A Star Is Born (1954)
Directed by George Cukor

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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When Norman Maine (James Mason), a drunken movie star, hears Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), a singer in a band, performing, he realizes that she could be a sensation. Having subsequently introduced her to the boss of his studio, who renames her Vicky Lester, Norman continues to help her career, all the while falling in love with her. Unfortunately, although the two eventually get married, as Vicky's fame increases, Norman's begins to fade.

George Cukor's A Star Is Born is a generally entertaining and surprisingly tragic musical that is never quite as captivating as it could have been.

Unlike many other films that were being made at roughly the same time, which are often painfully cheerful and falsely sentimental, A Star is Born is pervaded with a sense of profound loss and sorrow. While the beginning of the movie is filled with hope, with a sense that something wonderful is awaiting the protagonist, there are, even in these scenes, elements which make the viewer aware that her happiness is linked to Norman's and that his life cannot but end badly. The joy the moviegoer feels while watching the movie's earlier scenes is, consequently, mingled with an anticipation of terrible sufferings to come.

When these fears are realized, when Norman's drinking does eventually destroy his life, feelings of despair and regret come to dominate the movie. The viewer is thus able to experience both Vicky's sadness and the tragedy of her husband's gradual decline with a real poignancy. Instead of succumbing to a shallow, unaffecting optimism, A Star is Born is a genuinely dolorous movie.

What is more, although much of the film is visually pedestrian, it does include a few lavish and fetching sets. Those used in a series of musical numbers performed as a part of the movie in which Vicky Lester makes her screen debut are especially nicely done. Dispensing in these sequences with an adherence to some dull realism, Cukor has placed the character Lester plays in a series of stylized locations, in which she acts out various vignettes and narrates these in song. There is hardly one of these sets that is not appealing. In fact, the scenes from Vicky Lester's movie are perhaps the most enjoyable in A Star is Born.

I should at this point note that the film is likely to thrill Judy Garland's admirers. Not only does she acquit herself well as an actress, but she also performs a number of songs over the course of the movie, all of which are pleasant to hear. I will concede that I have never fallen under her spell, but I have no doubt that those who have will find much in the film to please them.

Regrettably, A Star is Born is by no means without flaws. It is somewhat too long and does, frankly, occasionally grow tiresome. A few themes are simply allowed to play out at far too great a length and do bog the story down. Norman's efforts to rehabilitate himself, for example, are so extensively presented that they interrupt the flow of the narrative. These scenes should have been considerably shortened. The movie is rarely boring, but its pacing may test many viewers' patience.

Even though A Star is Born never attains greatness, it is a well made, affecting, and entertaining film.

Review by Keith Allen

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