A Star is Born (1954)
Judy Garland, James Mason. Written by Moss Hart. Directed by George Cukor.

Esther Blodgett is a singer in a band when she meets Norman Maine, a Hollywood star at the very beginning of his careerís decline. Although this 1954 version is my least favorite of the four A Star is Born films, Esther and Normanís meeting in this one is the best. Normanís drunk when he wanders onto a stage where Esther and her band are performing. Rather than let Norman be embarrassed, Esther quickly incorporates him into the act, as if he were part of the show.

Itís an immediate display of grace, sensitivity, talent, smarts, and self-assuredness that characterizes Esther throughout the film. If only such economy in development could be employed the rest of the way.

Instead, we get a three-hour marathon thatís alternately engaging and sloggy. Everything we love about younger Judy Garland is right here, as if the film were written about her, and everything some of us (me) hate about 1950s movie musicals and their showtunes is right here as well, in overwrought, boring excess.

Take out most of the songs, and the film would be a pleasant length, but the filmmakers are determined to make it a comeback tour de force for Garland, whoíd been out of movies for four years following the end of her time with MGM.

Iím grateful that this movie holds true to the original in one very important aspect of Estherís career. Although Norman cracks the door open for Estherís chance in the movies, Esther kicks it down with her talent, charm, and niceness. Sheís pretty, but sheís not that pretty, just like the first Esther Blodgett. Some guy who has the hots for her does her a favor, but Esther makes Esther. Itís the best thing about the film.

When Estherís first major film premieres for the Hollywood VIPs, weíre treated not only to a few minutes, but what feels like practically the entire movie. Itís misery.

Estherís career is on the rise, while Normanís is on a self-destructive path downward. Itís just as interesting as the original except that James Masonís Norman Maine is not nearly as likeable as Fredric Marchís and thereís really very little romantic chemistry between Garland and Mason. Theyíre much better and much more believable as best friends.

Could have been a great movie if not for all those songs!

6/10 (IMDb rating)
61/100 (Criticker rating)