Saturday Night Cinema: A Star is Born


Tonight’s Saturday night cinema classic is the legendary film A Star is Born, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It’s so good, and she’s so good. Her performance is particularity satisfying because Judy Garland hadn’t made a film in 4 years. After 20 years with the studio, MGM had fired her. Garland had attempted suicide and struggled with the requisite pill addiction fed to her by MGM executives. Uppers for work and weight, downers for rest and sleep.

Garland came back gangbusters with A Star is Born. Garland and Sidney Luft, her then-husband, produced the film through their production company. TIME labeled her performance as “just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history.” Garland won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the role. She was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress as was James Mason for Best Actor.

A Star Is Born 1954 by Alice-Bauer

The first test screening the following month ran 196 minutes and, despite ecstatic feedback from the audience, Cukor and editor Folmar Blangsted trimmed it to 182 minutes for its New York premiere in October. The reviews were excellent, but Warner executives, concerned the running time would limit the number of daily showings, made drastic cuts without Cukor, who had departed for India to scout locations for Bhowani Junction. At its final running time of 154 minutes, the film had lost two major musical numbers and crucial dramatic scenes, and Cukor called it “very painful” to watch.

I am sorry to say I could only find the first half of the uncut version online. You can watch the full version here, but it will cost you $2.99 (Warner Video).

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The Screen: ‘A Star Is Born’ Bows; Judy Garland, James Mason in Top Roles
By Bosley Crowther, NY Times
Published: October 12, 1954

THOSE who have blissful recollections of David O. Selznick’s “A Star Is Born” as probably the most affecting movie ever made about Hollywood may get themselves set for a new experience that should put the former one in the shade when they see Warner Brothers’ and George Cukor’s remake of the seventeen-year-old film. And those who were no more than toddlers when that classic was starting floods of tears may warm themselves up for one of the grandest heartbreak dramas that has drenched the screen in years.

For the Warners and Mr. Cukor have really and truly gone to town in giving this hackneyed Hollywood story an abundance of fullness and form. They have laid it out in splendid color on the smartly used CinemaScope screen, and they have crowded it with stunning details of the makers and making of films. They have got Judy Garland and James Mason to play the important roles that were filled with such memorable consequence by Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the original. And they have fattened it up with musical numbers that are among the finest things in the show.

And a show it is, first and foremost. Its virtually legendary account of the romance of an actress headed for stardom and an actor headed downhill would have very little force or freshness in this worldly wise day and age if it weren’t played within the lush surroundings of significant performance and fancy show. So it is a build-up of this that gives grandeur and background to the poignance of this film, which was put on with fanfare last evening at the Paramount and Victoria Theatres.

The whole thing runs for three hours, and during this extraordinary time a remarkable range of entertainment is developed upon the screen. There is the sweet and touching love story that Moss Hart has smoothly modernized from the neat synthesis of Hollywood legends, which went into the original.

It is the story of a vocalist with a dance band who catches the bleary, wistful eye of a topnotch male star, now skidding on the downgrade, and gets his help toward motion-picture fame. It is the story of their marriage and their struggle to hold fast to the fragile thing of love as fame and failure divide them—and of the husband’s sacrifice at the end. This is the core of the drama, and it is brilliantly visualized.

No one surpasses Mr. Cukor at handling this sort of thing, and he gets performances from Miss Garland and Mr. Mason that make the heart flutter and bleed. Such episodes as their meeting on the night of a benefit show, their talking about marrying on a soundstage under an eavesdropping microphone, their bitter-sweet reaching for each other in a million-dollar beach bungalow, their tormenting ordeal in a night court—these, are wonderfully and genuinely played.

What matters that logic does not always underlie everything they do? What matters that we never really fathom Mr. Mason’s flamboyant Norman Maine? Theirs is a credible enactment of a tragic little try at love in an environment that packages the product. It is the strong tie that binds the whole show.

But there is more that is complementary to it. There is the muchness of music that runs from a fine, haunting torch-song at the outset, “The Man That Got Away,” to a mammoth, extensive production number recounting the career of a singer. It is called “Born in a Trunk.” Miss Garland is excellent in all things—but most winningly, perhaps, in the song, “Here’s What I’m Here For,” wherein she dances, sings and pantomimes the universal endeavors of the lady to capture the man. Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin and Leonard Gershe are the authors of the songs.

And there is, through it all, a gentle tracing of clever satire of Hollywood, not as sharp as it was in the original, but sharp enough to be stimulating fun. Charles Bickford’s calm and generous producer is a bit on the idealized side and Jack Carson’s disagreeable press agent is not as vicious as he’s supposed to be. But the sense of an artificial milieu wraps the whole thing, as in cellophane—all in colors that fill the eye with excitement.

It is something to see, this “Star Is Born.”

Crowds of enthusiastic onlookers swirled around the Paramount and Victoria Theatres last night to attend and watch the gala activities surrounding the première of “A Star Is Born.” Miss Garland made an appearance at the Victoria and and later arrived at the Paramount for the showing of the film.

The glare of flood lights and popping of flash-bulbs provided customary background for the event which was “covered” by television cameras, radio broadcasters, Armed Forces Overseas radio, press and newsreel photographers. The sidewalks in front of the two theatres were carpeted in the traditional red velvet and searchlights sent shafts of light high in the sky over Broadway.

The audiences at both theatres were made up, to a large extent, by notables from many fields. As they arrived, Martin Block, the master of ceremonies, and George Jessel greeted them.

A STAR IS BORN, screen play by Moss Hart, based on the Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson screen play; from a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson; music and lyrics by Harold Arlen. Ira Gershwin and Leonard Gershe; directed by George Cukor; produced by Sidney Luft for Warner Brothers. At the Paramount and Victoria.
Esther Blodgett . . . . . Judy Garland
Norman Maine . . . . . James Mason
Libby . . . . . Jack Carson
Oliver Niles . . . . . Charles Bickford
Danny McGuire . . . . . Tom Noonan
A Starlet . . . . . Lucy Marlow
Susan . . . . . Amanda Blake
Graves . . . . . Irving Bacon
Libby’s Secretary . . . . . Hazel Shermet
Glenn Williams . . . . . James Brown
Miss Markham . . . . . Lotus Robb

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