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USA 1954 (Restored Version)
Directed by
George Cukor
154 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Star Is Born, A (1954)

Although overlong George Cukor's musical remake of the 1937 William Wellman original version is a considerable improvement on that film (Cukor had also directed a version of the story as What Price Hollywood? in 1932). Judy Garland takes the Janet Gaynor part of the successful film star Vicki Lester and James Mason replaces Frederic March as her alcoholic husband< Norman Maine in what, for both of them, was one of the best performances of their career.

The main failings of Wellman's version, the schematic nature of the rise and fall story and an uneven tone is corrected here with a well-rounded script by Moss Hart that keeps the best of the original but gives the story much more depth and credibility. Somewhat unfortunately this takes nearly an extra hour, the songs by Harold Arlen ad Ira Gershwin adding to the running time that included an eighteen minute production number "Born In A Trunk' ('Swanee' was inserted into this after Cukor signed off).

Originally released at three hours it was shortened by twenty seven minutes by nervous studio heads after its lukewarm premiere and complaints from exhibitors. As a result prints were hacked up and the original print has been lost. The restored version is a mixed blessing that uses stills with the dialogue track to replace permanently lost footage.

This aside, the film provides a remarkable performance by Garland who was infamously emotionally unstable at the time, suffering from depression and dependent on pills (her switch from sad to happy during 'Lose That Long Face" is heart-rendingly expressive of her condition). Both dramatically and as a singer she gives a moving  performance with "The Man Who Got Away" outstanding, Mason, perfectly cast as the irresistibly debonaire, self-destructive charmer also brings a good deal of genuine pathos to his role as Ester Blodgett's shining star.  

The film's final scene, which was wisely carried over from the original, and has Vicki Lester introducing herself to her adoring public as Mrs Norman Maine is a classic of Hollywood emotionality that caps off a tip-top 1950s melodrama.

Garland, who had bought the rights to the original film, was nominated for an Oscar for her performance but lost to Grace Kelly in the now-forgotten The Country Girl. She never made a "star" movie again, many people claiming that the film's failure deepened her own downward spiral.




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