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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Backstage > Drama > Hollywood > Show Business > A Star Is Born (1954/Warner Bros. DVD)

A Star Is Born (1954/Warner Bros. DVD)

 

Picture: B-†††† Sound: C+†††† Extras: B+†††† Film: B+

 

 

Give or take George Cukorís What Price Hollywood? (1932), There are three versions of A Star Is Born and they are all good, but the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason tends to be the one that has the most nuance and depth, one that sticks with most people and the one to really beat when the next remake ever gets made.Concerning Garland, the echoes and similarities between the fictional tale and real life have one of those rare parallels that happen once in a generation and in a comeback work yet, like Tina Turnerís album Private Dancer: the performer gives it her all and comes up with a critical and commercial success that remains a landmark work.

 

Garland is Esther, an up and coming performer trying to make a name for herself, running into all kinds of subtle indignities as she works to be a success when she meets the very successful Norman Maine (James Mason) who becomes interested in her unexpectedly.A man whose career is starting to go into decline, he is also going into personal decline through his increasing problems with alcoholism and it brings out his darker side.At first, maybe he will wise up and it turns out she has more talent than even he expected, but then she starts to become a success when he starts to falter.

 

The great stage writer Moss Hart adapted and expanded the screenplay of the 1937 film while music by Ray Heindorf, Ira Gershwin and even Harold Arlen transform this into what pretty much remains the greatest backstage musical ever made.Garland gives the greatest performance of her career, Mason is top rate, Cukor delivers one of the best directing job among so many and it still has the edge of honesty all these decades later.Jack Carson, Tommy Noonan, Charles Bickford and Amanda Blake also star.

 

 

 

The anamorphically enhanced image should be 2.55 X 1, but this seems closer to 2.35 X 1 and that is considering any possibility of overscan in various monitors.The difference may be minor, but some will be bothered and there is no telling if the Blu-ray (which we did not get as of this posting) but the restoration work of Ronald Haver (et al) has paid off as this often looks good thanks to their work so many years ago.Color can look great and often does for this format, bringing the color as close to an original three-strip, dye transfer print as possible (give to take lost footage that was dilled in with zooming in on archive stills).The old CinemaScope system does have some visual limits, but Director of Photography Sam Leavitt, A.S.C., was a groundbreaking widescreen film and remains an innovative landmark to this day.

 

Cukor and Leavitt (The Man With The Golden Arm, Exodus) originally intended to make the film in the old 1.33 X 1 block style frame and shot footage that way, but after the premiere of The Robe (whose premiere footage literally is used in this film throughout), they decided to switch and the result is one of the first films to prove that widescreen filmmaking was more than a gimmick, though it would be seen as such for decades to come, despite so many classics shot that way.Robert Altman even visually referenced it in his underrated The Long Goodbye and seen today, its superiority is more obvious than ever in the face of thousands of bad films in the scope frame, many increasingly shot in HD and in either format (film or HD) by cameramen who have next to no idea about composition.

 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix comes from the restoration itself was from a 4-track stereo master derived from a three-microphone stereo recording system.This is lossy and the music numbers and score sound much better than the dialogue and some sound effects, but this is clean.We would expect that the Blu-rayís 1080p image and lossless audio mix would be better.

 

Extras include trailers for three versions of the film, audio-only section with two outtakes from the film (film footage missing), recording sessions, Judy Garland Promotional & vintage radio show version of the story with Garland from the Lux Radio Theater in 1942, Hollywood Premiere Telecast of the film from the Pantages, Newsreel premiere montage, 1954 Studio Exhibitor Reel, Expanded Post-Premiere Coconut Grove Party Footage, deleted/alternate takes of one dramatic and four musical numbers which show you the development of the film, Film Effects Reel, A Report by Jack L. Warner on the film and A Star Is Bored Looney Tunes send-up with Bugs Bunny.

 

The film is also available for download at this link:

 

http://amzn.to/AOD_AStarIsBorn

 

 

-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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