“A STAR IS BORN” 1954.
Well folks, we’re up to our third installment of “Star Of The Month” on “All Good Things”. I’m kicking off with the third addition for “Star Of The Month”, and for January’s star I have chosen my first love, and the actress that established my passion for classic cinema, Judy Garland. For my contribution today I will be reviewing “A Star Is Born”, my favorite Judy movie, which stars Judy alongside James Mason.
Judy Garland illuminates the screen in this cinematic masterpiece. Showcasing several of her notable song and dance numbers, including her most hellacious song “The Man That Got Away”, which appeared in the AFI’s list of 100 top songs in films. “A Star Is Born” will take audiences on a compelling journey into the world of classic cinema. The film follows the story of Esther Blodgett and Norman Maine ( Judy Garland and James Mason ). Norman Maine is a movie star who has appeared in many triumphant pictures, but with alcoholic problems and a diminution of successful films his career is in decline. After being involved in an argument with the studio publicist at a function held at the Shrine Auditorium, Norman is irascible, and leaves the scene where he barges out on the stage where aspiring singer Esther Blodgett is performing with her band. To save Norman from something that would usually be considered an exorbitantly embarrassing and unpropitious moment into an occasion that draws Norman a wave of applause, Esther takes him by the hand, pretending that he is part of the act. Norman is cognizant of the fact that Esther has freed him from public humiliation, by drawing a heart on the wall using her lipstick and inviting her out for dinner. Later that evening, Norman sets out to find Esther, and watches her sing “The Man That Got Away” in an after hours club, where he observes Esther’s powerful singing voice, and realizes that she has talent that should not be dismissed. That night Norman takes her home, and implores Esther to quit the band and follow her dream by trying to break into movies. Norman thinks that staying in the band is holding Esther back, and feels that she can succeed in pictures if she makes it a desideratum. He then offers Esther a screen test. Uncertain about the idea, he advises Esther to sleep on it. During the night Esther decides to take the plunge, so she goes to inform fellow band member Danny that she’s leaving the band to try and pursue a career in movies. Danny doesn’t take her seriously and think she is acting rather puerile, and tries to dissuade her. Early the next morning, Norman is sent off on location filming but suddenly becomes ill. He tries to send a message to her but forgets her address, which makes Esther believe that he is rather duplicitous, and the whole thing was a scam. Knowing that she can return to the band anytime, Esther remains positive, and isn’t disheartened in any way. Instead she secures herself a job as a carhop and a TV commercial singer, proving to Norman that she can accomplish anything on her own. When Norman returns he tries to locate Esther, but Esther has since moved address. It is not until Norman hears her singing on a television commercial that he unearths where she is and finds her. At first the studio head Oliver Niles ( Charles Bickford ) believes that Esther Blodgett is just one of Norman’s current obsessions. Oliver doesn’t have much faith in Norman’s judgment and is unaware that Esther exudes an abundance of talent. He however casts her in a small role, and the studio arbitrarily changes her name to Vicki Lester. As soon as Oliver hears Vicki sing, he discovers that she really does have a gift. He is that impressed that he casts her in an eminent musical. Upon it’s release the film received critical acclaim, and Vicki Lester’s career escalates to great heights. In the meantime the friendship between Vicki and Norman blossoms into a love affair and the couple marry contiguously after Norman proposes to her.
At first Norman tries to keep the marriage alive by trying to remain sober and retaining his facetious personality, but as Vicki’s career continues to ascend to an even greater pinnacle, Norman finds his status at the studio precipitating to unemployment until eventually he gets swept into the cobweb of dipsomania. Perturbed about Norman’s welfare, Vicki acknowledges that Norman needs help, but admits to the fact that he has been trying endlessly to address his problem, but the whole crisis is exigent, so Norman enters a sanitarium in the hopes that he can elude his addiction to alcohol. Supportive of Vicki’s concern, Niles is amenable in offering Norman a part in the upcoming film they are set to make, hoping that a new picture might be a small increment in improving Maine’s life. When Oliver talks with Norman at the sanitarium, Norman promises Niles that he’s going to make it a strong desideratum to stop drinking. Will Norman be able to escape his old lifestyle of alcohol abuse, or will he get caught in the abyss of alcoholism once again?
