Sunday, January 16, 2011

#232 A Star Is Born (1954)


Director: George Cukor

Cast: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan, Lucy Marlow, Amanda Blake, Irving Bacon, Hazel Shermet

Esther Blodgett (Garland) is a small-town girl who has worked her whole life toward making it big. When she finally makes it to a touring gig with a live orchestra, she gratefully bides her time while she awaits "the big dream." But her big break comes in a most unexpected form: the famous actor, Norman Maine (Mason), now working his way to the bottom through the habit of heavy drinking, sees something special in Esther. Together, they jumpstart her career into full-on stardom, celebrating their union in marriage along the way.

But while it was a beginning for the duo, it was the end of something else for Norman. As his career continues to plummet, his drinking continues to escalate. When Esther decides to leave her career to be by his side during recovery, Maine takes matters into his own hands.

The film is vibrant and inventive, and Garland's performance of "The Man That Got Away" was something I've been long overdue to experience. (Her 1961 comeback performance of that song has been spun as one of my favorite records for a few years now.) For its time, this film was one of the most expensive ever made by Warner Bros., however, it unfortunately will never be seen in its original form again. While it was released with astounding interest, 30 minutes were evidently butchered out of the film to shorten its run-time at the suggestion of some east-coast moneymen. And though the soundtrack remained in the Warner Bros. vaults, the footage was never recovered. Eventually the film was "restored" with stills and the original soundtrack running... I knew something was fishy when that long stretch of stills and montage ran after the first hour. This portion of the film is actually somewhat awkward and unsettling.

Still, on many occasions, I felt like this film was truly just a stage for Judy Garland to showcase her talents. The surrounding narrative, though at times extremely heavy, at times still seems toss-away against her musical performances.

Frankly, despite Judy's odd facial expressions and over-plucked technicolor look... and despite the somewhat obvious cheap-shots to stick in a song... I loved the film. A great classic musical to rival all others. Judy Garland enthusiasts... must-see.

On another interesting note: this film and the film I watched just prior, Apocalypse Now, both quote the same T.S. Eliot poem within their scripts. In Apocalypse Now, the insane photojournalist via Dennis Hopper quotes, "This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fuckin' shit we're in, man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper, and with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack." In A Star is Born, Mr. Libby quotes the same line when referencing the end of Norman Maine's career, "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper."

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