“Tragedy is a test of courage. If you can meet it bravely, it will leave you bigger than it found you. If not than you will have to live all your life as a coward, because no matter where you may run you can never run away from yourself.”
This is the original 1937 of A Star is Born. I have not seen the later remakes and I am sure that compared to this original they cannot hold a candle. The film is all around perfection.
Esther Victoria Blodgett (Janet Gayrnor) lives in a small town in Minnesota. She loves going to the movies and reading fan magazines. She dreams of going to Hollywood to become an actress. Unfortunately her aunt thinks she is crazy and hates the fact that Esther loves the movies and wants to be an actress. The only person in the house who believes in Esther is her grandmother. The grandmother comes into her Esther’s room one night and gives her granddaughter all her savings so she can go live her dream. That night Esther boards a train for Hollywood.
Esther is thrilled to be in Hollywood. One of her first stops is to see Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She sees the names of several great actors and actress and even stands in the foot impression of Norman Maine. As soon as she finds a place she goes out looking for work as an extra. In the boarding house she lives in she meets Danny McGuire (Andy Devine) an assistant director who is also looking for work. One night they go out together to the Hollywood Bowl to see a concert. In front of them is the actor Norman Maine (Fredric March). Norman is drunk and they witness him getting into a fight with a photographer.
Danny rushes into Esther’s room one day and tells her he has a waitressing job for her. He knows it is not what she wants but the job is at a party for the movie he just finished working on and all the cast and crew will be there. To try to make an impression Esther does her best imitations of Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Mae West. Meanwhile, Norman’s producer Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou) has just received a call at the party that Norman has stolen an ambulance. He has his publicist Libby keep everything Norman does out of the papers. Norman finally shows up at the party and is completely drunk. He orders more drinks. Because he drinks so much no one wants to work with him anymore Oliver is having a hard time finding him a movie to make. Esther is working in kitchen putting away dishes. Norman saw her out on the floor and followed her to the kitchen. He flirts with her a little as he helps her put away plates. Norman then begins to break some plates. The actress he hangs around comes into the kitchen. She sees Norman has been flirting with Esther and breaks something over his head. She blames Esther and runs out of the room to tell someone. Luckily Norman gets up and he takes her away before she can get into any trouble.
Later that morning Norman calls Oliver telling him about Esther. He really likes Esther and he is so sure about her that he is willing to make a screen test with her. The tests come out well and Oliver wants to sign her. As Esther sits with Libby he has a fit over her name. He goes into Oliver’s office and the two brainstorm what they can call her. They decide on the name Vicki Lester. After that Esther is put through the ringer. She takes voice lessons, two men in the makeup department try to change her face, and works on her posture.
While sitting in the commissary Esther works on how she wants to say her line for a small part she has in a film. Norman hears her practicing. He tells her he is working on a film but they are having trouble finding the right leading lady. Norman realizes Esther is the right actress for the part and convinces Oliver to put her in the starring role. At the preview the audiences love Vicki Lester.
Vicki Lester becomes an overnight sensation. She begins to spend more time with Norman. At a boxing match Norman asks Esther to marry him. At first she says no because he drinks and spends his money foolishly. He says he can change and means it. They go to Oliver with their news. Libby and Oliver want to make a big deal out of their engagement and throw them a huge wedding. All Esther and Norman want is to elope. They sneak out of the office and elope in a small town.
Norman’s career starts coming to an end. His popularity as a top movie star is no more. The press only wants photographs and news of Vicki. Norman’s films do not do well and Oliver is forced to buy out the rest of the actor’s contract. Norman falls so far down that the night Esther wins the Oscar for Best Actress he barges in drunk and yelling. Esther does not even react nor does she become angry. She goes her husband’s side.
Norman gets help but then spirals out of control after he gets into a fight with Libby at a race track. He goes missing for four days before he is picked up by the police. Norman hears Esther saying to Oliver that she is willing to give up her career to go away somewhere and take care of him. He cannot bare to hear his wife say that. Norman gets out of bed and tells Esther is going to go for a swim. He asks her to turn around as she walks away so he can see her one last time before he goes out. A few days later Norman’s body washes up on a beach. The papers say it was a swimming accident.
Esther wants to give up acting and go back home. Her grandmother travels out to Hollywood to see her. She tells Esther is proud of what she has accomplished and likes to say that her granddaughter is a famous movie star. She also tells Esther that there was always going to be sacrifice but she has to keep moving in spite of those sacrifices.
A few months later Vicki Lester makes a triumphant return to the movies.
The entire cast was fantastic. Janet Gaynor and Fredric March were incredible. Before this film I had only seen Gaynor in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Sunrise is a silent film and Gaynor was made to look like a peasant woman. So going into this film I had no idea what her voice sounded like or what she looked like with darker hair because she wears a blonde wig in Sunrise. I was taken aback a little when I first heard her speak because she has a high voice. Gaynor was awesome right from the beginning. She was perfect as the small town girl turned famous actress. Fredric March just nailed played Norman Lester the once famous movie star with demons. March and Gaynor had excellent chemistry. None of the main characters are cruel… well except for Libby he was not nasty to Norman.
What makes A Star is Born a perfect film is how real everything is. One review I read said they loved how this film did not try to prove anything. It does not prove anything it just tells a story one that happened in Hollywood so many times before and after this was released. You can feel every emotion of what the characters are going through. You want to throw your arms around Norman and Esther to protect them. I felt terrible for Vicki when she is walking out of the church for Norman’s funeral. Fans are waiting outside the church to see her face and ask for autographs. One woman says Vicki is better off without Norman she was a good for nothing. After that comment she screams out in frustration and sadness. That was the saddest scene of the whole film. The scene was based on Irving Thalberg’s funeral where fans swarmed around Norma Shearer.
William Wellman was one of the writers for the film as well as the director. The more films I see of Wellman’s the more I like him. He and the other writers must have felt deeply about the stars they saw or directed around Hollywood. They knew Hollywood was a tough and horrible town. I liked Wellman and the writers did not make the film over dramatic and dealt with real life issues. They made the characters sympathetic and only made Libby and the “public the real villains.
A Star is Born is one of the greatest classic films ever made. I was drawn into this world of these two actors. A Star is Born stands out among the films made about Hollywood and so many films made in the 1930s.