Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Star Is Born and those Fifties dramas

Nice to catch 1951's A PLACE IN THE SUN again on television, along with SUNSET BOULEVARD and ALL ABOUT EVE, those great early '50s dramas, and of course, as the decade wore on, those Kazan classics like EAST OF EDEN, and the later 50s dramas like ANATOMY OF A MURDER or the over-heated SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER or Susan Hayward classics like I WANT TO LIVE or I'LL CRY TOMORROW, or Magnani or .... See Drama-1 label for my first post here on all those ...

Now, a few more comments on Cukor's A STAR IS BORN, that 1954 musical drama that just keeps looking better and better each time I see it.  There is quite a bit on it here - see the labels - as its one of the first movies I saw that year as a kid of 8. JOHNNY GUITAR was the first, what a vivid introduction to movies that was - but A STAR IS BORN may well have been the second. I loved the widescreen images, like that beach house with the sun reflected on the glass, and that rich Warnercolor just glows now, particularly after the film was restored and the extras included those 3 alternative versions of "The Man That Got Away" and all that premiere footage with all the stars of the time (Doris, Peggy Lee, Crawford, Bacall, the Wildings, the Curtises, the Fishers etc) 

It is one of the great Fifties dramas - a drama with music, as opposed to one of those MGM spectaculars, It was Brando's year of course but for me Mason delivers the performance of the year, and of his career, as Norman Maine. 

Judy of course is something else. It is easy to see now why Grace Kelly got the Oscar for that year. She was the hot new girl in town (like Audrey the year before, and Judy Holliday in 1950 when Bette and Gloria were seen as old-timers; and a decade later in the bright shiny early Sixties when the two Julies - Andrews and Christie - were the next hot new girls in town..).   Judy too had burned her boats a lot and had antagonised too many with her tantrums and delays, maybe caused by a bi-polar or medical condition caused by all her medications and addictions. 

It is though a Hollywood drama at its dizzying peak. Unlike more modern filmed musicals where the performances are edited to pieces (Rob Marshall) or upstaged by other action (Baz Lurhmann), Cukor goes in for long takes and full musical sequences. So many scenes that were phenomenal showing Esther's rise through Hollywood:  "The Man That Got Away" when Norman discovers her again after prowling the nightclub circuit in search of freash cuties (but not from Pasadena!), the number Judy stages for Mason ("I am discovered on a rather simple divan");  the Academy Award scene, the dressing room breakdown scene, Norman's shamed appearance in court ....any one of them would have propelled another actress to an Oscar. At least A STAR IS BORN is appreciated more today - when was the last time anyone mentioned THE COUNTRY GIRL or saw it on television?, its a dull boring film enlived by Grace playing dowdy in a cardigan. 
Yes, Judy's weight fluctuated and she does not always look her best (at only 32) but it is still Garland at her peak and she is thrilling. She was robbed of that Oscar. She and Mason deliver timeless, great performances, maybe the best in any musical. Add in Cukor's great widescreen compositions and lots of savage humour, like Jack Carson's vicious PR man, and Charles Bickford marvellous as the studio head. That first "You Gotta Have Me Go With You" number is brilliantly staged too as the drunk Norman invades Esther's act on stage .... It is full of lovely moments, like the studio makeup men trying to decide on Esther's face and Norman then wiping all the gunk off, or Esther getting her new name Vicki Lester - "Go to L" or the "We can see your face" moment ..... it made no sense to cut the scene where she works in the drive-in burger bar and leave in Norman telling her to "think of a man eating a nutburger" ! The "Born in a Trunk" sequence too has some delicious moments .... 
Judy might well have started out with good intentions but she quickly fell back into her old undependable patterns and habits from her MGM days. George Cukor vowed never to work with her again he was so frustrated with her. Jack Warner lost interest in promoting Judy or the film for any Oscars after his disastrous dealings with her husband and the film's producer Sid Luft, and Judy, (he was also furious to discover they had furnished their house with furniture from the set) and the film was quickly cut to fit in more screenings.  
She did, indeed, burn her bridges with Warners, her last chance to prove that, with all her talent, that she could behave responsibly, professionally.  It irreperably damaged her career. Blame it on drugs or being bipolar or whatever. 

It was the same problem with her last film I COULD GO ON SINGING in 1963, when again she is marvellous, and its a great record of Judy then more or less playing herself, but as Dirk Bogarde related in his memoirs, the shoot was a nightmare with everyone quickly getting tired of Judy's dramas, wanting to sack the director, etc. Mel Torme wrote a book on the nightmare her early '60s tv shows had become. The films continue to fascinate though. More on them at Judy/Dirk labels.


  1. Mike, every Fifties movie you mentioned is is my DVD collection...we have very similar taste in films! I am also a big fan of A Star is Born (and of I Could Go On Singing). Grace Kelly is fine in The Country Girl; I have always liked her, but the Oscar should have gone to Miss Show Business.

  2. I like Grace a lot in her other films, even in the MGM programmer GREEN FIRE where she is perfectly tailored down on her South American plantation, but THE COUNTRY GIRL just does not grip me. Perhaps Bing was the wrong choice here ....

  3. And according to Robert Wagner's book, Warner's reaction to Garland and Luft's behavior (particularly the perceived purloining of the living room furniture) later cost Garland the role of Rose in the film version of Gypsy.

  4. Thats interesting - I must dig out Wagner's book and have a re-read.