Monday, September 26, 2005

A Star is Born (1937)

One of the gems of "studio era" Hollywood is David O. Selznick's Technicolor production of A STAR IS BORN. Based on incidents in the lives of several silent film stars, including John Bowers and John Barrymore, this lavish production exposes the behind the scenes side of the movie industry in the 1930s. Janet Gaynor stars as Esther Victoria Blodgett, a hopeful young country girl who wants to become a star, and Fredric March is the fading star who gives her a break.

The story begins in a rural farmhouse, where Esther Blodgett talks of going to Hollywood to become an actress. Encouraged by her grandmother (May Robson, in a delightful performance), she heads off to the Movie Capital of the World to make it big. She soon finds out, however, its a lot harder than it seems. After much struggling, she gets a job as a waitress at a big Hollywood party, and it is here that she meets Norman Maine (Fredric March), whom she had seen earlier making a drunken spectacle of himself at the Hollywood Bowl. They hit it off, and Maine arranges a screen test for Esther. With Norman's encouragement, Esther gets the lead in his next picture, and after being re-christened Vicki Lester, takes off on the course to stardom. Norman, however, finds his career slipping. He and Vicki marry, but it is Vicki whose career supports the both of them. Norman sinks farther and farther into desperation and alcoholism.

The story maintains its interest from its serious treatment of the characters. March is very believable as a movie star, moreso than James Mason in the 1954 remake. Gaynor possesses a certain innocent quality that is appropriate for the character. Adolphe Menjou and Lionel Stander perfectly play the roles of the producer and hardened press agent, respectively.

Directed by William A. Wellman. 1937. 112 minutes, Technicolor, Mono sound mix, 1.37:1 Produced by David O. Selznick. Music by Max Steiner. Featuring Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander, Andy Devine, Owen Moore, May Robson, Edgar Kennedy, Elizabeth Jenns, Peggy Wood, Guinn Williams, J.C. Nugent.

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