For my reviews of the other versions, click the following links:
Second remake of this movie coming right up.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Janet Gaynor (stuff I’ve never heard of or seen) and Fredric March (stuff I’ve never heard of or seen).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have William A. Wellman, known for stuff I’ve never heard of or seen. Co-writing the screenplay, making for a red flag total of three writers, we have Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Robert Carson all known for stuff I’ve never heard of or seen. Composing the score is Max Stein, known for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), CASABLANCA (1942), and GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). The cinematographer is W. Howard Greene, known for stuff I’ve never heard of or seen. Finally, the editor is James E. Newcom, known for stuff I’ve never heard of or seen.
This is my honest opinion of: A STAR IS BORN
Esther (Janet Gaynor) is a small town girl who loves the movies and has dreams of becoming an actress. Despite the lack of faith in her from her family, her grandmother Lettie (May Robson) is supportive and gives her enough money to get her to Hollywood to chase her dreams. However, Esther is taken aback by how competitive the industry is and doesn’t quite catch a break. That is… until she meets the troubled, yet charming drunk actor, Norman Maine (Fredric March), who has certainly fallen from grace in recent times for his drunken antics. But he sees Esther’s talent and wants her to get her foot in Hollywood and be the big star that he knows she deserves to be. But as her star begins to shine, and his name fades from the limelight, Norman’s struggles with his alcoholism begin to manifest greater than before.
You know what? I might actually like this movie more than the ’54 ASIB (A STAR IS BORN). Yeah, I said it, I think this is my favorite of the three ASIB movies that I’ve seen so far.
I reiterate, I am not a fan of comparing and contrasting and would rather express my opinion of the film on its own merits, but I am literally intending to see the 2018 film with the intention of comparing and contrasting. So… whatever.
The first thing I took note was just how mercifully shorter this movie was. I complained about how long ASIB ’76 was, which was two and a half hours. But I was floored by the length of ASIB ’54, which was three hours long. Funny enough, it was a much better film. But this movie is only two hours. Pretty standard length, so I was happy about that.
Right out of the gate, this does something different from the other two, and that’s seeing Esther at her home before going to chase her dreams. We see her with her family, who is admittedly the cliché family that stomps on dreams instead of encouraging while informing of risks. However, I do admit to thinking that Granny Lettie is one of the most awesome grandmothers ever portrayed on screen. She’s all like, “I was a young woman once. Pretty too. Prettier than you.” Let’s not forget that silly threat. “Don’t tell a soul where you got that money, or I’ll have you arrested for robbing me.” I couldn’t stop laughing, she was so great. But more than that she gives Esther her motivation to chase her dreams and does come back into play at the end.
Although I’ve yet to see WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?, so far, this is only movie out of the three that actually properly builds on the relationship between Esther and Norman. In ASIB ’76, it was rushed early on in the movie. In ASIB ’54, it’s rushed in the middle. For the most part, Esther and Norman barely speak to each other in the first half. Yes, they do, but the romance isn’t given time to blossom. Sure, Norman likes her talent and may even find her attractive, but her attraction isn’t made known until the second half of the movie. Too much time dedicated to building Esther up as a star. But in this movie, that’s exactly what they don’t do. Yes, Norman is instantly attracted to her, and he’s a flirt, but she’s not attracted to him. She’s not charmed by him yet. She makes him keep his distance. She literally tells him that she’s disappointed about meeting him when he asks…. hilariously breaking plates in the process. He has to work for her affection. Sure, it’s not for very long, but it’s more time granted than the later films, and they have a longer runtime than this one. Sure, they get married pretty quick, but even that can kind of be explained. He proposes at first, she rejects him, listing reasons why, and he promises to clean up his act. The scene fades out and fades in to their marriage. At least here, I can probably guess that time has gone by and even though we don’t see them date and get closer, it’s a better showing of passage of time than the other movies offered.
Also, I really enjoy how Esther’s stage name “Vicki Lester,” is decided in this movie as opposed to ASIB ’54. In that one, it was a randomly generated name for her. In this one, there was thought put into it. Esther’s full name is “Esther Victoria” and a last name that I’m too lazy to look up. But “Vicki” comes from her middle name, and “Lester” comes from rhyming her first name. That’s really clever, if you ask me.
By the way, some non-legit complaints. Scotch and soda?! Was… was that a thing?! Ew! Drinking in the ’30s was gross! Oh, and @#$% the ’30s, man! Six dollars for weekly rent for an apartment?! Suck my-
Also, this movie is making it clear that Esther is the more focused character. After all, the title of the movie is, “A Star is Born,” which I like a lot better than it’s later remakes. Both ASIBs ’76 and ’54 change this up by making Norman the central character. On the one hand, I can see why. You can easily argue that it’s really Norman who has the character arc when comparing him to Esther. Esther, in all three versions that I’ve seen, mostly remains true to who she was from the moment she’s introduced, up to the closing credits. Norman is the one who faces his alcoholism, his fading star as the younger and more popular talent overshadows him, and comes to the realization that he’s holding her back both as an artist and a person, so he clears himself out of the equation, though I think ASIB ’76 fails to explore this in a satisfying way. Still I can see why the changes were made in the later remakes, but here’s my two cents. I think the title itself needs a change. “A Star is Born,” the star being Esther. However, in retrospect, the story is more about the both of them. One is achieving her dreams of being a famous something or other, and the other is struggling with lack of relevance. It’s sort of a cop out when think about it, if the movie is going to be about the other person. But that’s clearly something that ASIB 2018 won’t do, so I’m just going to have to accept it. Unless… I become a super famous filmmaker and remake it… for the sixth bloody time… and change the title.
Overall, I adore this film, and for many reasons, is my favorite so far. Gaynor is precious, and oh so talented, March delivers oodles of charm, humor, and vulnerability, it’s an all around great movie. I may argue that some things may be better done in ASIB ’54, like the Oscar scene, but there’s so few problems that I have with this movie that I can’t say that I care too much. I would love to see this movie again and even own it. In fact, this is what I’m going to try and buy from Amoeba in Hollywood come October (it’s currently June 22 as I finish this review). As a recommendation, if you haven’t seen this classic, you’re missing out. It’s a wonderful version. This star shines blindingly.
My honest rating for A STAR IS BORN: 5/5