Many people are familiar with the 1976 movie A Star is Born. A Barbra Streisand showcase that just happened to feature Kris Kristofferson. This movie did not properly encapsulate the classic tale of the original A Star is Born, because of Streisand’s ego. I’m surprised it even fit on camera.
There is a total of three A Star is Born movies. The first came in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. This version was nonmusical and mainly focused on rising to stardom thorough acting. Seventeen years later in 1954, the same story was set to music by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin.
It was also Judy Garland’s return to the screen since being released by MGM.
Everybody during this time were familiar with Garland’s drug addictions, suicide attempts, and tumultuous personal life. Through these struggles, she was able to regain stardom as a stage performer and once more becoming renowned in many theaters around the world. Now it was time to prove that she still had the same star quality she always had, amidst MGM’s release.
Directed by George Cukor and produced by Garland’s then husband Sid Luft, A Star is Born was well on it’s way to being the biggest picture of the year, and potentially one of the biggest to that time. They filmed the movie coming in roughly at 181 minutes, in which Warner Brothers cut by 30 minutes. This was a rough blow to everybody who had worked on the film, especially Garland. Garland’s acting skills were on the top of their game, but this movie truly displayed Garland’s vocals at one of its peaks.
The movie opens with Garland’s first number “Gotta Have Me Go With You.” This is a fun vaudevillian song where Garland, the future Vicki Lester, had to sing through a drunk Norman Maine (James Mason) disrupting her performance. This number set a precedent for the movie, that was never broken.
Then came one of Garland’s signature hits and greatest recordings, “The Man That Got Away.” This song is now a must in most crooner’s books, but Garland was the original. She sings every note precisely and pronounces every word with detail, but that isn’t what made this song classic. It wasn’t just about the man that got away for Garland; it was about everything that had been taken away in Garland’s life to this time.
This was a summary of her life till 1954 and sadly remained a constant commentary till her untimely death in 1969.
Garland’s deep vibrato and intense emotion makes this song an emotional journey for the listener. She tells of how “the stars have lost their glitter” and how “the dreams you dreamed have all gone astray.” She talks about how people will “undue you” and how it’s all a “crazy game.” Every aspect of this song is perfection, but Judy took it to the next level with her personal failures and triumphs.
The soundtrack then goes into the classic “Born in a Trunk” melody that is also somewhat biographical of Garland’s life, but not completely. This melody soars with her renditions of “My Melancholy Baby” and “Swanee.”
Lastly, there is her unforgettable “Someone At Last.” This somewhat dream sequence is shot around Lester’s (Garland) and Maine’s (Mason) living room. This is a one woman show where she travels around musical genres and the world all in less then 10 minutes. This proves Garland was far from the public and gossip papers perception. She was an immaculate performer that only needed a few instruments and a camera to prove so. To hell with their thoughts, Judy Garland was on top and wasn’t afraid to show it.
In recent years, this film has been selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The rankings go on with Garland being listed as the best actress for that year in many magazines and the movie itself being named in many top 100 movie lists. Even “The Man That Got Away” has been redone by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
The biggest disappointment with this film was the adjourning Academy Awards. In what is said to be one of the closet votes in the history of the Oscars, Garland was snubbed for best actress by Grace Kelly for her film The Country Girl. Garland had once again given her all to a project she believed in, only to be ignored by her peers.
But in the end, awards don’t matter. Who remembers The Country Girl? This movie rebirths a said to be “washed up” actress into a household name once again. Garland soared over the rainbow with this one and, as history has proven, nothing is going to let that get away.