Friday, June 24, 2011

TOP 300 MOVIES OF ALL TIME: #241 " A STAR IS BORN " (1954)

No, no, not the crappy Barbara Streisand version, but the original remake of the 1937 classic "A Star Is Born". In 1954 George Cukor directed the remake starring Judy Garland and James Mason in the leads.

Judy Garland plays Esther Blodgett a singer for a small time band who is discovered by over the hill and often drunk Norman Maine, former Hollywood leading man portrayed by James Mason. He gets her the screen, they change her name to Vicki Lester and hits stardom right out of the gate. Simple plot, cut and dried it seems except that the rising star of Vicki Lester contrasted to the falling star of Norman Maine, now married adds the necessary tension in a stark fashion.

The musical numbers in this film are not the same as Judy Garland's previous films. They are strictly in the context of her character as a singer. There is no musical centerpiece that undermines a true drama.

Judy Garland will eternally be remembered as Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz", a role that permanently etched in the imagination of generations of film goers the world over. It is however "A Star Is Born" that defines Judy Garland as a mature leading lady, who like so many of her musical compatriots demonstrated a stunning depth of dramatic skills as an actress. This film resurrected her career, thought be over after production halted at MGM on "Annie Get Your Gun". Fortunately, Betty Hutton would fill that role and leave her mark on the defining moment of her career.

Warner Brothers did as it had a decade before with Joan Crawford sought to reinvent Judy Garland and succeeded where this production is concerned. Sadly, for her newly realized dramatic qualities, Judy Garland never had a fully revived career, but her performance in this film would serve as the predicate to many fine dramatic roles before she left the world prematurely in 1968. Her performance in "Judgement at Nuremberg" is profound. Her part opposite Burt Lancaster in "A Child Is Waiting" is moving and her final roll opposite Dirk Bogarde in "I Could Go On Singing" may be a more personal insight into her life as portrayed fictitiously on screen.

Judy Garland was nominated for Best Actress for her role and she was widely favored to win the Oscar, but lost out to Grace Kelly for "The Country Girl". A shame really.

Tom Noonan has a great moment near the end as he rallies his friend to gather herself up in the wake of personal tragedy. This film also represents the high water mark for another fine actor who deserves more notice. That is of course Jack Carson who plays the PR guy for the film studio. I saw this movie once about 25 years ago and it remains vivid. It is great film making but also representative of real human potential when given the opportunity to expand your horizons. People remember Judy Garlands voice, but this film is a tribute to a great actress.

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