There is no question that the 1954 version of A Star is Born holds a special place in the pantheon of classic movies. It was director George Cukor’s first foray into musicals, his first colour film, and it was without a doubt Judy Garland’s greatest screen performance. With incredible detail, Haver gives us the gripping story of its making and marketing, the myriad technical problems, the clashes of personalities, and the shocking ups and downs of the film’s star. And here, finally, is the author’s own mission to restore the film to its original length and glory in 1983.
The 1954 version of A star is Born, is one of my favorite films. Judy Garland as Vicki Lester and James Mason as Norman Maine give amazingly moving performances as to movie starts, one on the way to the top, and one hurtling towards oblivion in a bottle.
This book chronicles the troubled making of the film, from finding the right leading man (both Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart were approached to play Norman Maine), the script and music issues and even what format and lenses to use (CinemaScope had just arrived and Warner Brothers did not want to pay to use the 20th Century-Fox equipment but there own version was considerably inferior), and of course the absences and delays caused by Judy Garland.
However, not all of the overspend on the film can be attributed to Garland, and Ronald Haver explains that large amounts were wasted after Warners decided to junk footage shot in the normal screen ratio and reshoot in CinemaScope. George Cukor spent thousands of printing as many shots as he could, he wanted the best picture possible, and when the film was finally complete it ran for 182 minutes, in order to recoup the cash and show the film as many times a s possible per day the film was cut to 154 minutes, and this was the version that was shown for many years. Sadly the cutting was done so badly and with little thought to character and plot development that once cut, the film didn’t work as well, had is been cut by Cukor (they wouldn’t let him) it would have been done more sensitively.
The book then goes on to explain how the missing footage was found and restored where possible and if not how photos were used to link the narrative.
It is a well written book and extremely interesting and demonstrates how little the film industry valued it’s product then. Of course in the 1950’s, television was the enemy and there were no home video players.
If you are interested in Hollywood history and film restoration or a fan of Mason, Garland and the film, then this book is worthy of a space on your bookshelf.
I gave this book 5 out of 5* on Goodreads