A Star is Born (1954)
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Judy Garland made perhaps the most triumphant of all movie comebacks in Warner Bros.' A Star Is Born (1954), directed by George Cukor and released four years after Garland appeared in her final film at MGM, where she had been dismissed after more than a decade as that studio's reigning musical-comedy star. Sid Luft, then Garland's husband, oversaw her spectacular return to the screen by serving as producer of the film, which had a troubled production history in part because of Garland's illnesses and stormy temperament.
The story of a singer whose star rises at the same time her alcoholic husband (James Mason) sees his own movie career disintegrate, A Star Is Born gave Garland not only her most intense dramatic role but a brilliant Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin score that provided her with a signature tune - "The Man That Got Away." Other songs include "Gotta Have Me Go with You," "It's a New World," "Somewhere There's a Someone" and "Born in a Trunk." The latter song was built into an elaborate production number for Garland that was filmed without Cukor's approval after he had finished his work on A Star Is Born.
Garland's performance was met with superb notices, including Time magazine's rave as "just about the greatest one-woman show in movie history." The movie won seven Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Garland), Actor (Mason), Art Direction, Set Decoration, Costume Design, Musical Score and Song ("The Man That Got Away"). It was widely anticipated that Garland would win the award itself, and on the night of the ceremonies, television cameras were set up in her room at the hospital where she had given birth to a son, Joe Luft. In later years Garland loved telling a bitterly funny anecdote about how unceremoniously she was treated by the television crew when it was announced that the winner was instead Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954). At the time, Garland friend Groucho Marx decried her Oscar loss as "the biggest robbery since Brink's." A Star Is Born did not win in any category.
After the initial roadshow engagement, Warner Bros. cut some 45 minutes from the movie, much of which was replaced in a 1983 restoration by Ronald Haver. A Star Is Born was remade most recently in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Predating the Garland version is a 1937 version starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The inspiration for all versions is most likely a movie called What Price Hollywood? (1932), which was directed by Cukor and has a strikingly similar story line.
Producer: Sidney Luft, Vern Alves (associate)
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Moss Hart, from original screenplay by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, story by Robert Carson and William A. Wellman
Production Design: Gene Allen
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Original Music: Harold Arlen, Ray Heindorf (uncredited)
Lyricist: Ira Gershwin
Musical Direction: Ray Heindorf
Editing: Folmar Blangsted, Craig Holt (restored version)
Costume Design: Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg, Irene Sharaff
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester), James Mason (Norman Maine), Jack Carson (Matt Libby), Charles Bickford (Oliver Niles), Tommy Noonan (Danny McGuire), Lucy Marlow (Lola Lavery).
by Roger Fristoe