New This Week
A Star Is Born is a tale as old as the movies, the talking ones anyway. It made its first appearance under the title of What Price Hollywood? (1932), directed by George Cukor, in which waitress Constance Bennett becomes a star under the tutelage of a washed-up alcoholic director, the real-life alcoholic director Lowell Sherman, while her stardom has a detrimental effect on her marriage to Neil Hamilton. Nominated for an Oscar for Original Story by Adela Rogers St. Johns and Jan Murfin, it’s worth a watch.
William Wellman’s beloved A Star Is Born (1937) was the first to use the title. Although it has plot similarities to What Price Hollywood?, it is considered an original story. In this version, the star being born is an aspiring actress played by Janet Gaynor who goes to Hollywood where she achieves her dreams of stardom with the help of an alcoholic has-been actor played by Fredric March, who becomes her husband. Nominated for seven Oscars, it won one for director-writer Wellman and co-writer Robert Carson for Original Story as well as an honorary award to W. Howard Greene for his color cinematography. It was the only Oscar legendary director Wellman (Wings, The Ox-Bow Incident), who was also nominated for Best Director, ever won. A Best Picture nominee, former winners Gaynor (7th Heaven, Sunrise, Street Angel) and March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) were also nominated.
Gaynor is a revelation playing an ingenue imitating Greta Garbo, Mae West, and Katharine Hepburn, all of whom became major Hollywood stars after she did. This was one of March’s best performances as well, matched later by the likes of his work in The Best Years of Our Lives, Executive Suite, Inherit the Wind, and Seven Days in May.
George Cukor’s equally beloved A Star Is Born (1954) makes the rising star a singer as well as an actress as befit its female star Judy Garland with James Mason as the alcoholic has-been actor who helps, then marries her. Garland and Mason received their first Oscar nominations along with four other nods, albeit none for Cukor’s direction or the film itself as Best Picture. Garland would have to make do with the Juvenile Award she received for her outstanding work in 1939 which included The Wizard of Oz, earning just one more nomination for 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg. Mason would receive just two more for 1966’s Georgy Girl and 1982’s The Verdict.
Frank Pierson’s A Star Is Born (1976) greatly diminishes the glamor of the previous versions by moving from the movies to rock music with Barbra Streisand as an aspiring singer and Kris Kristofferson as the self-destructive alcoholic and drug abusing singer who helps, then marries her. Nominated for four Oscars, it won one for Best Original Song, “Evergreen.” It was the first version with the title that failed to receive Oscar nominations for its writing and acting and the second that failed to receive a nomination for its direction.
A Star Is Born (2018) follows the pattern of the 1976 version. Set in today’s music world, it was written, produced, and directed by Bradley Cooper who also stars as the self-destructive alcoholic and drug abusing singer. Both he and Lady Gaga, who plays the rising star, wrote most of the film’s original songs.
A huge box-office success, the film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning just one for Best Original Song, “Shallow.” It was also nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Sound Mixing.
This version mostly appeals to younger audiences not familiar with former versions, although older fans of the 1976 version seem to like it a lot. Audiences with fonder memories of the 1937 and 1954 versions tend to be less enthralled.
All four versions of A Star Is Born are available on Blu-ray and standard DVD. What Price Hollywood? is available on standard DVD only.
One of the year’s nicest surprises, Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, showcases the work of three women whose previous work I have not been a big fan of. That all changes with this.
I liked co-writer Nicole Hofcener’s 2001 film Lovely & Amazing and her 2013 film Enough Said well enough, but that was about it. I didn’t care for director Marielle Heller’s 2015 debut film The Diary of a Teenage Girl and I’ve never liked any of star Melissa McCarthy’s comic films other than the bittersweet 2014 film St. Vincent in which she played a serious role as a single mother.
I loved the work of all three on Can You Ever Forgive Me? with its deft screenplay, perfect capture of New York City’s early1990s neighborhoods, choice of background music, and, best of all, McCarthy’s take-no-prisoners portrayal of Lee Israel, the writer who, having fallen on hard times, turns to larceny to get enough money to pay her rent and care for her aging cat. Richard E. Grant’s portrayal of her partner in crime is perfectly nuanced as well. The film’s Oscar nominations for Best Actress, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay were richly deserved.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is available on standard DVD only.
2018’s The Happy Prince in which Rupert Everett plays Oscar Wilde in his last days, marked the veteran actor’s debut film as a director. It won numerous awards including the London Critics Circle award for Everett as British/Irish Actor of the Year. It was also nominated for Film of the Year and British/Irish Film of the Year and Everett himself was also nominated for Actor of the Year and Breakthrough British/Irish Filmmaker of the Year.
Everett’s film pretty much takes over where Brian Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde, starring Stephen Fry and Jude Law, ends. The beautifully photographed film co-stars Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, Emily Watson, and Tom Wilkinson.
The Happy Prince is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Arrow’s Blu-ray upgrade of Joseph H. Lewis’ 1945 film My Name Is Julia Ross is a 2K restoration of the acclaimed film noir that established the careers of both Lewis and star Nina Foch as the victim of a diabolical plot to erase her identity and eventually kill her. Dame May Whitty and George Macready are the principal villains.
This week’s new releases include Mary Queen of Scots and the Blu-ray debut of Damages – Complete Series.