2022 Blind Spot Series: A Star is Born (1954)


Norman Maine (James Mason) is an aging actor whose drinking away all his good graces. He comes across a performer, Esther (Judy Garland) and is taken with her talent. He makes it his mission to make her a star, all while falling in love with her as well.

Shockingly, the 2018 film is the only version of A Star Is Born that I had seen prior to watching this. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. But I've been trying to watch more of Judy's films and I knew I had to see this. 

I still have the same problems with this version that I did with 2018, and it's just I think the story and the romance between the two leads is gross. This is a little less gross than the 2018 version, but I could never get behind it. Thankfully, Judy Garland gives an absolutely spectacular performance and every time she sang, I was entranced. I loved her in this. James Mason was also very good, but Judy's the star.

This is however a hard movie to love overall since the version I watched was the "remastered" one that included still photographs to replace the missing reels. It's currently available to stream on HBO Max and I kind of wish they would've just cut those pieces out entirely. This movie is 3 hours long and doesn't need to be. It feels a bit unfair, because that's now how the film was intended to be seen, but it's what we have so I can't ignore it.

I'm glad I got around to watching one of Judy's most famous performances. It's easily up there with her best. (Meet Me in St. Louis is still my favorite) 

Grade: C+

Comments

  1. Can you believe she would be 100 yrs old today( i think today is her birthday). I actually love this film and is my favourite of the 3 I have seen I do really like the version with Janet Gaynor and Frédéric March as well. Judy should have wonbthe Oscar that year. I find it sad when her character talks to the producer about her husband and how, ay times, she hates him it must have been so hard for her to say these words because of her addictions and suicide attempts. I still need to see What Price, Hollywood and the Sysr is Born with Babs

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    1. She's tremendous in this, she really should have won. I would like to see the other two just to complete the pack at this point.

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  2. I haven't seen this in ages but I remember being a little lukewarm on it. And outside of Garland I don't remember much about it.

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    1. Garland is amazing. I wish I had seen the version without the extra footage edited in. I get wanting to preserve it, but those moments brought it down for me.

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  3. This and the 1976 version are the ones that I need to see as I would like to do a compare/contrast to the versions. I heard about this remastered version as it was more of an attempt to restore the original version as it was cut down severely without the director's intent and Judy Garland was upset by this. If this is the closest thing to the original take the director wanted, then I'd rather have that than some butchered version.

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    1. I don't know, the added stuff is VERY distracting. I almost wish I could've seen it without it. It's one of the few times I think I would say that about a director's cut. (aside from Snyder's Justice League, which STILL needed an editor. jfc.)

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  4. This is my preferred version of this story, but I tend to agree with you in general. It doesn't hurt to have the star power of both Garland and Mason behind it, and Judy's numbers (Born in a Trunk is pretty great) really make the movie work.

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    1. Born in a Trunk was probably my favorite number. That was excellent.

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  5. I suspected this might be your pick for this month since it’s Judy’s centennial (actually today-the 10th!) so it’s a very fitting watch.

    I understand what you’re saying about the inserted stills, but they do flesh out the story. I have seen both the studio butchered version that was the one available until Ron Haver’s quest to restore what Warners had hacked out resulting in this restored version. That first one was okay, but it was jumpier. For instance, all of Esther’s struggles from the time Danny tells her she’s a fool to believe Norman’s offer until her time in the makeup chair is gone and therefore any sense of the struggle she endures before her big break.

    I suppose the movie could survive without those but along with those now lost scenes incredibly the entire proposal scene as well as the “Lose That Long Face” number that frames her dressing room crisis were eliminated as well! The first is just so tender, funny and lovely and shows them interacting as a couple. Plus it offers the bonus of a snapshot how recording was done at the time. The second is so impactful, a great illustration of the artifice of filmmaking. Judy’s forced frozen smile at the end of the song is chilling. And who cuts two musical performances from a Judy Garland movie!?

    I don’t see Esther and Norman’s pairing as gross (unlike Jackson/Ally’s in the newest, but that is because unlike Norman Jackson is mostly an unappealing pig). After Esther saves Norman’s face, he’s grateful and perhaps a little on the make but once he hears and sees her sing he is awed by her talent and only interested in helping her along. Their mutual love grows slowly. One of my favorite scenes in the picture is when he removes all the gunk the makeup department ladled on her because he recognizes her individuality is what makes her special. The first (non-musical) version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March had a similar scene and I hated that they removed that aspect in the new one. It was a great bonding moment for the characters, a connection that was woefully absent in the Cooper/Gaga film. It also made her devotion to him when he was spiraling down more understandable and her explanation to Oliver on the terrace more impactful. He was there for her when she needed him, how can she walk away now?

