Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Star is Born (1954)

A Star is Born tells the story of Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), a promising singer who is noticed by alcoholic actor Norman Maine (James Mason). Impressed by her talent he lands her a screen test which sees her become an actress in films. (spoilers ahead!)
The studio makes her change her name to Vicki Lester and her remarkable singing talent sees her become an overnight sensation. Esther and Norman fall in love, and are married.

For awhile everything goes well for the couple, however whilst Esther's star is on the rise, Norman's is on the decline. He is dropped from the studio and finds himself without work. He becomes increasingly dependant on alcohol.
Esther is nominated for an academy award, and on the night wins the Oscar. Norman arrives late and drunkenly interrupts her acceptance speech, accidentally hitting her as well.
Everything is falling apart for Norman and he spends time in a sanatorium in an attempt  to recover. He appears to have recovered but a chance meeting with studio publicist Matt Libby plunges him into alcoholism again. Libby insults Norman and states he never liked him, a fight ensues, and then Norman disappears, appearing later after being arrested for drunken behaviour. Esther saves him from jail time, and tells studio boss Oliver Niles that she plans on giving up her career in order to help Norman.
Norman overhears their conversation and is devastated at the pain he has caused Esther and by what he has become. He tells her he is going for a swim, but drowns himself in the ocean.
The death is labelled accidental by the press, and Esther is devastated, refusing to see anyone or to do any work. Her old friend Danny convinces her she should not give up the career Norman so desperately wanted to preserve. Esther agrees to appear at a charity benefit, and she appears on stage saying,
"Hello Everybody. This is Mrs Norman Maine"

A Star is Born was Judy Garland's return to films after a four year absence. Frequent illnesses, and drug addictions, earned Judy a reputation of being difficult to work with. It was director George Cukor's first musical and first colour film (he would later go onto direct My Fair Lady). It was a musical remake of a 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.
The film opened to a star studded premiere, with guests including Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford, to name a few!
Despite it's premiere the film failed to do well at the box office, and after its initial release many sequences were cut out. In 1983 a restoration process went underway, with as many scenes as possible being restored, using cut film footage, photographs and sound recording.
Judy Garland was widely believed to win the Oscar that year, so much so that a film crew was set up in her hospital room, where she was resting after giving birth to her son. Grace Kelly won instead however for The Country Girl.

Judy's performance is Oscar worthy, her power as a singer, and her combination of innocence and world weariness create a memorable performance. James Mason is also excellent as her alcoholic actor husband displaying charisma, and a dark side that undermines his life. The musical numbers are wonderful particularly 'The Man That Got Away'.
I thought this was a really good film, that portrays the darker side of Hollywood. The acting is wonderful from everyone, but especially Judy whose star really shines!


If you'd like you can listen to Judy singing 'The Man that Got Away' you can hear it here and watch the premiere here.

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