Starring: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou
Director: William Wellman
Summary: A fading matinee idol marries the young beginner he’s shepherded to stardom
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (March), Actress (Gaynor), Story*, Adapted Screenplay, Assistant Director
-Even though it isn’t original (more on this later), the story is an effective tragedy about the rise and inevitable fall of celebrity. While not completely realistic, the characters themselves feel real enough that you can get invested in them.
-Fredric March’s gives a top-notch performance with a lot of pathos and sensitivity as an aging actor falling out of the limelight. Throughout the movie, he makes us feel like the character is always one step away from either getting on track or falling off the cliff and therefore makes us root for him and be disgusted at him in equal measure.
-There’s a surprising amount of humor to go along with the drama, especially in the first half of the film and most of it works really well
-I think the weakest link in the film is actually the character of Vicki Lester (played by Gaynor, not that she doesn’t give a fine performance). Her character really only has two notes-initially, that she wants to make it in Hollywood, and then later that she loves her husband. For being a huge focus of the film, she could have a little more going on under the hood.
-This is the first color film to be nominated for Best Picture, which is a major film landmark. However, the color doesn’t look very good, and probably would have been better in black and white. Here’s what the movie looks like in color: http://static.gamesradar.com/images/totalfilm/a/a-star-is-born-1937-_148441-fli_1384255998.jpg; here’s what it looks like in Black and White: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01808/gaynor-star_1808589i.jpg
Nevertheless, progress needed to start somewhere, and if we never made mediocre-looking color films we would have never gotten great looking color movies.
-The plot to “A Star is Born” was so similar to “What Price Hollywood?” (1932) that George Cukor refused to direct it and RKO considered filing a plagiarism suit against David O. Selznick
-As mentioned, this was the first color Best Picture nominee, but there were a number of full color feature films that preceded it even going back all the way to 1912-14 depending on what you count. The first Technicolor film was “The Gulf Between” in 1917 (http://www.we-heart.com/upload-images/dawntechnicolor3.jpg), and the process was much improved for the second one, “The Troll of the Sea” in 1922 which actually doesn’t look that bad (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Anna_May_Wong_holds_child_in_The_Toll_of_the_Sea.jpg) and further improved (called Process 3) for 1928’s “The Viking” (http://www.medievalists.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Viking_1928_1.jpg). However, these were expensive and were rarely used for the entirety of a film until 1935 when Becky Sharp (https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/styles/Large/public/images/pages/beckysharp.jpg?itok=9wvombxe), the first feature in the much more cost-effective Process 4 (Three-Strip) Technicolor, was released. From here, color films would slowly become the dominant feature film format, and the same 3-strip Technicolor continued to be refined until it was last used in a major film in 1977’s Suspiria (https://myworldvsthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/suspiria.jpg).
-Despite the huge success of this film that marked a comeback for her, Gaynor would only do three more movies-two in 1938, and one more (Bernardine) 19 years later in 1957, making her effectively retired at age 32. Much like Luise Rainer who also retired young, she made her last film/tv appearance on an episode of Love Boat in the 1980’s.
Very solid movie that is historically interesting for multiple reasons. Main reason to watch is March’s performance and his great character.