letters all over it..
    But I was quite happy with it. OK, ''quite happy' is about as high as i will go, butI am certainly glad to have been made to watch it with no regrets whatsoever.

    1. Yeah, Judy didn't do much for me either. But this wasn't bad at all. Glad they focused more on story and less on music.


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