>>> Click here for the RMC FAQ'N RULES <<<


Your Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: The applause of the world – and then this!

Cool Dialogue: “Don’t settle for the little dream. Go on to the big one.”

Pizza: Joe Peeps


There are movies that are lost forever, and I really mean lost. No negative, no footage, not even a frame. Then there are movies that are missing scenes or reels. But few movies are released for public consumption using film stills over the original audio track in place of these missing scenes. I can only think of two – Frank Capra’s LOST HORIZON and George Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN. Oddly, both movies have been screened at RMC - HORIZON back in November 2001, and now, 12 years later, the restored version of A STAR IS BORN.


A STAR IS BORN (1954) is a musical remake of the 1937 movie featuring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March about married movie stars, one on the rise, the other on the decline. What a great idea for a story, as this dynamic can happen to any couple at any time (though having them be celebrities adds extra Ego Factor). No wonder they made this movie three times (the third version, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, was made in 1978 - see panel below). For years there have been rumors of a fourth version starring Beyonce and Robert Downey Jr. At first blush it sounds appalling, but the more I think about it….maybe??? But we’ve gathered here today for the 1954 version, starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

The opening scene in A STAR IS BORN presciently mimics its real life premiere held at the Pantages in September 1954, as stars walk into a theater and say a few words into the microphones. In the movie, character Lola Lavery said: “And I know you’re looking forward to seeing your favorite star and mine,” and in the actual premiere, Debbie Reynolds told us: “I’ve never been so excited in my whole life.”
And not only that but Hollywood reporter George Fisher (not to be confused with George Fisher from death metal band Cannibal Corpse) is manning the mic in the movie’s opening scene and at the Pantages premiere in real life. Trippy, huh? Life imitating art, and vice versa, is all over this movie. Like when Norman Maine (Mason) meets Esther Blodgett (Garland) for the first time. He tells her, “You must have been born with that name, you couldn’t have made it up.” You mean, like Judy Garland’s real name Frances Gumm? Anyway…

Norman Maine is a box office star/drunk/womanizer (he skulks around clubs for fresh meat with the assistance of the club owner). He’s so big that his handlers are forced to put up with him. Maine’s office on the lot has a bed, which we’re pretty sure is used for starlets and benders. The story begins when Norman shows up drunk at a fancy benefit and hijacks the act that Esther is singing in. Later, Esther and cool gum-chewing bandleader/pianist/friend Danny (Tommy Noonan) play “for themselves” at an after hours club, where she sings THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY (you sure can see where Liza got her mannerisms). Little does she know; the man that will later be the one that got away is watching from the back of the club. Smitten with Esther and unable to procure late-nite tail, he has tracked her down.

Norman takes Esther under his wing and guides her, figuratively and literally (his hands guide her through rooms or sit her down). He convinces her to quit the band and take a chance with him; he will call studio head Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford) and see what he can do for her. As Esther and the band part, so does Norman, lost at sea, once again figuratively and literally…’cept for the lost part (funny, as Mason would play Captain Nemo that same year) for a six week shoot on the ocean…where there’s no liquor. It’s sort of like work-furlough rehab. Not a bad idea.


Anyway, so Esther’s got nothing now - no band, no screen test, no Norman Maine. She’s stuck in Hollywood like everyone, including yours truly.

Esther gets herself a singing job – but it’s the voice of a marionette in a shampoo commercial. (Earlier, she had told Norman – “When anything happens to me, good or bad, I head straight for the shampoo bottle." Norman’s go-to is golf putting in his living room.) But fear not, we’re only forty minutes into this three hour movie, and I’m sure you’ve figured out that Norman returns and things start going well for Esther (whose name is now changed by the studio to Vicki Lester). Norman helps her get a contract and she soon finds herself stuck in Hollywood’s revolving door (again, both figuratively and literally - see picture at right). It doesn’t take long for Vicki Lester to become the biggest star at the studio. And it’s all thanks to Norman.

Yes, they end up married (there’s a charming proposal scene) and Norman Maine watches his wife become a box office sensation. I love Mason’s take on Maine. Instead of playing him over the top, he plays him as a smart man who knows what he is (a drunk who’s washed up on the silver screen) and what Esther is, and isn’t jealous. He’s supportive of her.


While she’s out being a star, he’s home making dinner, playing solitaire, and yes…putting golf balls in his living room. One night, Esther comes home from a day of shooting and, seeing her man home alone, cheers him up with a playful number (SOMEONE AT LAST) from the movie she’s working on, using furniture and household items as props. Norman’s happy and amused by her performance. Again, not jealous. But no one can be that cool forever. All it takes is a delivery man to refer to him as “Mr. Lester” for Norman to start unraveling. The scene begins with him drinking milk and ends with him saying, “I think I shall mix myself a drink.” And as he walks away, Esther whimpers to herself something we’re all thinking - “no.” Eventually, Norman checks himself into a sanitarium, which is what they now call “rehab”. Ya know, ‘rehab’ has come to sound sexy. They should change it back to “sanitarium.” I mean, imagine a celebrity today saying “I’ve checked into a sanitarium.” Anyway…


Watching A STAR IS BORN I kept forgetting that I wasn’t watching a real story, a biopic. Credit original writers (more than 11) of the 1937 version (among them, William Wellman, Budd Shulberg, Ring Lardner Jr., Ben Hecht and Dorothy Parker), who based some of the characters on real actors and events. This 1954 version was written by Moss Hart.


