For my reviews of the other versions, click the following links:
Please tell me this is better than the Streisand-Kristofferson one.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Judy Garland (THE WIZARD OF OZ ) and James Mason (stuff I’ve never seen or heard of). In support, we have Charles Bickford (stuff I’ve never seen or heard of), Jack Carson (ARSENIC AND OLD LACE ), and Tommy Noonan (stuff I’ve never seen or heard of).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have George Cukor, known for BORN YESTERDAY (1950) and WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (1932). Wait, so this dude remade his own movie twenty-two years later? Damn, can’t wait to see the first product then. Penning the screenplay is Moss Hart, known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of. The composer is Ray Heindorf, known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Sam Leavitt, known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Folmar Blangsted, known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of.
This is my honest opinion of: A STAR IS BORN
Norman Maine (James Mason) is a big Hollywood producer. He is also a notorious drunk and has fallen from grace in recent years. One night at a club, he watches a young and talented woman named Esther (Judy Garland) sing her heart out and becomes instantly drawn to her and convinces her to make a name for herself in the film industry. However, as her rise to fame keeping climbing, and their budding romance grows, Norman is faced with the very real reality that his time in the limelight is fading out, contributing to his alcoholism.
Hell yeah, this was a lot better than the ’76 remake. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of comparing and contrasting, but I am literally watching a bunch of these remakes, to having something to compare and contrast when the 2018 version comes out, so I guess I won’t be able to avoid it.
First and foremost, the one thing that this movie has over ’76 ASIB (A Star is Born) is legitimate charm. Yes, yes, I said Streisand and Kristofferson were good in their roles, but what I mean by that is that Mason was charming. Kristofferson didn’t churn out a bad performance, or anything, but he wasn’t nearly as charismatic or as, well frankly, fun to watch. When Norman is drunk, he’s kind of funny, stumbling in on a stage performance and kind of going along with it as the performers try to get him off stage. But even when it’s for more dramatic reasons, you feel his pain and depression. You understand why he feels so small and inadequate, so you always feel sorry for the guy. But obviously his character isn’t just a drunk. There’s scenes where he’s being good friends with Oliver (Charles Bickford), there’s scenes where he’s passionately talking up Esther, and feeding off of her energy, it’s just a much more engaging role. With Kristofferson, I didn’t mind watching him, but with Mason, I wanted to watch him.
And speaking of energy and wanting to watch someone, holy mother of God, where has Garland been all my life?! I mean, I knew she was both a talented singer and actress, thanks to WIZARD OF OZ, but this… this was on a whole different level, man. She’s not just a home run. She’s a grade A, bonafide, class act in this film. She’s got everything from scenes that will break your heart, make you laugh, make you smile, the whole enchilada. One of my favorite scenes that I will seriously take to the grave with me is when Esther and Norman are in their loft and she breaks out into a song and dance number enacting a scene from her latest film (if I remember correctly), and she’s basically just using her living room pillows, lamp shades, all to perfectly illustrate how the song and dance number will go. As I laugh at Esther’s boundless energy as she rushes from one side of the room to the other, so does Norman. This scene on its own is the perfect scene to showcase just what Garland is capable of and how flawlessly she commands the screen.
Now, I could go on and on about the praises that I could dish out about this movie, but I do have my fair share of gripes.
For starters, three hours long?! Jeez, and here I was complaining about the two and half hour length of ’76 ASIB, but this length was ridiculous. I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much as the movie does mercifully have an intermission half way through, and I decided to stop watching this at around 2:00 AM, so I didn’t sit through this entire thing in one go. I don’t think I could survive that.
But that’s small fish. Time for the marlins, am I right?
At about forty minutes into the flick, the movie does something rather odd. It stops with… for a lack of better phrases and descriptions, “motion pictures” and does a montage consisting of nothing but still frames. Artistically, this doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world, especially considering the fifties where not everything was a cliché yet, but what really put my brain the blender was how this fifteen minute sequence was still randomly interlaced with motion shots, which seemed utterly pointless. The still shots show Esther saying goodbye to her former bandmates to go off and work in the movies. That seems like it’s worthy to see those emotions. But nope. Still shots. But then the interlaced movement is of nothing but randomness. I don’t even think I could properly describe it. The point is, it felt highly unnecessary and was really jarring. And this isn’t even exclusive to this one bit. It happens again a little more than an hour in, but this series of still shots don’t last fifteen minutes, so it was a wonder why they even bothered with them at all. And they never come back. Ever. Not toward the end of the second half of the movie, not once during the second half, it was just reserved for those couple moments. Man, I still don’t get that.
And remorsefully, the romance between Esther and Norman felt contrived. It really did to me. First off, their romance doesn’t blossom until the second half of the movie. So it’s a whole new dynamic that the movie is introducing to us more than half way through the story. What the hell is up with this and the ’76 one? Why can’t these movies nail their building-chemistry. I never saw them once exchange loving glances, or go on a date, nothing to indicate that romance was in the cards for them, until Esther just blurts out the proposal to him. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather watch Esther and Norman be a happy couple than Esther and John in ’76, but both suffer from not developing their relationships at a sensible pace.
Overall, I really like this movie. It has wonderful acting, terrific visuals, great direction, fantastic writing, I hope this is considered a classic of the fifties and one of Garland’s best movies. There’s some creative choices that I didn’t understand, both in the narrative and the technical aspects of the movie, but between the two ASIBs that I’ve seen so far, this is my favorite and I encourage anyone to see this, especially if you’re a fan of Judy Garland. I hear the ’37 version, and WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? are just as good, so I can’t wait to see them. This movie didn’t settle for the little dream. It went for the big one.
My honest rating for A STAR IS BORN: a strong 4/5