Classic Movie Review: A Star Is Born (1954)

Title: A Star Is Born
Release Date: September 29, 1954
Director: George Cukor
Production Company: Transcona Enterprises

The second of four Hollywood movies entitled A Star is Born, stars Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett, a vocalist in a traveling big band.  Her performance entrances fading movie star and alcoholic Norman Maine (James Mason) and he seeks her out to offer her a chance at a Hollywood career.  The svengali nature of his pursuit is very uncomfortable to watch and it’s enhanced by Mason being one of Classic Hollywood’s creepiest actors.  By the intermission, Esther is a star (given the stage name Vicki Lester). The second half of the movie deals with Norman’s deterioration as his career fades while Esther’s rises.  It’s a very honest depiction of alcoholism and depression, for the 50s.

The movie contains several song and dance set pieces that really allow Garland to shine.  But they don’t feel as if they support the movie’s plot so much as offer a distraction from it.  The one exception is when Esther recreates a big production number from her current film for Norman in their living room.  It’s really the only moment we get to see them having a sweet moment.  Otherwise A Star is Born is overlong, melodramatic, and a bit boring.

It’s a bit eerie how much the movie parallels Garland’s own troubled career.  Norman’s character is criticized for delaying production on his films but in real life Garland was delaying production of A Star is Born with her absences.  At the time this movie was made, Garland had been in show business for around 20 years and A Star is Born was supposed to be her big comeback.  She was only 32 years old.  That’s so messed up.



Classic Movie Review: America, America (1963)

Title: America, America
Release Date: December 15, 1963
Director: Elia Kazan
Production Company: Athena Enterprises
Summary/Review: America, America is an immigration story written, directed, and produced by Elia Kazan and based on the experiences of his uncle. Unusual for a film produced in the United States at the time it is made in a neorealist style with a cast of little-known actors.  The movie stars Greek actor Stathis Giallelis as Stavros Topouzoglou, a young ethnically Greek man living in the Anatolia region of Turkey in the 1890s. He dreams of escaping poverty and the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire by fleeing to the United States.

The nearly three-hour film is essentially three different stories.  The first part depicts Stavros’ life in Anatolia and the massacre of Armenians that kills his friend Vartan (Frank Wolff).  His father sends him to Constantinople to earn money to bring the rest of the family to join him.  The second part of the film follow Stavros’ struggles in Constantinople which include him becoming engaged to Thomna (Linda Marsh), the daughter of the wealthy merchant Aleko Sinnikoglou (Paul Mann) in order to use the dowry to pay for his passage to America.  The final third depicts the journey to New York City which Stavros pays for through having an affair with the wealthy American Sophia (Katharine Balfour). Hohannes Gardashian (Gregory Rozakis), a fellow dreamer hoping to emigrate to America and suffering from tuberculosis, appears at various points through the story and plays an important part in Stavros’ achieving his dream.

The movie is rough and sprawling and overlong.  The use of American actors in lot of the parts, speaking in broad American accents, comes off as very odd.  The acting also tends to be over the top in general, although Giallelis is a compelling central performance.  This movie was obviously a very personal project for Kazan.  I’m glad I watched it although I don’t feel that it’s a movie I will return to.

Rating: ***