A Star Is Born (1954) - Rotten Tomatoes

A Star Is Born (1954)




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Movie Info

The 1954 musical remake of A Star is Born could have been titled A Star is Reborn, in that it represented the triumphal return to the screen of Judy Garland after a four-year absence. The remake adheres closely to the plotline of the 1937 original: An alcoholic film star, on his last professional legs, gives a career boost to a unknown aspiring actress. The two marry, whereupon her fame and fortune rises while his spirals sharply downward. Unable to accept this, the male star crawls deeper into the bottle. The wife tearfully decides to give up her own career to care for her husband. To spare her this fate, the husband chivalrously commits suicide. His wife is inconsolable at first, but is urged to go "on with the show" in memory of her late husband. In the original, Janet Gaynor played Esther Blodgett, who with no training or contacts came to Hollywood hoping for stardom. The remake, scripted by Moss Hart, is a shade more realistic: Garland's Esther, though far removed from fame, is a working professional singer/dancer when first we meet her. Both Gaynor and Garland are transformed from "Esther Blodgett" to "Vicki Lester" after being screen-tested, though Gaynor goes on to star in fluffy costume dramas while Garland more logically headlines big-budget musicals. The 1937 Star is Born costarred Fredric March as Norman Maine, Esther/Vicki's sponsor-cum-spouse. March patterned his performance after the tragic John Barrymore, reining in his emotions in favor of pure technique; James Mason's interpretation is more original, more emotional, and far more effective (who can forget the scene where Norman sobbingly overhears Vicki planning to give up her career for his sake?) As the studio's long-suffering publicist, the 1937 version's Lionel Stander is more abrasive and unpleasant than the 1954 version's introspective, intellectual Jack Carson; on the other hand, Adolphe Menjou and Charles Bickford are fairly evenly matched in the role of the studio head. Several important omissions are made in the remake. The 1937 Star is Born included Esther's indomitable old grandma (May Robson), a helpful assistant director (Andy Devine) and a soft-hearted landlord (Edgar Kennedy); all three characters are missing from the 1954 version, though elements of each can be found in the "best friend/severest critic" character played by Tommy Noonan. Wisely, both versions end with the grieving Vicki Lester coming out of her shell at a public gathering, greeting the audience with a proud, defiant "Good evening, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine". Though directors William Wellman (1937 version) and George Cukor (1954 version) handle this finale in their own distinctive manners, the end result is equally effective emotionally. What truly sets the 1954 A Star is Born apart from other films of its ilk is its magnificent musical score by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin. The songs include The Man Who Got Away (brilliantly performed by Garland in one long take, sans dubbing), It's a New World, Somewhere There's a Someone, I Was Born in a Trunk, Lose That Long Face and Gotta Have Me Go With You. When originally previewed in 1954, the film ran well over three hours, thanks to the lengthy-and thoroughly disposable-Born in a Trunk number, added to the film as an afterthought without the approval or participation of director George Cukor. The Warner Bros. executives trimmed the film to 154 minutes, eliminating three top-rank musical numbers and several crucial expository sequences (including Norman's proposal to Vicki). At the instigation of the late film historian Ronald Haver, the full version was painstakingly restored in 1983, with outtakes and still photos bridging the "lost" footage. Though nominated in several categories, A Star is Born was left empty-handed at Academy Award time, an oversight that caused outrage then and still rankles Judy Garland fans to this day (Footnote: Judy Garland had previously played Vicki Lester in a 1942 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the original A Star is Born). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovimore
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Musical & Performing Arts, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson, Moss Hart
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 1, 2001
Warner Bros. Pictures


Judy Garland
as Vicki Lester/Esther ...
James Mason
as Norman Maine
Jack Carson
as Matt Libby
Charles Bickford
as Oliver Niles
Tommy Noonan
as Danny McGuire
Lucy Marlow
as Lola Lavery
Lucy Marlowe
as Lola Lavery
Amanda Blake
as Susan Ettinger
James Brown
as Glenn Williams
Hazel Shermet
as Libby's Secretary
Lotus Robb
as Miss Markham
Joan Shawlee
as Announcer
Dub Taylor
as Driver
Kathryn Card
as Landlady
Rex Evans
as Academy Awards Emcee
Emerson Treacy
as Justice of the Peace
Chick Chandler
as Man in Car
Blythe Daly
as Miss Fusselow
Mae Marsh
as Party Guest
Nadene Ashdown
as Esther (age 6)
Heidi Meadows
as Esther (age 3)
Henry Kulky
as Cuddles
Jack Harmon
as Dancer #1
Don McCabe
as Dancer #2
Henry Russell
as Orchestra Leader
Charles Watts
as Harrison
Pat O'Malley
as Man at Race Track
Samuel Colt
as Man at Race Track
Charles Halton
as Studio Employee
Joseph Mell
as Studio Employee
Stuart Holmes
as Spectator
Richard Webb
as Wallace
Wilton Graff
as Shrine Auditorium Em...
Olin Howard
as Charley
Phil Arnold
as Agent #3
Rudolph Anders
as Mr. Ettinger
Bess Flowers
as Academy Awards Cerem...
John Saxon
as Premiere Movie Usher
Allen Kramer
as Bit Part
Louis Jean Heydt
as Director - Ocean Sce...
Leonard Penn
as Director - Train Sta...
Olin Howland
as Charley
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for A Star Is Born

Critic Reviews for A Star Is Born

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (2)

When A Star is Born works, though, it's painful for the right reasons.

Full Review… | April 10, 2014
Film Freak Central

Not being a fan of the movie musical, I got bored with the production numbers.

Full Review… | July 31, 2012
7M Pictures

George Cukor's musical drama, the second version of Star Is Born, is his masterpiece, an emotionally touching tale in which Judy Garland renders her most impressive performance as dramatic actress.

Full Review… | April 4, 2011

The film remains timely for the themes of fame and success it explores with such great scope and emotion

Full Review… | August 1, 2010

[The] musical numbers are impressive, but I was far more amazed by some of the simpler moments...

Full Review… | June 25, 2010
Combustible Celluloid

A Star is Born totally lives up to its reputation. The performances are great, and the story is the sort that completely sucks you in.

Full Review… | June 21, 2010
Aisle Seat

Audience Reviews for A Star Is Born

A has-been actor introduces and later marries a singer/actress.
An epic, grandiose, and timeless tale, George Cukor's remake of A Star Is Born is a fantastic tour de force for its stars and is a visual delight. The film's actors, Judy Garland and James Mason, are in top form (though I can't help noting how singularly similar Garland is to her daughter, Liza Minnelli; at times I didn't know whom I was watching). The spectacle of some of the musical numbers, which at times might be over-long, is beyond compare, and at its heart, the film is a very human story. Oddly feminist, the film privileges Vicki Lester's success over that of her husband, but at the same time there is no doubt that she could not have made it on her talent alone. Is this a condemnation of the business or latent misogyny?
Overall, whatever the film's meandering flaws may be, it is nonetheless a classic for a very good reason.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


Altough slow at times, a Perfect movie. How Judy Garland could have lost this oscar is unbelievable. One of the best performances of all time!

Morgan Salem

Super Reviewer

Garland was already a star, I wouldn't have chose her to star in this remake. I want to see the original movie eventually.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

A Star Is Born Quotes

– Submitted by Chris P (4 years ago)

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