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Saturday Night Cinema: The Star

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The brilliant Bette Davis graces the Atlasphere in tonight's Saturday Night feature, The Star. Bette Davis portrays a fading movie queen given one last chance at the spotlight. Davis, whom I adore, snaps, crackles and pops as always. In Hollywood's golden era, women were womennand adored for all the right reasons. Davis is less glam here but powerful and kicks ass.

"Come on, Oscar–let's you and me get drunk." This caustic Bette Davis line is not aimed at a co-star but at the Academy Award itself, which down-on-her-luck actress Margaret Elliot cradles bitterly at the beginning of an inebriated evening. As you can guess, Davis is at full-throttle in his ripe melodrama, which came a couple of years after All About Eve and serves as a kind of less-classy companion piece to that classic. As the movie begins, Margaret has lost her career and family because of her own demanding nature.

The rickety script and cut-rate production values betray The Star as a product of Davis's post-Warners wanderings. It does have some sunny location shots of San Pedro, plus a young Natalie Wood before she broke out of child-star roles. But the biggest draw, other than Davis, is the Hollywood behind-the-scenes juice, and the guessing game of how close the material was to Davis's own career (rumor has it the character, who wants to glamorize herself for a supporting part as a slatternly housemaid, was based more on Joan Crawford). It ain't art, but it's an artifact of a different era, skipping between backstage expose and camp. –Robert Horton

The Star (1952) NY Times review here:

Cast as a studio has-been, too old to play glamour-girl roles and too vain and publicity-deluded to surrender her laurels gracefully, the vibrant and nimble Miss Davis climbs inside this difficult dame and throws her about with all the hazard of a broken, storm-lashed electric wire. Violently, she represents the fury and the vengeance of an actress whose career has come to a point of grim transition while she herself will not acknowledge change. Hotly, she shows her unleashed passion in the face of frustration and despair, and coldly she indicates the forces of stubborn energy backed up in her lithe frame.

But Miss Davis would not be an actress, nor would she be possessed of a script, if she could not make something more revealing and meaningful out of the role. And since she is an actress and does have a vigorous, pungent script from Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson, she definitely gets that something more. It is an accumulated insight into the frailty and loneliness of one who has been deceived by an illusion of the substance and permanence of Hollywood fame.

It is a violent and yet pathetic woman that Miss Davis potently parades through the literal dramatic situations of Miss Albert's and Mr. Eunson's script, just as it was such a woman she paraded in "All About Eve." Whether shadowing an auction of her belongings or looking in on the remains of her broken home or tottering blearily through a drunken orgy, Miss Davis is eloquent and sure. And Stuart Heisler, who directed, has seen that the whole show is played in actual Hollywood surroundings that tag it relentless real.

[…]

Even though all that this picture cares for is the torment of this "star," other interesting figures show up from time to time. Warner Anderson as a decent agent, Natalie Wood as the actress' child. Minor Watson as a veteran producer and Katherine Warren as his wife seem genuine. Even Sterling Hayden, in a vague and negative role as the actress' loyal admirer and eventual savior, does a job. Together with Miss Davis, they convey an absorbing idea of the kind of shattering personal flip-flop that may occur in Hollywood.

THE STAR, screenplay by Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson directed by Stuart Heisler; produced by Bert E. Friedlob. A Bert E. Friedlob Presentation, released by Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Rivoli.
Margaret Elliot . . . . . Bette Davis
Jim Johannson . . . . . Sterling Hayden
Gretchen . . . . . Natalie Wood
Harry Stone . . . . . Warner Anderson
Joe Morrison . . . . . Minor Watson
Phyllis Stone . . . . . June Travis
Mrs. Morrison . . . . . Katherine Warren
Mrs. Adams . . . . . Kay Riehl
Peggy Morgan . . . . . Barbara Woodel
Faith . . . . . Fay Baker
Barbara Lawrence . . . . . Barbara Lawrence
Keith Barkley . . . . . David Alpert
Richard Stanley . . . . . Paul Frees

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