A STAR IS BORN(director: George Cukor; screenwriters: Moss Hart/based on the Dorothy Parker/Alan Campbell/Robert Carson screen play/from a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editor: Folmar Blangsted; music: Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin/Leonard Gershe; cast: Judy Garland (Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester), James Mason (Norman Maine), Jack Carson (Libby), Charles Bickford (Oliver Niles), Tom Noonan (Danny McGuire), Lucy Marlow (A Starlet), Amanda Blake (Susan Ettinger), Irving Bacon (Graves), Hazel Shermet (Libby’s Secretary); Runtime: 170; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sidney Luft; Warner Home Video; 1954)
“Judy Garland, for all her personal problems, shows on the screen why she’s a star.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This musical remake of William Wellman’s 1937 version is even a better realized one than the original; it follows the same plot line and manages to keep a sensible mix of music and weepie melodrama. George Cukor (“A Bill of Divorcement”/ “Adam’s Rib”/”Susan and God”) directs one of Hollywood’s finest musicals. Its source is Cukor’s What Price Hollywood? (1932), where the director ironically commented upon Hollywood and how it only cared for its own by chronicling the downfall of a talented but alcoholic Hollywood movie star. Judy Garland, for all her personal problems, shows on the screen why she’s a star. It’s written by Moss Hart and is based on a Dorothy Parker story. The overlong film was a critical and box office disappointment. This prompted the studio to drastically cut its 180 minutes down to 152, but later came to its senses and restored most of it. I saw it at 170 minutes.

It’s the weepie story of the young singing star, who changes names from Esther Blodgett to Vicki Lester (Judy Garland). She gets a career boost from the downward spiraling star actor named Norman Maine (James Mason), and then tries stopping him from making a drunken fool of himself on stage, The two marry. Her fame and fortune rises while his plummets. Unable to live with this, Norman remains in a drunken stupor (embarrassingly ripped at the Oscar ceremony, where wifey hoists one of those statues). Vicki, at the peak of her career, tearfully quits to be his nursemaid. Hubby can’t handle such sacrifice and chivalrously commits suicide. The inconsolable wife is urged by showbiz friends to go “on with the show” in memory of her late husband.

As a melodrama, this real-life marriage presentation is roaring with an intense fierceness. As a musical, it dusts off the gloom with some lively showstopper numbers. The songs Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin provided for Garland included “The Man That Got Away,” “I’ll Get By,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “Black Bottom,” “Peanut Vendor,” “My Melancholy Baby,” and “Swanee.” The Leonard Gershe contribution to Garland was the classic “Born in a Trunk.”

REVIEWED ON 7/16/2007 /reposted 11/2/08 GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”