A Star is Born (1954)
May 2, 2000 (Updated Jan 5, 2001)
Review by BrianKoller
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:cast, script, direction, story, sets, costumes, score
Cons:some scenes have been lost
Judy Garland made one of the greatest comebacks in film history in 1954. Her career at MGM, as well as her marriage to producer Vincente Minnelli, had fallen apart by 1950. Her downslide was blamed on drug abuse, from alcohol and prescription pills.
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Fortunately, Garland was a great singer and was still famous. She didn't need films to make a living, as she could tour as a singer. However, her third marriage was to Sidney Luft. Like Minnelli, he was a film producer, and he was able to talk Warner Brothers into funding an ideal vehicle for Garland.
The project was a remake of the A Star is Born (1937). The original film told the story of a Hollywood actor whose career has fallen due to alcoholism, but whose unheralded wife becomes a famous actress.
Garland had been featured in an early radio production of the story. To take advantage of Garland's talents, her character was enhanced to be a singer and dancer, as well as an actress. An attempt was made to cast Grant as the boozy actor, but he refused the part as he was afraid that it would play too much as comedy.
James Mason landed the role instead, and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Mason would later have a similarly self-destructive role in Lolita (1962).
In supporting roles, Charles Bickford plays a sympathetic studio mogul, Jack Carson plays a cynical, hostile publicity manager, and Tommy Noonan is a piano composer who seems a bit sweet on Garland.
In real life, it had been Garland whose Hollywood career had gone down the drain. Perhaps the irony wasn't lost on MGM, who had been first offered the project, but turned it down. However, the film's thick plot and compelling storyline also allowed for numerous musical numbers, allowing Garland to showcase her great singing voice.
For those who have never heard Garland sing anything other than "Over the Rainbow", this film could be a watershed. Garland's voice had both a soaring warmth and a blasting strength. While she lacked the operatic capabilities of Deanna Durbin, her verve and range was much greater.
And Garland never sang better, or had better songs, than on A Star is Born. Her performance of "The Man That Got Away" is one of the greatest moments in cinema. I've put an streamed real audio sample of the song at filmsgraded.savantnetworks.com. Have a listen, and be prepared to be blown away.
The original running time of A Star is Born was three hours. Nearly half an hour was cut from the film under the orders of studio executives. Most of the lost footage re-appeared in a 1983 restoration by Ronald Haver. In some cases, the soundtrack existed, but the corresponding film could not be found. Photographic stills are substituted in their place. Fortunately, this is only for a few minutes. The film's director, George Cukor, died the day before the premier of the restored version.
Cukor had earlier made a film with a similar story, What Price Hollywood? (1932).
Singin' in the Rain (1952) is a better film. But no other musical is as great as A Star is Born (1954). Certainly not the 1976 remake starring Barbara Streissand, although "Evergreen" did deserve the Academy Award for Best Song that was somehow denied "The Man That Got Away".
In all, A Star is Born received six Academy Award nominations. They were for Best Actor (Mason), Best Actress (Garland), Best Score, Best Song, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. But On the Waterfront proved to be too much competition, and A Star is Born was shut out on Oscar night. (95/100)
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