A Star Is Born

1937, Movie, NR, 111 mins

Review

STAR IS BORN, A
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March is a movie superstar whose heyday has slipped by, although he is still held in high esteem by his producer and studio head, Menjou. Everyone, except March, seems to know that he is losing popularity with the public and his films are seeing less and less box-office success. At a Hollywood party where he drinks too much, as usual, March meets and is attracted to Gaynor, who is serving sandwiches and, in his cups, he proposes to make her a star. She has been longing to become an actress and has been starving while waiting for Central Casting to call her for her big break. This call never comes, which annoys her boarding house owner, Kennedy, no end. March winds up breaking the dishes Gaynor is responsible for and charming her into leaving the party with him, later painting for her a life of splendor and happiness as a movie star, encouraging her to follow his lead. March persuades a reluctant Menjou to give Gaynor a screen test Impressed, Menjou decides to make her a star. March and Gaynor marry and, while her career accelerates, his takes a complete nosedive. Soon he's the most unemployable actor in Hollywood, shamelessly getting drunk in public and embarrassing a wife who loves him in spite of himself.

A STAR IS BORN captures wonderfully the hustle of Hollywood, especially in scenes which show Gaynor being physically (and painfully) prepared for stardom by having her perfectly acceptable face redone by cosmetic experts, facial experts, eyebrow experts, hair stylists, and makeup magicians--these scenes lack the forced "let's kid Judy" energy of the 1954 version--they're colder. It profiles the behind-the-scenes machinations of stars and producers, and it shows that, however accidentally, a person of talent, sincerity, and good-heartedness sometimes slips through the corrosive Hollywood system to become a star. The film is marvelously constructed by Wellman, who elicited superb performances from his stars.

The dialogue created for this film is tough, and most of the words Stander is given to growl portray him and the many Hollywood types similar to his character as vindictive and ruthless, people without pity, charisma, or compassion. Even after March dies of drowning, Stander can only spit out vicious quips: "First drink of water he's had in 20 years, and then he had to get it by accident. How do you wire congratulations to the Pacific Ocean?" Producer Menjou is no less cynical when evaluating the movie-going public: "Fans will write to anyone for a picture. It only takes a three-cent stamp, and that makes pictures cheaper than wallpaper." Of course, much of this acid-dripping dialogue stemmed from the black humor for which "Algonquin Round Table" member Dorothy Parker was famous. leave a comment

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