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A Star Is Born

review by Anthony D.

 

Studio: Warner

Running Time: 129 minutes

Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, Tom Noonan, Jack Carson

Written by Moss Hart

Directed by George Cukor

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Trailers, Hollywood Premiere Network Telecast Post-Premiere Party Highlights Shot at the Cocoanut Grove, 3 Alternate Filmings of The Man That Got Away, Incorporating Additional Original Recording Session MusicDeleted Musical Number, When My Sugar Walks Down the Street

A legendary film, featuring the talents of a legendary performer is brought back from near-oblivion by the massive efforts of Ronald Haver and the Warner Brothers Archives. It's an age-old Hollywood tale, filmed twice previously, of love and triumph in La La Land.

Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) is a big-time talent on the rise. She meets drunken, nearly on the skids popular actor Norman Maine (James Mason) when he drops into her act at a celebrity benefit. Esther makes the most of Norman's drunken behavior, making it believably a part of her act. Not one to forget such a random act of kindness, Norman seeks Esther out and promises her a screen test. But promises made in the dark are forgotten as dawn breaks and a hungover Norman is shipped out to sea for on-location filming; and Esther is forced to use her talents to be a jingle singer, advertising products such as coconut shampoo and fast-food burgers. Hearing Esther's voice promoting these products, Norman remembers his promise, and Esther's screen test results in a contract with the studio. As Vicki Lester, as Esther has been renamed by the studio, and her career ascend, Norman descends into the depths of alcoholism and loses his contract with the studio. In his personal life, Norman becomes known as "Mr. Vicki Lester," which is not good for his frail ego. Through it all, Esther continues to love and care for Norman, even after a shocking incident at the televised Academy Awards Ceremony where Norman literally begs Hollywood to give him a job, and accidentally slaps Esther on camera. Both Norman and Esther make sacrifices for each other in the name of true love, and when the ultimate sacrifice is made, life goes on for still another day in La La Land.

The restoration speaks for itself, Ronald Haver successfully managed to track down all but five minutes of Warner Brothers first CinemaScope release, "A Star is Born." In an attempt to squeeze in more theatrical showings per day, the powers-that-be took editors' scissors and whittled down the film's running time to a little over two hours, NOT the nearly three-hour drama George Cukor had fashioned. Musical numbers were deleted, a major plot development went onto the cutting room floor and Judy Garland's chance at the Academy Award was stifled buy the cruel and haphazard studio editing. Nearly fifty years later, film historian took it upon himself to track down the missing elements of "A Star is Born," and in director George Cukor's lifetime, was able to present the film on the silver screen once again in nearly the condition it was seen in on its opening night in 1954. The few missing scenes, as in its theatrical re-release, are represented on the disc with still photos accompanied by sound, and a film is reborn.

 

This was not only Warner Brothers' first attempt at widescreen photography, it was George Cukor's initial use of the CinemaScope format. Faithfully framed, in an anamorphic transfer, at a very wide 2.55:1 aspect ratio, "A Star is Born" looks quite good. Cukor worked with a design meant to be only semi-realistic, but not-quite impressionism thus "A Star is Born" is awash with muted colors. As reflected on the first dvd-18 format from Warner Home Video, the fidelity is natural, nearly true. The excessive make-up used by the studios in the 1950's is, for better or worse, all the more noticeable in the digital domain. The image is sharp, colors bold when they need to be (the entire "Born in a Trunk" Sequence, given a whopping SEVEN Chapters!) Contains the most three-dimensional use of the color red that I have ever experienced as layer upon layer of roses arise behind Judy Garland's tiny frame. There is a very small amount of film grain, but given the film's age, and its tragic history, the quality is surprisingly pleasing.

"A Star is Born's" soundtrack has also been given a thorough remastering reflecting the film's era's use of directional sound, mostly stereophonic up front, with subtle use of rears. This Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack allows the .1 LFE to kick in from the lower frequencies of the music (Chapter 26, Black Bottom). It's a delightful listening experience! Technically, a drama with music, the dvd shines when the musical numbers begin: "The Man That Got Away" has never sounded so full-throttled and melancholy, "Gotta Have Me Go with You" makes the most of its swingin' big band, while at the opposite end of the spectrum the intimacy which had never been afforded "It's a New World" now pulls the listener as close to Garland as is possible.

Though not labeled as a "special edition," Warner Home Video has loaded the second side of "A Star is Born" with quite a bouquet of extras. Kinescopes of the Hollywood Premiere in black and white, text Production Notes and Talent Files, a deleted song (part of the "Born in a Trunk" Sequence) and three trailers - -one for each incarnation of "A Star is Born." The technicolor trailer for 1937's Janet Gaynor drama leaps off the screen in its window-boxed glory raising hopes for a dvd edition; while the Barbra Streisand 1976 treatment gets an annoyingly ludicrous trailer. Best of all are the three alternate filmings of "The Man That Got Away," each accompanied by text explaining the whens, wheres and whys each version was discarded in favor of the now classic scene in the film.

Judy Garland returned to the screen following a self-destructive four year absence. After her dismissal from M-G-M, following the aborted "Annie Get Your Gun," and the lackluster "Summer Stock," Judy's stock as a performer had declined so far that pundits doubted that her career could ever be salvaged. Working with top-drawer talents (screenwriter Moss Hart, tunesmiths Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen, director Georger Cukor) Judy's comeback role, that of Esther Blodgett in "A Star is Born" finally gave her a role worthy of all of her remarkable talents. To watch "A Star is Born," is to watch a major talent at the zenith of her onscreen career in a role which unquestioningly SHOULD have won her the Academy Award. This is the Judy Garland as "Performer" role, and the joy she possesses through performance is evident in every frame that she is in. Thankfully Warner Home Video has given the film, and the performer, a DVD worthy of the legend: to have three alternate takes of the classic Judy moment, "The Man that Got Away," is a godsend to Judy Judy connoisseurs everywhere. Lovingly restored to almost its original running time by Ron Haver - - whose book "A Star is Born: the making of the 1954 movie and its 1983 restoration" is a must-read for fans of this film, "A Star is Born" is finally the ultimate tribute to Judy Garland in her finest three hours on film.

(4/5, NOT included in final score)

(3.5/5)

(3.5/5)

(4.5/5)

(4.5/5, NOT an average)

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