A Star is Born - Blu-ray Review
By Patrick Luce Jun 24, 2010, 15:43 GMT
As a band singer guided to heights of show-business success by an alcoholic ex-matinee idol, Judy Garland performs one superb song after another (most by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin) in a production – also starring James Mason and directed by George Cukor – that exhilarates with its craft and style even as it moves toward a heartbreaking finale. Shortened after its 1954 premiere and reconstructed to near its original ...more
A Star is Reborn might be a simpler start to this review as Warner Brothers has breathed new life into the Judy Garland classic with a stunning restoration.
Film star Norman Maine (James Mason) is missing. He’s supposed to be making an appearance at an awards ceremony and studio head Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford) has publicist Matt Libby (Jack Carson) scouring all Maine’s hangouts to find him.
Maine finally stumbles in but he’s three sheets to the wind, completely blotto, drunk as a skunk, or however you choose to describe being drunk out of your mind. After being abusive to Libby, Maine stumbles onto stage and it appears that he’s going to flush his career with an embarrassing drunken episode.
However, singer Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) is performing a musical number onstage at the time, improvises the drunken actor into the bit, and saves him the embarrassment.
The still buzzing actor thanks Esther after the show, but his requests for dinner are turned down, and he is taken back home to sleep it off. He wakes up still remembering the solid turn that Esther did for him. More sober than before, he tracks her down to an after-hours nightclub and hears her and the band doing a number.
Esther’s pal Danny (Tom Noonan) doesn’t think Maine is going to do much good for her. Maine recognizes the powerful singing voice and realizes that Esther has the makings of a big star if only she got that big break. Maine takes her under his wing and does all in his power to make sure that she makes it big, but what happens when her career eclipses his?
A Star is Born is based on the 1937 film of the same name (starring Frederic March and Janet Gaynor, directed by William Wellman, and with similarities to George Cukor’s own What Price Hollywood? (1932). It was geared as a comeback picture for Judy Garland. She had been dropped from MGM and hadn’t made a picture for four years.
After getting over the stunning presentation (Warner has restored A Star is Born using new techniques and months of digital restoration), something struck me. Obviously the film is Judy’s but Norman Maine’s story is eerily more like Garland’s own. She had her own demons, some of which appeared during the production, and I swear she looks a good decade older than her thirty two years.
Those demons would get the better of her and she would die at 47 in 1969. Even with those illnesses, both perceived and self-induced, we, like Maine, can still see that she radiates stardom and has the pipes to prove it.
It may be Judy’s show, but James Mason holds his own as the fading matinee star. Ironically, Maine is isolated at sea shooting a picture and the same year would find Mason shipping out on the good ship Nautilus as Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo for Walt Disney (my favorite film – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).
The film would premiere at 182 minutes and was warmly received. However, the studio executives would consider it too long for multiple shows and started cutting. It was whittled down, without director’s approval, to 154 minutes and quickly disappeared from theaters as those minutes did from the picture.
In the 1980’s the late film archivist Ronald Haver (1939-1993) would begin a quest to restore Cukor’s original cut. He wouldn’t be entirely successful, but the restored 176 minute version would premiere in 1983 and would restore two musical numbers.
What he couldn’t find would be filled in with production stills as he was able to track down the full audio. Both stars shine bright in a tale of self-destruction, but now it’s the restoration that shines on Blu-ray.
A Star is Born is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (2.55:1) on disc one. Disc two houses the rest of the special features and is in standard definition since it’s a DVD.
It starts off with a 3 minute “Introduction” detailing the production, 22 minutes of deleted scenes, 11 minutes of alternative takes, a 1 minute outtake from “When my Sugar walks down the Street,” a 1 minute test footage “Film Effects Reel,” a 6 minute “Report by Jack L. Warner” promotional short, 8 minutes of newsreel footage of the premiere, a 2 minute alternate cinemascope premiere footage, a 7 minute Looney Tunes spoof “A Star is Bored,” a 30 minute vintage television special on the premiere, an audio vault treasure trove (over 100 minutes worth!), and trailers for the 37 version (3 minutes), this one (4 minutes), and the 1976 Barbara Streisand version (3 minutes).
The whole thing is housed in Warner’s digibook packaging that features a forty page booklet with stills and a history of the film and its restoration.
Judy, James, and the original cut may be gone but that doesn’t mean that the film can’t still shine bright. Warner Brothers has given new life to the film with a sparking restoration for high definition.
I might’ve liked the original cut to do some compare and contrast, but there are still plenty of special features to dig though. Classic film lovers will do well to put it at the top of their “to buy” list.
Visit the DVD database for more information.
FROM THE WEB
Further Reading on M&CBarbra Streisand Biography -
Barbra Streisand Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sitesJudy Garland Biography -
Judy Garland Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sites
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