Week in Review
There are plenty of remakes out there, but few movies have been remade twice. There's Here Comes Mr. Jordan/Heaven Can Wait/Down to Earth, starring Robert Montgomery/Warren Beatty/Chris Rock. The only other one I know of is A Star is Born. The 1976 Barbra Streisand version came out this past Tuesday on DVD, so I thought it would be a good time to rewatch the 1954 Judy Garland film, which I haven't seen in its restored version, and the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor which I have never seen before.
A Star is Born (1937)
Janet Gaynor and Frederic March star. Janet Gaynor is a small town girl who dreams of moving to Hollywood and getting into motion pictures. Her Granny puts her on the train and sends her off. When Gaynor gets to Hollywood, she is thrilled at the sight of Harold Lloyd's footprints at Mann's Chinese theater. This film is so old those are the only footprints there. (Not really.) She rents a room for six dollars a week, and goes to central casting to sign up for extra work. But in the middle of the depression, there's not work to be had. But she does get a gig serving hors d'oeuvres at a soiree full of producers. Can she get noticed?
A Star is Born (1954)
My favorite of the three. Judy Garland stars as a barely working song-and-dance type who meets James Mason, the peaking movie star. He promises to get her a screen test, but will he follow through? Garland was only in her early thirties, but this was considered her comeback film as MGM had cancelled her contract and Warner had to be convinced to produce this film, which clocked in at 3 hours. Thirty minutes were cut, some of which was lost forever. The special edition DVD includes the original soundtrack, but some of the visuals are recreated using continuity stills. The idea that a film like this doesn't exist anymore in its original state horrifies all film nerds. This film is on many "all-time" lists, and may be Garland's best performance.
A Star is Born (1976)
Barbra Streisand is a nightclub singer who's discovered by out-of-control rock and roller Kris Kristofferson. They try to make it as a couple, but his life is all sex, drugs, and Gary Busey. This is a bit of a twist on the first two, as it moves from the world of movies and musicals to arena rock.
Streisand picked this up as a vehicle for herself. Originally, she wanted Elvis to play opposite her. Elvis' last film hadn't released a new film since 1969. Appearing in this film would've frighteningly predicted Elvis' demise. Elvis wanted to do it, but Colonel Tom Parker nixed the idea for reasons that aren't clear. Some say it was a power move that he pulled on Barbra since she asked Elvis first without consulting his management. Others say that Elvis was physically incapable by this point of keeping up with a rigorous film schedule.
Spoiler Alert! I want to discuss the third act of the film, so if you don't know how it ends, stop reading this post now.
When the male lead in each film realizes his career is over, he commits suicide. Frederic March, like a true man, swims into the sunset, in a beautiful shot, which, in the early days of color film, must've blown a few minds in the theater. But James Mason WALKS into the ocean, straight into the waves, never swimming, but steadfastly and stubbornly accepting his death. Kris Kristofferson, however, drives drunk down a country road until he wrecks. In this third version, it's not implied that he killed himself, but it's not denied either. We're left with a vague automobile crash. It's my only real problem with this third version. Each man, when faced with his failure, resolutely kills himself. With the unclear death of Kristofferson, the ending's cinematic power is muted.
One of my favorite scenes in the 1937 version is when March storms the stage at the Oscar ceremony and demands the Oscar for Worst Performance. While Mason kicks up a fuss, the 1954 version's scene isn't nearly as powerful. But Kristofferson brings it home, demanding the Grammy for Worst Performance in sight of a horrified Tony Orlando.
Pick of the Week
Easy Rider is commonly misreferenced as Jack Nicholsen's first film. His first film was actually The Cry Baby Killer, a 1960 Roger Corman B picture that runs just over one hour, thanks to a classic Corman long title sequence. Nicholsen plays a young man who gets involved in a nasty scrape with some nogoodniks, and resultantly ends up holed up with three hostages. It's an early look at the way the media portrays crime and the police. It's a must-see if you're a Nicholsen or a Corman fan, and it has not been available on DVD until now.
Also included on the disc is Little Shop of Horrors, a film Corman shot in two days, with Nicholsen as a masochistic dental patient.
I knocked out 12 this week. I'm getting well ahead. I doubt I'll get that many in this coming week, if the Saturday Night Live DVDs come in. Season one releases on Tuesday, and it's an 8 disc set.
12 DVDs this week. 467 DVDs in 337 days. 33 DVDs left in the next 28 days for a pace of 8.24 per week.
Total Viewing Time: 33 days, 19 hours, 7 minutes