Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: A Star is Born

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 9, 2000

Like a baby with a blowtorch.

Special features

Awards Listing2
Cast Information2
Contemporary Coverage7
Deleted Scenes6
Related Trailers4

Probably Judy Garland’s best movie, released in 1954 with James Mason, directed by George Cukor (of “Philadelphia Story”) and produced by none other than her husband. Production values are high, acting is top-notch, and the singing is Judy Garland. The DVD has a few nice extras also.

DirectorGeorge Cukor
WriterMoss Hart
Movie Rating8
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating9
  • Enhanced Widescreen

Made in 1954 when Judy Garland was only 32 years old, there were in retrospect more than a few parallels to Francis Gumm from both Esther Blodgett and Norman Maine. At the time, Judy had been away from MGM for four years after they let her go. A year later she divorced Vincente Minelli (her husband for daughter Liza Minelli), and married producer Sidney Luft a year after that. According to the IMDB he “orchestrated her comeback”. You could hardly ask for a better “comeback”, “A Star is Born” outshone all of her previous work and showed an actress of maturity and depth in a work of lasting quality. Even at the time this is the work that Warner singled out as their “greatest” movie, at least during that year’s publicity run.

Watching this movie reminds me again how much Liza Minelli takes after her mother in both voice and mannerisms.

The movie is a “Hollywood success” story. Esther Blodgett is working with the George Williams Orchestra and gets “discovered” by a great actor on his way down. Actor Norman Maine is a habitual drunkard, but he knows a great singer when he hears one.

The video quality is lacking in many places. Its hard to hold it against them, though because part of the reason for this is the amount of hard work they put into getting us the original film. At some points in the movie the video just plain stops and switches to still shots of the speakers. Apparently the length of the movie was too much for some people, and a few years after its release, some footage was removed. In the eighties, this footage was restored—but in some cases the video footage was unavailable while the audio footage was available. So rather than cut those scenes, they are provided with audio and still footage.

I kind of wish that branching had been used to allow viewing of both forms, but it isn’t something I feel strongly about. Those lost scenes are very important scenes, they mean a lot to the development of Esther Blodgett. Without them, Esther meets Norman Maine and he gets her a job. With them, Esther has to work on her own to get a job before Norman Maine gets around to helping her. This makes for a huge difference in her character’s motivation, or at least how we perceive her motivation. I don’t know, though. Alternate angles would have been another choice: if the video quality is too bad to use, at least provide us with the option of seeing it in an alternate angle. Anyway, enough about that. It’s annoying but the additional scenes are necessary somehow. So don’t be surprised when the video stops and stills take their places towards the end of the first third of the film.

Besides the still footage, there are occasionally places where the video ‘jumps’ or ‘strobes’. But these are very few, and to be expected in a forty-five year old movie.

The contemporary coverage included on this disk is pretty cool. There is the post-premiere party, with a bad microphone. And the premiere seems to have been attended by everyone, even “up from Del Mar, Lucy Ball and Desi Arnaz”, and a whole passel of people who were really famous at the time and who I’ve never heard of. There are also some alternate filmings of “The Man that Got Away”, and one deleted scene, “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street.” There are a few other audio outtakes without video accompaniment that are interesting.

The cast information lists info only for Garland, Mason, and Cukor, and only lists “selected” filmographies, no other information about the cast. The awards listing gives the Golden Globe awards that were won. (For the Oscars, Garland lost out to Grace Kelly in “The Country Girl”, and Mason lost out to Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”.) There were a number of good performances in this movie, though, besides those two. Jack Carson’s performance as the unsympathetic publicity agent was spot-on.

Besides the trailer for this version of “A Star is Born”, the DVD also includes the trailers for the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and for the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

If you’re a fan of Garland or of the movie, you’ll want to purchase this. If you haven’t seen it, you should rent it immediately. It’s a great movie, among a select group of “sad” movies worth seeing over and over again.

Recommendation: Purchase

DirectorGeorge Cukor
WriterMoss Hart
ActorsJudy Garland, James Mason
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish, French
Special FeaturesAwards Listing, Cast Information, Contemporary Coverage, Deleted Scenes, Related Trailers
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