A STAR IS BORN was directed by George Cukor, who besides directing CAMILLE, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and GASLIGHT contributed creatively to both GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ starring you-know-who. Many of the shots, including those in production numbers, were done in masters without cutaways. And for a three hour movie, Cukor makes it whiz by nicely (the lengthy BORN IN A TRUNK medley, which wasn’t his doing, is the exception here), from its opening where Norman disrupts the benefit to its haunting ending where Esther sings IT'S A NEW WORLD as Norman drowns his sorrows.


Cukor’s best skill, arguably, was working with the actors. Although playing it a bit melodramatic at times, Judy Garland is wonderful as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester, and when she hits, it really is out of the park. No small feat considering she hadn’t made a movie in a few years (this was her much touted movie comeback). And that suicide attempt. And those nervous breakdowns. And her alcoholism. And her drug habits (supposedly why Cary Grant turned down the Norman Maine role). And her no-shows and erratic behavior on the set which caused many delays. Which leads me to another ‘life imitates art’. There’s actually a line of dialogue where studio head Oliver tells Norman: “Those big fat lush days where a star can disappear and hold up production for two weeks are over.” Of course he’s talking about the fictional Norman Maine character, but I’m sure people on the set that day (Garland wasn’t in that scene) got a chuckle out of it.


Her behavior wasn’t the only thing that made A STAR IS BORN’s budget balloon. Part of the reason was that Warner Brothers (okay, Jack Warner, it’s been long enough that we can name names) decided to toss out weeks of footage, opting to reshoot everything in CinemaScope.

But back to acting, and specifically, James Mason and how he manages to get us to feel every emotion. In perhaps the movie’s most brutal scene, where Norman once again hijacks a moment (I don’t want to give it away), we feel hatred, love, sympathy and empathy. Mason’s performance is the secret glue that makes Garland’s work so well. What is it that actors say about other actors? He was very generous.

Jack Carson, who RMCers may remember from the Jack Lemmon movie PHFFFT (released only a few weeks after A STAR IS BORN), is fantastic as studio publicity agent Matt Libby, the man who did damage control for Norman and who finally got his shot to tell him off.

There is no shortage of s’wonderful musical numbers with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Harold Arlen (WIZARD OF OZ), including a song that was introduced in this movie and would soon became a staple of Garland’s act - THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY. It took three tries (twice in ’53, once in ’54), using different sets, lighting and wardrobe (good thing…that second version was awful). The American Film Institute names it “The 11th Greatest Song in American Cinema History.” Here’s a (sort of) side by side comparison of all three versions, worth watching.

"Judy, Judy, Judy"

Some songs, like GOTTA HAVE ME GO WITH YOU and LOSE THAT LONG FACE are performed as part of a stage show or movie, while others, like SOMEONE AT LAST and IT’S A NEW WORLD are performed by characters who just start singing, because that’s what people in musicals do, especially if you can sing like Judy Garland. There is one sequence, a cluster of songs not by Arlen/Gershwin, that was put in after Cukor left the movie. It’s the BORN IN A TRUNK medley I mentioned earlier, and it clocks in at 15 minutes. A lengthy musical sequence was a product of its time, and so were lines like this, from a courtroom scene - Bailiff: “Cigarettes out, please rise.”

This wasn’t the first time Judy Garland played Esther Blodgett. Twelve years earlier, when she was a year out of her teens, Garland starred in a one-hour radio version...and it’s pretty fascinating. It follows the original 1937 version as the 1954 one wasn’t even thought of yet. Walter Pidgeon plays Norman Maine. Cecil B. DeMille does the introduction. And remember, it’s not a musical. But yeah, it’s pretty great. Give it a listen here: http://goo.gl/3QiP5G

The premiere of A STAR IS BORN was said to be the biggest premiere in movie history. Jack Carson greeted everyone saying, “I’m so nervous” nearly every time as he dabbed at the sweat on his face. Just about everyone was there; Edward G. Robinson, Hedda Hopper, Cesar Romero, Joan Crawford, Sophie Tucker, Virginia Mayo, Greer Garson, Jack Palance, Tony Curtis & Janet Leigh, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, Shelley Winters, Ray Bolger, Kim Novak, Lauren Bacall, the list goes on. George Jessel was there, bragging about how he was the one who changed Judy’s name from Frances Ethel Gumm. Liberace took his mom. And Raymond Burr? He brought a sailor with him…in his sailor uniform.

There are tons of movies about stardom and its trappings (RMC screened THE ROSE back in 2010), but what separates this one, besides the talent in front and behind the camera, is the idea that it’s really less about an unknown becoming a star and more about that star watching as the person she loves spirals down. I know I mentioned that earlier, but it’s what makes it such a fantastic character piece.

 There’s a line in BORN IN A TRUNK that goes: “…I learned traditions, and the hardest one of all is that no matter what - the show must go on.” And that is what the movie is all about. And we relate to it because really, “the show” is “life.”

Feed Burner Subscribe in a reader

Powered byFeedBlitz

About ...

RMC email address
Old RMC Men

RMC is not affiliated with Rochester Midland Corporation, makers of fine restroom disinfecting fluids and urinal mats since 1888.


Powered by Pizza, Red Vines,
& 6 Different Kinds of Soda



This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from Random Movie Club. Make your own badge here.

((( Contribute to our Popcorn Fund! )))

Best Viewed With Firefox 2

Add to Google
Add to My Yahoo!
Add to Technorati Favorites!

eXTReMe Tracker