Like JOHNNY GUITAR, A STAR IS BORN is another from my first year of movie-going, aged 8. It must have been one of the first films I saw,
(my parents must have taken me, my mother and I went to I COULD GO ON SINGING later) again I was fascinated by the widescreen images, that beach house with the sea reflected in the windows as the man goes into the sea, and that slap scene at the awards. Over the years it's richness and complexity have got to me, that lustrous rich Warnercolor, and George Hoyningen-Heune's color co-ordination (a Cukor regular). I do not see it as a musical as such, but as a drama with music. For a big film it is surprisingly intimate - there are really only 5 people in it: Esther/Vicki and Norman Maine, Charles Bickford as Oliver Niles the avuncular head of the studio, Jack Carson as Libby the vicious press agent, and Tommy Noonan as the bandleader who is also there for Judy. The Cinemascope images still dazzle, that movie premier, Norman being drunk, then when he takes the lipstick and makes the heart symbol on the wall, and later when he awakes and sits up in bed remembering .... that amusing scene where he is on the prowl in the nightclub and then busting in on "The Man That Got Away", and the lovely scene at the studio in the morning where Esther is getting ready for her screen test after being made over by the experts and he wipes away all the gunk off her face and a radiant lovely Estehr emerges. Later we have Judy's "I am discovered on a rather simple divan" for the "Somewhere there is a Someone" number, and of course during "Born in a Trunk" the drunk interrupting with "sing Melancholy Baby" and the agent going "Yes!" to Judy's "No!" as she does the rounds. Then at the studio "We can see your face" as she plays an extra, and "Go to L" when Esther signs on for her paycheck only to find she is now Vicki Lester! So, a film of great moments, from the Moss Hart screenplay, the Harold Arlen songs and that marvellous look of the film. Then those dramatic scenes later on, as Vicki begs Oliver to give Norman one more chance, and her appearance at his court hearing...
My best friend Stan had the soundtrack album which we played a lot, and then in 1970 my 1963 "Films and Filming" penfriend Gary from Brisbane arrived in London and took me to a screeing at the old Starlight Cinema at The Mayfair Hotel - it was marvellous seeing it on the big screen again, as back in that pre-video/dvd age one only saw movies at cinemas or on small black and white televisions!
So I relished the 2-disk dvd release with the restored scenes which make more sense of the story, and those 3 alternate versions of "The Man That Got Away" all as brilliant as the version in the film, with great Scope compositions and Judy being a powerhouse as ever. I was never a total Garland fan, but this and I COULD GO ON SINGING are two special films for me. It is actually Mason who is astounding here - it is a multi-layed marvellous performance, if it hadn't been Brando's year, James should surely have been best actor. That scene where he overhears Bickford and Garland talking about him is so brilliantly realised, the irony of course being that it was Garland who was the ravaged self-destructive star who was really all washed up in Hollywood by 1954. One only hopes all the early admirers of the film got to get the dvd restoration, as they will love it even more (particularly David McGillivray, author of "The Hollywood Musical"). Bob Willoughby's photographs [above] from the set are terrific too, as per his book "The Hollywood Special".
Of course I went to the Streisand version in 1976, and of course loathed it - that finished my Streisand fandom for a very long time, even Pauline Kael her great admirer was appalled. Suddenly it was A STAR IS BORING. Beyonce (going by her show at Glastonbury) could be marvellous with the right co-star if the new proposed version by Clint Eastwood goes ahead .... but we will always have Cukor's definitive version.
One can see now though why classy new girl Grace Kelly won the best actress Oscar that year (for looking dowdy in a cardigan) - Judy at 32 was considered an old-timer and difficult, it seems Jack Warner lost faith in the movie, which was a difficult shoot, and cut it to fit more screenings. Judy's weight and looks vary from scene to scene, but that slim look of hers in the award scene in the movie was something that I just found totally fascinating...
Another marvellous item on the restored dvds is the premiere footage, including that one in LA when everyone came out for Judy, one realises what a big event the film was and they all wanted Judy to be a hit. There's Doris Day, Peggy Lee waiting to be recognised, Debbie and Eddie, Tony and Janet, Liz and Wilding, Joan Crawford joshing with her old MILDRED PIERCE co-star Jack Carson, who was the MC, and all hollywood's hot shots, including Lauren Bacall [the woman who knew everyone] lighting up a cigarette next to Judy and Jack Warner - oh, and a bashful Raymond Burr "just back from Korea" with a cute young marine in tow!. Fascinating stuff ... I want to see it all again now. A STAR IS BORN will always be in my top 10.