Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Star is Born

Movie Name: A Star is Born
Year of Release: 1954
Director: George Cukor
Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan, Lucy Marlow, Amanda Blake, Irving Bacon
Genre: Drama, Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
By the time "A Star is Born" premiered on October of 1954, director George Cukor had already had another film premiere earlier in the year, "It Should Happen to You", with Judy Holliday, whom he had directed to an Oscar win with "Born Yesterday". The director was a veteran, having started his career in the 30s, and "A Star is Born" though not the huge commercial success everyone expected it to be, turned out to be one of his most iconic films. The film is the second version of this story, credited to a variety of individuals, including Dorothy Parker and William Wellman. The film follows the story of Esther Blodgett, a singer who has made a steady career and who is now consistently working with a band. In one of her performances, she catches the attention of drunken movie star Norman Maine, who is captivated by her presence, charm and singing prowess. He tracks her down, and makes it a point of having the studio realize the enormity of her talent. Esther manages to become a contract player for the studio, who in the meantime changes her name to Vicki Lester, allowing for her star to start shining in lead roles. As Esther sees herself suddenly in the spotlight, Norman's career and in particular his behavior off-camera catches up with him. Nonetheless, they both fall in love and get married, with Esther's career going from win to win, whereas Norman's fades quickly, haunted by ghosts of alcoholism.
"A Star is Born" is a story that has thus far been adapted to the big screen 4 times, with the first showing up in 1937 (directed by William Wellman), followed by Cukor's version, Frank Pierson's version of 1976 and more recently, the award winning version from Bradley Cooper. George Cukor's is one of the most celebrated versions of this story, and justifiably so. It's a film that, even with the cuts imposed by the studio, tells a story of a tragic relationship, where the love and rapport between these two people, who are also artists, though dramatically terminated, serves as a testament to the sacrifices people do for their loved ones. It's also an iconic film featuring wonderful music acts, with interesting film within a film artifices, relying on the magnetism and versatility of Judy Garland, who is wonderful in this role (it would become one of her most celebrated roles, alongside Victor Fleming's "The Wizard of Oz" and Vincent Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis"). The cuts imposed by the film have a way of removing some of its impact, the same thing going for the musical numbers that at times feel a bit interwoven within each other, but there's such beauty throughout this film, that it is easily understood its charisma. The supporting cast is equally strong, even if they don't have quite as much to work with. James Mason is wonderful as Norman, even if the character is never entirely flushed out, the same going for Jack Carson, Charles Bickford and Tommy Noonan. The cinematography from Sam Leavitt is beautiful as are the costumes from Jean Louis and Mary Ann Nyberg. A classic always worth revisiting.