“A Star Is Born” has always been my favorite Judy movie, and it’s also one of the first classic films that I was introduced to, so it remains special to me right up to this day. This 1954 version is the remake of the 1937 version starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The film was also remade again in 1976, this time pairing Barbra Streisand in the role with Kris Kristofferson. While I don’t usually like remakes, I strongly feel that this is the most eminent version. In my opinion the 1976 version is very prosaic, and lacks the charm and glamour that the Judy Garland version offers.
Judy Garland delivered her most culminating performance in “A Star Is Born”, proving the fact that she wasn’t just a singer. She was adept at playing solid drama, and her commendable portrayal of Esther Blodgett/ Vicki Lester really augments that assertion. Judy is also the greatest entertainer of all time, and as legend has it she had the most puissant voice of any singer in the twentieth century. Her performances here really epitomize that attestation, most notably in her inimitable rendition of “The Man That Got Away”, which also happens to be my favorite Judy Garland song. Nobody can sing that song as well as Judy could. Her voice was magical, and the way she displayed such raw emotion in just one song is prodigious. I know I’m not the only one that says this, as so many others would agree that Judy deserved to attain the Oscar for her poignant portrayal of Vicki Lester. Sadly though, Grace Kelly received the Oscar that night for her role in “The Country Girl”.
This isn’t just a great movie, it’s a cinematic masterpiece that is superbly crafted with great cinematography as various locations in Los Angeles serves as the location. With meritorious performances by all, “A Star Is Born” will stand the test of time for many decades to come.
The film was re-edited several times. Premiering at 181 minutes, the studio (Warner Bros.) cut the film by 30 minutes despite the objections of director George Cukor and producer Sidney Luft (Judy Garland‘s husband). In 1983, all but 5 minutes of the cut footage was found and re-instated, but some footage had to be reconstructed using production stills.
Cary Grant at first accepted, then turned down the role of Norman Maine, citing semi-retirement as his reason. He reportedly refused to work with ‘Judy Garland’ (I) because he was semi-retired. After Grant’s death, his widow revealed that Garland’s drug addiction made the actor have second thoughts and drop out of the film.
Groucho Marx called Judy Garland not winning an Oscar for A Star Is Born (1954), “the biggest robbery since Brink’s.” Hedda Hopper later reported that her loss to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954) was the result of the closest Oscar vote up till that time that didn’t end in a tie, with just six votes separating the two. In any event, it was a heartbreak from which she never really recovered and which has remained a matter of some controversy ever since.
Judy Garland did not attend the 1955 Academy Awards, where she was nominated as Best Actress for her portrayal of Vicki Lester in A Star Is Born (1954), because she was in hospital after giving birth to her third child and only son Joey Luft.
Esther Blodgett: “Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”
Esther Blodgett: [Norman has finished looking through Esther’s scrapbook] “You know as much about me as I do myself. But…you see how long it’s taken me to get this far. Now, all I need is just a little luck.”
Norman Maine: “What kind of luck?”
Esther Blodgett: “Oh, the kind of luck that every girl singer with a band dreams of–one night a big talent scout from a big record company might come in and he’ll let me make a record.”
Norman Maine: “Yes, and then?”
Esther Blodgett: “Well, the record will become number one on the Hit Parade, it’ll be played on the jukeboxes all over the country…and I’ll be made.”
Esther Blodgett: “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll lay on a whole supply of lipstick and we’ll celebrate all over the wall.”
Judy Garland: Born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10th, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Died: June 22nd, 1969 in Chelsea, London. Age 47. Cause of death: Barbiturate overdose.
James Mason: Born James Neville Mason on May 15th, 1909 in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, UK. Died: July 27th, 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Written by Crystal Kalyana.