A Star Is Born


A Star Is Born

Critics Consensus

A Star is Born is a movie of grand scope and intimate moments, featuring Judy Garland's possibly greatest performance.



Total Count: 39


Audience Score

User Ratings: 9,221
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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, Rovi


Judy Garland
as Vicki Lester/Esther Blodgett
James Mason
as Norman Maine
Jack Carson
as Matt Libby
Charles Bickford
as Oliver Niles
Tommy Noonan
as Danny McGuire
Lucy Marlowe
as Lola Lavery
Amanda Blake
as Susan Ettinger
James Brown (II)
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
Wilton Graff
as Shrine Auditorium Emcee
Phil Arnold
as Agent #3
Rudolph Anders
as Mr. Ettinger
Bess Flowers
as Academy Awards Ceremony Attendee
Allen Kramer
as Bit Part
Louis Jean Heydt
as Director - Ocean Scene
Leonard Penn
as Director - Train Station Scene
Olin Howland
as Charley
Willis Bouchey
as McBride - Director
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Critic Reviews for A Star Is Born

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (1)

  • All this, plus a dozen big musical sequences, makes Star a mighty long gulp of champagne; but, like champagne, it is hard to refuse.

    Oct 3, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Judy Garland gives everything she has as the young star on the way up; her performance is an emotional autobiography.

    Oct 3, 2018 | Full Review…
  • A Star Is Born is the perfect blend of drama and musical - of cinematic art and popular entertainment.

    Oct 3, 2018 | Full Review…
  • A Star Is Born was a great 1937 moneymaker and it's an even greater picture in its filmusical transmutation.

    Jul 7, 2010 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • One of the grandest heartbreak dramas that has drenched the screen in years... the Warners and Mr. Cukor have really and truly gone to town in giving this hackneyed Hollywood story an abundance of fullness and form.

    Mar 25, 2006 | Full Review…
  • Of all Hollywood's heartbreakers, this must be one of the saddest.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for A Star Is Born

  • Oct 07, 2018
    Forget the 1937 version, this is a much superior remake that does right everything (except for that awful last line) that the original film did wrong (at least for later standards), with Garland in a stellar performance especially during her "Someone at Last" number in the living room.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 30, 2014
    Its basically just an expanded version of the original, designed to be mostly a showcase for Garland . . . not that I mind because she's truly fantastic in every single moment. I think its the best version of this story. Cukor and Hart wisely jettison most of the soft hitting satire in favor of making something of a tragic, semi-musical comedy. As great as Garland is, she's equally matched by Mason.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 13, 2013
    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 H Super Reviewer
  • Jan 23, 2013
    What a very long boring movie. "A Star Is Born" reminds me of "What's Love Got To Do With It" taking place in 1954. James Mason plays the Ike Turner character Norman Maine and Judy Garland is the Tina Turner character Esther Blodgett / Vicki Lester. Maine is an alcoholic, meets Esther and wants to make her a risin acting star. Esther is reluctant at first because she belongs to a music group and is profesional singer. Should Esther throw her music career away in order to follow Norman Maine's wishes? She does and things don't go smoothly at first. Esther does a few odd jobs to make ends meet. Later on Esther meets Maine and this time he tries to get her a deal with the studio which he does, the two fall in love and then the picture goes into this melodramtic heartbreak. This film kinda annoyed me with the distracting restoration editing techniques, Judy Garland's melodramtic acting, and the obvious things that was going to happen to Norman. "A Star Is Born" is a very long movie which didn't need to be. George Cuckor is a great filmmaker but im not sure if this material was suited for him. Great musicals were known to be epic and exciting, this film goes the opposite way making me wonder as to when on earth is this film going to end?
    Brian R Super Reviewer

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