A Star is Born
Review by Earl Cressey | posted September 24, 2000
Highly Recommended
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A Star is Born is a musical from 1954 directed by George Cukor and stars Judy Garland (Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester) and James Mason (Norman Maine). The movie was cut after its premiere, and it wasn't until 1983 that Ronald Haver, a film historian, found most of the cut sequences and supervised their reconstruction.. The current cut of the film, at 176 minutes, includes lost footage, sound clips, and still photographs in an effort to recreate the original theatrical release of 1954.

At a celebrity benefit party, Norman Maine, a huge movie star, meets Esther Blodgett when he almost ruins her musical number by wandering onstage drunk. With a bit of quick thinking, she makes the best of it, and afterwards, a still drunk Norman thanks her and offers to take her to dinner. She politely refuses, as she has dinner arrangements with her band. Though she eludes him then, he manages to track her down later and listens to her sing again, this time sober. He insists on driving her home and tells her what a terrific singer she is. She shares with him her hopes and dreams of being a star and having her own record. He tells her that it is possible with her talent, that she should quit the band's current tour, stay in town, and that if she does, he can arrange for her to have a screen test with his studio. However, the next day, a drunken Maine is driven to the airport to film his newest movie on location. As the night was a bit blurry, he tries somewhat unsuccessfully to find her during his six weeks away. Esther, in the meantime, has become a waitress. When he returns from his shoot, he manages to find her and arranges a meeting between her and the studio chief, Oliver. She's offered a job, but doesn't hit it big until Oliver overhears her singing a few weeks later and gives her the lead role in a new musical along with a new name, Vicki Lester. From there, her rise to the top is quite quick and her dreams begin to come true. Norman proposes to Esther, and they get married. Things for Norman's career aren't going as smooth though, as his continual drunken conduct and low box office takes force the studio to buy out the rest of his contract, leaving him jobless. Jealous of his wife's increasing fame, Norman turns back to alcohol to solve his problems, and his life begins to crumble. Aware of her husband's plight, Esther must decide if she should give up her career to spend more time with Norman and help him put his life back together and if he really wants that.

Not being the biggest fan of musicals and thus, having seen very few, I was hesitant as I went into A Star is Born. What I saw surprised me. The movie is terrific! The acting by both leads is great, and Garland does a fabulous job with the singing. The story even had a few twists at the end that I didn't expect. However, I did feel that the movie was overly long. A bit of trimming here and there would've definitely helped the pace of the film. Also, the inclusion of still photographs with the actors speaking in the background is quite jarring, especially considering that the movie is in color and the photos are not.

A Star is Born is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. For a film from the fifties, the print used is remarkable, especially considering all the scenes that were restored. However, it is not perfect. The print appears overly soft in a few places, there is some visible grain, the brightness level flickers occasionally, and some shimmer is noticeable. The colors in the film are vibrant, though, for the most part. Flesh tones look great, but occasionally they appear a bit too pale.

A Star is Born is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The dialogue is almost entirely center channel based, with the surrounds used for the film's music and occasionally some background noises. The only problem I could detect with the track was near the end of the film, when several characters talk off screen. The volume is really low, making the included subtitles a necessity to pick up all the dialogue.

The extras included on the disc are: three alternate takes of "The Man That Got Away;" the deleted song, "When My Sugar Walks Down The Street;" a thirty minute Pantages premiere TV special; footage from the Cocoanut Grove premiere party lasting about five minutes; a one minute Hollywood newsreel from the premiere; theatrical trailers for the 1937, 1954, and 1976 versions of the film; a few cast bios; a six minute Warner Bros. exhibitors reel from 1954 that includes some alternate takes from the film; two audio outtakes; a list of the awards the film received; and subtitles in English and French. The extras are almost entirely promotional in nature; I would've liked to see more behind the scenes information. The deleted musical number is fairly short, but it is a nice treat for fans, as are the alternate takes for "The Man That Got Away."

Warner's DVD release of A Star is Born is a dream for fans of the film with the restored footage, above average picture, terrific sound, and some great extras. Highly recommended for fans of the leads, the film, or the genre.

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