. A Star Is Born (Transcona; Warner) is a massive effort, unreeling ponderously for three hours and two minutes, to convert the Hollywood legend into something like Wagnerian musicomedy. The producers assumed astonishing risks. The story and the title were borrowed from a famed old Academy Award winner (1937) that has been shown to death on television in recent years. Furthermore, the star, Judy Garland, was a 32-year-old has-been, as infamous for temperament as she is famous for talent.
What's more, all the producers' worst dreams came true. Day after day, while the high-priced helpincluding Judy's husband, Producer Sidney Luft-stood around waiting for the shooting to start Judy sulked in her dressing room. In the rid, Star took ten months to make, cost about $6,000,000. But after Judy had done her worst in the dressing room, she did her best in front of the camera with the result that she gives what is just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history.
The picture's old familiar story Norman Maine (James Mason), a hard-boozing screen lover, meets a blues singer named Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), realizes that she could be terribly important not only to millions of fans but to him. He gets her a screen test; she becomes a great starand his wife. . As her star rises, his drops. Just as she is about to give up her career to save his soul, he saves her life by ending his. The wife pulls herself together and goes on and so a star is born.
All this, plus a dozen big musical sequences, makes Star a mighty long gulp of champagne; but, like champagne, it is hard to refuse. Simply in the writing, for instance, there is a sureness rare in musicomedy librettosand no wonder: Poetess Dorothy Parker worked on the 1937 script, and Playwright Moss Hart had that to draw on for this one. There is some fine Hollywood off-camera stuff: the great star being fastidious about his amours ("Too young. I had a very young week last week"); the little nobody taking her screen test ("Cut!" the director bellows in horror, "we saw your face!").
The Technicolor is a little too muddy for comfort, but the players wade around in it bravely. Charles Bickford plays the big producer with vigor, and Jack Carson is a howl as a pressagent. Actor Mason right to his alcoholic end, glows with a seamless health and handsomeness that may delight the pinup trade but will hardly convince anybody who has ever had a hangover.
As for Judy, she has never sung better. Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin have given her six good songsamong them one unforgettable lump in the throat, The Man That Got Away. Her big, dark voice sobs sighs, sulks and socks them out like a cross between Tara's harp and the late Bessie Smith.