Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Star Is Born (1937)

Who's in it?: Janet Gaynor (a prolific actor in the silent and early sound eras, but this was my first film of hers), Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and Andy Devine (Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Disney's Robin Hood)

What's it about?: The career of a young actress (Gaynor) begins to take off just as the career of her self-destructive husband (March) spirals out of control.

How is it?: The existence of the 2018 version made we want to finally go back and see the versions that came before it, so this'll be a mini-project for 2019. I haven't seen the 2018 one yet either, so Diane and I are tackling these in chronological order.

I see why it's been remade so many times. It's a heartbreaking story of self-destruction, but also sacrifice, which is oddly uplifting. I have to spoil something here to talk about it, but it's an 80-year-old movie that's been remade at least three times, so it's probably not much of a spoiler. Still, if that bothers you, quit reading now.

So March's character Norman can't escape his spiral and realizes that he's hurting his wife Vicki. He's hurting her emotionally of course, but more importantly (to him) he's hurting her career and her dreams of stardom. She is absolutely willing to give those things up to help him fight his demons, but he can't accept that from her. He kills himself by swimming into the ocean to drown.

From his point of view it's a selfless act, though I'd call it misguided and more destructive than anything else he's done in the film so far. It's not a situation with a clear answer though, so I appreciate the opportunity for discussion. What bothers me about it is that I wish the sacrifice was in service to something greater than Hollywood dreams. The whole film is very much Hollywood in love with itself, including pretentious opening and closing shots of the script.

Norman's heart is good though and I do love how Vicki reacts to his death. That feels very real to me. I'm eager to see the story reinterpreted.

Rating: Three out of five pessimistic performers.

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