Play It Again: A Star is Born

Play It Again: A Star is Born. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

When you desperately love something it can be hard to distance yourself and talk about it objectively, so excuse me while I gush for the next several hundred words about the 1954 George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story) directed film, A Star Is Born.

We must pay tribute to the other incarnations of this story; the 1937 Janet Gaynor and Frederic March version, and the delightfully trashy 1976 Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson adaptation. It should also be mentioned Clint Eastwood is attempting to direct Beyonce in a modern day retelling, but let’s not get upset about that right now. This musical, about an up-and-coming actress, Vicki Lester (Judy Garland), and her relationship with the alcoholic and destructive Norman Maine (James Mason) as his celebrity star burns out, is one of the most tragic tales ever dedicated to the screen.

With a screenplay by Moss Hart (You Can’t Take It With You) adapted from the 1937 film, A Star Is Born was plagued with problems from day one. Cukor wanted Cary Grant for the lead but he turned it down, and Cukor was also worried about Garland’s reliability, something producer Sidney Luft assured wouldn’t be a problem (mostly because he was, at the time, Garland’s husband).

As it happened, Garland did prove unstable, and coupled with constant script changes and a decision part way through to film in CinemaScope – meaning already recorded scenes had to be filmed again – the first version of the picture ran at a staggering 196 minutes. After extensive cuts, the final film came in at 154 minutes and Cukor was said to call it “very painful” to watch. Audience and critical reception however was extremely positive and the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning none.

With a career best performance from Garland and brilliant musical numbers, including the sobering The Man That Got Away, A Star Is Born is not only a must for Garland fans but for those intrigued by the ever-changing world of celebrity. Have some tissues on hand, especially when Garland musters the line, “Hello everybody; this is Mrs. Norman Maine”.

Discuss: A Star is Born!

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