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A Star Is Born

(1954 c 175')

En: 7 Ed: 7

Based on the screenplay of the 1937 A Star Is Born, a singer is given an opportunity at a studio by an alcoholic leading actor whose career is declining. She becomes a big star, and they marry; but his career soon ends.

         In Hollywood stars attend awards ceremonies. Lola Lavery (Lucy Marlow) arrives with Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford) and is interviewed. Matt Libby (Jack Carson) tells Oliver that Norman Maine (James Mason) is drunk, and Matt tries to keep him off the stage. Norman says that Matt handles public relations. Matt takes Norman backstage for pictures, and Norman breaks things. Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) goes on and sings “Gotta Have Me Go With You.” Norman staggers on stage, and she tries to dance with him. Backstage she says she is surprised he is still in pictures. He thanks her and invites her to supper, but Esther slips out with her pianist Danny McGuire (Tom Noonan).

         Matt makes sure Norman is asleep in bed. Norman gets up and goes to the Coconut Grove and to another place to find Esther, who sings “The Man That Got Away.” She notices that Norman is sober. He takes her outside and praises her singing that has something extra. He says she is wasting her time there. He drives her, and she talks about herself. He takes her home, and she shows him her scrapbook. She dreams of making a record. He suggests a bigger dream and offers her a chance with the studio if she will quit her job.

         At home Norman calls Oliver while it is still dark. He drinks. Esther gets up and goes upstairs to tell Danny she is quitting the band because Norman is giving her a screen test. He says she is crazy and a fool.

         In the morning Danny leaves on a bus, and Norman goes abroad for several weeks. Norman acts in a sea epic but gets a fever. Esther calls back about a job singing in a commercial. She works serving burgers. Norman tries to find her and hears her voice on television. He finds her in an old hotel.

         At Oliver’s studio Esther is made up and changed so much that Norman does not recognize her. He takes her home, removes her wig and other things so that she can start over; he completes her natural makeup. She says she is scared, and he says they all are.

         Esther reports to Publicity and says she signed a contract. They send her to Mr. Libby, who takes her to meet Mr. Niles in a projection room. Another day she is filmed waving goodbye from a train. She learns her name has been changed to Vicki Lester. Oliver comes to see Norman, who opens a window so that he can hear Vicki singing. She rehearses dancing.

         Norman drives her to the preview of her movie in which she sings, “Swanee.” Then she sings, “Born in a Trunk” and “I’ll Get By (As Long as I Have You)” and “You Took Advantage of Me” and “Black Bottom” and “The Peanut Vendor” and “Melancholy.” She comes out of the theater with Oliver and Matt. Norman tells her not to let being a star take over her life. She says she loves him, but he says it is too late.

         In rehearsal Vicki sings “Here’s What I’m Here For.” They play it back, and her conversation with Norman proposing to her is heard. She says he drinks too much. He promises to change, and she accepts. They tell Oliver, who lets them have a honeymoon. They go out to buy a ring, and Matt tells Oliver he made a mistake. Matt starts arranging publicity.

         They are wed next to a jail cell with Danny as witness. As they are leaving, Matt drives up and complains. Matt tells Danny the press will blame him. Norman and Vicki go to a motel. Norman turns on the radio, and they hear Vicki singing, “It’s a New World.” He turns off the radio and asks her to sing it to him.

         In a party at their home they show a movie. Oliver steps out, and Norman follows him and asks him what it is. Oliver says he has been instructed to pay him off because he is too risky. Norman says he just bought a big house; he always does the wrong thing.

         Matt dictates to his secretary that Norman is ending his contract. Norman gets a call from a man who wants an interview with Vicki. She comes in, and Norman says he fixed dinner. He brings in sandwiches and kisses her. She describes her new picture and sings “Someone at Last.” She dances around and plays out scenes. They throw pillows and embrace. He is hoping for a picture in England. He answers the door and signs for her package. He tells her the messages she got.

         At the Oscars banquet Vicki wins for best actress, and she says thank you. Drunk Norman claps and comes forward to congratulate her. He says he needs a job and accidentally slaps her.

         At the studio Vicki sings “Lose That Long Face” and dances. Oliver comes into her dressing-room and says they want her pictures. He asks how Norman is, and she says he is in a sanitarium. She asks what makes Norman want to destroy himself. Oliver says he does not know. She says love is not enough. She hates him and herself. Oliver says he will try to get him some work.

         Oliver visits Norman at Liberty Hall, and he has a monitor. Oliver hands him a script with a part for him, but it is not the lead. Norman says he is set with another studio. Norman thanks him for coming.

         At the race track Norman orders ginger ale, and Matt orders Scotch. Norman says he is a trustee. Matt denies that he is his friend and says he can live off his wife. Matt slugs Norman. When he gets up, Norman orders a Scotch.

         At home Vicki tells Oliver that Norman has been gone for four days. The phone rings, and Oliver says Norman was arrested. They go to the court, and Norman is brought in with other drunks. Norman pleads guilty. The judge knows who he is and gives him ninety days. Vicki promises to be responsible for him, and the judge suspends the sentence. Norman gets out, and the press take photos. Vicki puts him to bed.

         The next day Norman overhears Vicki telling Oliver that she cannot do anymore pictures. She says Norman gave her a career, and she will stay with him. Oliver says Norman has nothing left. Oliver wishes her luck as Mrs. Norman Maine. Norman cries. Norman tells Vicki that he wants changes, starting with swimming. They embrace, and he asks her to sing. He looks at her and then goes swimming. In the kitchen she sings, “It’s a New World.” He walks into the surf.

         Matt says the drowning was an accident, and he works on publicity. People attend the funeral in the rain and mob Vicki.

         Oliver tells Matt not to send out anything on Vicki because he has not heard from her. Oliver says Matt did not know Norman. Vicki grieves at home, and Danny comes in to take her to a benefit. She refuses to get dressed and asks to be left alone. Danny says Norman was a drunk, but she was the only thing he had. If she does nothing, it would be as if Norman never existed. She asks him to wait. At the benefit and on radio she says she is Mrs. Norman Maine.

         This dramatic musical displays the singing talent of Judy Garland while it reflects the Hollywood life-style that loves the few who are successful while ignoring the many failures. This difference is emphasized by contrasting the rise of a new star with the fall of an old one. The self-destruction that results from alcoholism is also portrayed.

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

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