For my reviews of the other versions, click the following links:
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman, Neil Hamilton, Gregory Ratoff, and Louise Beavers, all known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of.
Now for the crew. Directing, we have George Cukor, known for A STAR IS BORN and BORN YESTERDAY (1950). Co-writing the screenplay is Jane Murfin and Ben Markson, both known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of. Composing the score is Max Steiner, known for ARCENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), CASABLANCA (1942), and GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). The cinematographer is Charles Rosher, known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of. Finally, the co-editors are Del Andrews and Jack Kitchin, both known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of.
This is my honest opinion of: WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?
DISCLAIMER: Sorry for the lack of a trailer, but for the life of me, I can’t freakin’ find one. My initial thought was, “Maybe movie trailers weren’t invented yet,” but nope, I looked that up and movie trailers have been around as far back as 1913. So why exactly I can’t find a trailer on Youtube for this movie, or anywhere on the internet for that matter, I haven’t the foggiest idea. So if anyone finds one, please let me know, and I’ll be your best friend forever and ever. My review feels naked without one.
Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) is a spunky wannabe actress currently working in a restaurant that gets a lot of famous Hollywood talent. She finally gets herself noticed by the alcoholic, but famous director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman) and goes in for a bit role in his newest film. Though it doesn’t pan out great, Mary tries desperately to improve herself overnight and wins Max over. Soon after, she’s won over producers and movie-goers alike, becoming one of the biggest names in movies, and even gets married to a big polo player named Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton). However, the life of stardom soon takes ugly turns as her fame eats away at her marriage and tests Mary’s loyalties and convictions as both an actress and a person.
Man, this is going to be a weird review. I say that because, while you can clearly see how A Star is Born grew from this story, this is both very similar, yet wildly different from its successors. But here we go. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination and it’s likely that I am just so bias toward ASIBs ’37 and ’54 that I can’t help but be extra critical, but I do have to try and be fair.
First and foremost, the romance in this movie isn’t quite as integral as it is in the remakes. Actually, there is no romance between Mary and Max. It’s all with Lonny. But I don’t think the function of the romance is there for us as an audience to invest in emotionally. The remakes are very character driven, whereas this one is more thematically driven. Every beat that Mary goes through is a lesson for any and all newcomers to the world of the film industry, for the most part. The days of making an impression on a director or producer chowing down on a meal are long over. But, as far as being passively-aggressively told that you’re not a good actor, but working on your craft to better yourself, working your way up the proverbial food chain, and a splash of luck, and likely a good support system, and you’ve got yourself a well of resources and influence. Like, Mary would likely have never bagged a famous athlete of a husband if she wasn’t an actress. But then when scandal hits, you have no privacy, no time to yourself, and as Saxe says, “You belong to the public.” It’s all explored and serves the narrative very well.
My only legitimate complaint about the movie is how much time is dedicated to the relationship between Mary and Lonny. I know, I said it wasn’t the focus of the story, and for all intents and purposes it isnt, but the way it’s handled doesn’t really fit either the movie’s narrative, or the tone. Lonny practically forces her to go on a date with him, despite her quasi-rejection. However, when she doesn’t actually show up, he literally breaks into her home, while she’s trying to sleep, and bridal carries her to the date. Even when she ends up finding this charming, despite how deeply disturbing it is, she refuses to eat caviar and he forces it in her mouth. None of this scene has any charm to it whatsoever. It’s plain and simple kidnapping and abuse. And yet these two characters get married and end up having a kid together. While I certainly never bought into the relationship between Esther and John in ASIB ’76, as I felt he was too aggressive in his advances and she taking in his “charms” too quickly and undeservedly, it was never… this.
I may argue that Mary Evans is the best version of her character than any of the Esthers. Now don’t get wrong, I loved all of the actresses that play Esther, but the more I think about it, I think Mary is the only one that has a legit character arch. I think I mentioned this in my ASIB ’37 review, but if not, I feel like all of the Esthers never really change from the moment they’re introduced, to the end of the movies. Mary starts off plucky and self-assured, but by the end of it, she’s fed up with life of Hollywood and retires to France where she seems to have mellowed out in terms of her personality. I won’t say it’s anything grand, but it’s more of an arc than the Esthers, who never seem to change their mannerisms. But honestly, if you’re going to commit to the wide-eyed and hopeful youths, as opposed to the seriously confident youth that is portrayed here, then you won’t get any better than either Gaynor or Garland.
And I might say that the ending isn’t quite as powerful as it’s remakes. Each of them end on a bittersweet note, continuing their careers to honor their disgraced husbands. This one wanted to end on a happier note by having Mary abandon the world of Hollywood and live in peace, reuniting with her son and possibly patching things up with her ex-husband. In the remakes, it’s always been about honoring what they started and showing respect for the one who helped life them so high, but this one does feel like Mary is being disrespectful toward Max’s memory. That may not necessarily be the case, as anyone would understand why Mary wanted to leave all that behind her, but yeah, every other movie seemed to remind the Esthers that the show must go on. I acknowledge that this movie is more thematically driven, but this is almost saying, “If crap hits the fan, GET OUT OF THE INDUSTRY AND RUN AS FAR AWAY AS YOU CAN!” The other films didn’t do that. They stuck with it, faced their doubts and fears, but they pushed right on through their pain to keep doing what they loved.
Overall, this film is good. In some ways, it’s artistically better than the remakes. But it does feel like it loses focus and seems to take a side that does a disservice to itself. But, I have to say that I don’t even dislike it. It has its charms and likable characters, and it’s only ninety minutes, making it the shortest of these movies, so I say it was worth my time. As a recommendation, yeah, check it out. It’s not my favorite of the movies, but it’s good.
My honest rating for WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?: 4/5