A Star is Born-1954
Starring-Judy Garland, James Mason
Scott’s Review #175
Reviewed September 25, 2014
A Star Is Born was, at the time, considered Judy Garland’s much touted comeback film and was very expensive for Warner Bros. to produce . Garland delivers her finest career performance in my opinion (yes, even better than her portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz). The performance is multi-faceted and complex- it is comical, silly, poised, emotional, dramatic, and heartfelt.
Playing Esther Blodgett- later changed to Vicki Lester for more Hollywood potential, she is a struggling lounge singer who meets a successful actor, named Norman Maine, played wonderfully by James Mason. Esther saves Norman from public humiliation at a function where he attempts to take the stage while inebriated. They strike up a friendship and he convinces her to pursue films and, through a series of misunderstandings, she assumes he has ditched her. Determined to become a star anyway, Esther forges her path to success on her own. Norman and Esther reconnect and Norman recognizes her talent and pursues her both professionally and romantically. They marry and she becomes a star while his career hits the skids, largely due to his alcoholism. The talented Mason and Garland are at the forefront of the film and are the reasons for its success.
A few key scenes stand out to me as powerful or important- The scene involving a musical number over a dinner of sandwiches in their posh living room is wonderfully merry and light; a delivery boy who does not know who Norman is ruins the mood and causes jealousy to come to a head in his marriage to Esther. Garland’s emotional scenes are excellent- especially the scene in her dressing room where she crumbles, realizing that Mason has hit rock bottom. And the best scene of all is the Academy awards scene where a drunken Norman causes a public spectacle as Esther receives her top honor, spoiling her night, and accidentally hitting her in the face in front of millions. What a forgiving woman Esther is for staying with him and ultimately choosing him at the risk of ruining her career.
An interesting aspect of the story is that Garland’s character is not some ugly duckling that is transformed to Hollywood royalty- she has the talent already, she just needs a break, but is not down on her luck or starving- she makes a decent living with a touring band and she is torn about leaving them. The musical numbers are inspiring and one is reminded why Garland is such a star as she belts them out of the park like nobody’s business, however they do little to further the plot. At times, more often the case in the first half, the film drags a bit, but the second half (post intermission) brilliant and the ending tragic yet heartwarming. Will Esther’s career continue to flourish?
A major, major flaw with the film is the usage of still frames with dialogue overlapping due to lost footage. This makes following the story very tough and the continuity is affected. It also looks ridiculous and for the viewer to be captured by the story only to suddenly view a discolored still shot with audio is disappointing. Surely, this can be corrected. A Star Is Born is the perfect vehicle for Garland to return to her grand position among the Hollywood treasures.