Esther Blodgett is just another starry-eyed farm kid trying to break into the movies. Waitressing at a Hollywood party, she catches the eye of alcoholic star Norman Maine, is given a test, and is caught up in the Hollywood glamor machine (ruthlessly satirized). She and her idol Norman marry; but his career abruptly dwindles to nothing
Janet Gaynor ... Esther Victoria Blodgett, aka Vicki Lester
Fredric March ... Norman Maine
Adolphe Menjou ... Oliver Niles
May Robson ... Grandmother Lettie
Andy Devine ... Daniel 'Danny' McGuire
Lionel Stander ... Matt Libby
Owen Moore ... Casey Burke, director
Peggy Wood ... Miss Phillips, Central Casting clerk
Elizabeth Jenns ... Anita Regis
Edgar Kennedy ... Pop Randall, landlord
J.C. Nugent ... Mr. Blodgett
Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams ... Posture coach (as Guinn Williams)
Director: William A. Wellman / Jack Conway (uncredited)
Codecs: DivX / MP3
Fredric March gave a magnificent performance, probably the best of his career, as Norman Maine, the actor whose career is in the descendant as that of his wife, Vikki Lester, is in the ascendant in this, the first 'official' version of "A Star is Born", (the 1932 film "What Price Hollywood" roughly told the same story). March displays just the right degree of brashness, of knowingness, and a combination of ego and a real actor's almost complete lack of ego. It's a miraculous piece of work.
As Lester, Janet Gaynor is touchingly blank but the star quality she is meant to display seems conspicuously absent; (in the 1954 musical remake Judy Garland was almost too much a star). It seems inconceivable that she could eclipse March on screen (even with his drinking). If Lester is a star and possibly a great actress Gaynor keeps the secret to herself.
The script for this version was partly written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell and it shows. It's an acerbic and, at times, savage movie about the movies, quite cynical for a major studio picture of it's day. It is very well directed by William Wellman who draws first-rate performances from the supporting cast, in particular Lionel Stander as a heartless, slime-ball studio hack. This remains the best of the three versions to come thus far.
I had not watched this movie until today, passing up each opportunity over the years to view it, as I feared it would not live up to the 1954 blockbuster starring Judy Garland and James Mason.
I was right, it does not; it far surpasses the 1954 remake. Judy Garland is my favorite all-round entertainer, favorite singer, and the songs in the 1954 movie are classic treasures, and James Mason never disappoints in any film. However, in the 1937 version the story is told more sensitively, with more shading. Janet Gaynor is perfect as the home-grown farm girl seeking to make her mark in Hollywood, and Fredric March is very convincing as the has-been who cannot cope with his declining value in Hollywood, especially since he caused much of it himself.
I had thought that I might miss the music in this earlier version, but I found after having watched it that I didn't miss it at all. The movie was engrossing from beginning to end and stood on its own merits. I was moved by this film in a way that I never had been by the later remake.
SEE this film if you love a good story; don't put it off for years the way I did. Simply, simply wonderful...
Having seen the two later versions of this tale, it was a surprise to find the original one, even if it doesn't compare with the 50s remake with Judy Garland. This one is worth a look because of the great cinematography and the use of color for a film made in the early years of its invention. William Wellman deserves credit for his direction of a Hollywood story about itself.
The mere idea of young and very naive, Esther Blodgett making it big in Hollywood, is stretching the imagination big time. This girl from the heart of the country yearns to be somebody in the pictures that are her escape from the dreary life she leads. To even think that she would have a chance in becoming a bit player, is a stretch of the imagination, but to have her become a star in her own right with her unsophisticated looks, is even harder to believe. Hollywood of those years was a factory of dreams where many went to be part of it, but for one Esther Blodgett, there were thousands who were rejected.
We watch as Esther is transformed into Vicki Lester, a star larger than life, who captures the public's imagination and goes to eclipse bigger stars such as Norman Maine, her discoverer, and the man she falls in love with. Norman's decline is very fast, while Vicki's ascent into glory is even faster. His drinking habit will get the best of him at a time when help agencies such as A.A. didn't exist. Unfortunately for Vicki, she ultimately has to pay for her own meteoric success.
The cast is superb. Not being a fan of Janet Gaynor, I have to confess that she strikes the right note with her Esther/Vicki role. She is totally believable even though we never even see her take an acting class, much less see her waiting tables to help herself. Frederick March brings an intensity to Norman, the self destructive star, that makes us pity him.
Adolphe Menjou is the studio head who sees a winner in the young, aspiring actress, and gives her the chance. Most surprising of all is the star performance of Lionel Standing as Matt Libby, the studio publicist who is behind the creation of the new star. Andy Devine, May Robson, and the rest are equally satisfying.
This film was a happy surprise in many aspects and will not disappoint.
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