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    1. I do agree that Esther and Norman's pairing isn't nearly as uncomfortable as Jackson and Ally's. I'm grateful for that.

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  6. This one also had the strongest all-around supporting cast. Love both Charles Bickford as the understanding studio chief and Tommy Noonan as her laconic pal Danny (how different he is from his other significant role in this period as Marilyn Monroe’s sweet but sappy boyfriend in Gentleman Prefer Blondes). But the real standout is Jack Carson as the viperish Libby. Libby is a detestable human being, a machine without feeling and Carson never makes the mistake of trying to make him likable but still somehow makes this soulless creature memorable and in a way somewhat understandable. After all Norman while at heart a good man would try the patience of even the saintliest person, add in the fact that he hates Libby and it is hard to blame Libby when the chance to finally turn the knife presents itself. Whoever played his role in the update didn’t even come close to making the same impression.

    I know it sounds like I hated the latest version, but I didn’t. I do however despise the 70’s Barbra Streisand one (LOVE her but that flick is a coarse vanity project…. except when she sings). The 2018 one was adequate but comprised, one nearly fatal flaw is the shifting of focus from Vicki/Ally to the renamed Jackson. It’s A Star is Born not A Star is Extinguished!

    Anyway, James Mason is incredibly strong (the initially cast Cary Grant backed out) revealing the layers of a once dynamic man in the throes of an addiction that left unchecked would eventually destroy everything he cares about. The Academy Award speech is squirmingly raw and sad.

    But as you said it’s Judy’s film from top to bottom and she makes the most of it. It goes without saying that her musical moments are impeccable (The Man That Got Away is a mini movie all by itself!), she is really at the peak of her powers but her dramatic work is equally strong. Her showpiece is that dressing room scene but the car ride with Norman, her sharp rebuke of Danny, the funeral, the moment backstage when she sees the heart Norman drew on the wall years before (a nice touch-Danny is with her and since he was there when it happened he understood its meaning) are all great and the ending never fails to hit me in the gut. How she lost the Best Actress Oscar will always mystify and madden me.

    Unfortunately, the filming was trouble plagued. Not all of Judy’s doing, for instance Warner decided after weeks of filming to change processes and shoot in widescreen necessitating all the footage up to that point to be ditched at great cost, but when the movie wasn’t as profitable as hoped she was blamed, and it cooled her comeback. She didn’t make another film until Judgement at Nuremberg seven years later.

    Sorry I did go on so but this is my favorite Judy film. Meet Me in St. Louis is fourth behind this, her last film I Could Go on Singing and Summer Stock. Ziegfeld Girl rounds out the top five.

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    1. Never apologize for long comments! I'm happy you take the time to write them. I can't believe she lost either after seeing this. I haven't seen The Country Girl to compare Grace Kelly, but I have a hard time believing anything came close to this.

      I need to see I Could Go On Singing and Ziegfeld Girl! I'm adding them to my queue.

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    2. Glad you're digging deeper into Judy's filmography!

      Remarkably she appeared in two films with Ziegfeld's name in the title, Ziegfeld Girl and Ziegfeld Follies. Her part is quite substantial in the first (plus she performs an exquisitely beautiful version of "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" and heads a gigantic production number "Minnie from Trinidad"). Great cast too-along with Judy it stars Jimmy Stewart, Lana Turner (it was the film that firmly established her as a star) and Hedy Lamaar.

      Ziegfeld Follies is very episodic (constructed along the lines the actual Follies were on stage) and she only appears in one vignette-a number called "A Great Lady Has an Interview" that spotlights her comedic skill. The film is hit and miss but beside Judy's segment has some great pieces. It's the only time Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly danced together. There is a surreal segment with Lucille Ball all bespangled and feathered in pink cracking a whip over a group of chorus girls decked out in black sequined cat outfits! Basically most if not all the musical interludes are worth seeing (and quite elaborate) but many of the comic bits fall flat. Still its worth seeking out.

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    3. I was able to add Ziegfeld to my Netflix DVD queue! I Could Go On Singing seems a bit harder to find.

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