Warner Bros. // 1954 // 176 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // June 30th, 2010
"Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine." -- Esther Blodgett
In 1954 Judy Garland had her whole career riding on the success of A Star is Born. She had been released from her studio contract, done a couple of stints in rehab, and desperately needed a big glitzy hit to get her back on track. The film A Star is Born was a remake of the 1937 dark side of show biz drama starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March that had done very good box office and was Oscar nominated to boot. It was pretty gutsy to remake such an epic film, and to give Judy Garland a one woman show to carry. Amazingly enough though, she pulled through and the remake was a smash. Garland was reborn, and a classic got its update.
A Star is Born tells the story of Esther Blodgett (Garland) who is a struggling singer fronting a big band. She's worked hard to get where she is, and fate has her bumping into Hollywood legend Norman Maine (James Mason, Salem's Lot). He falls for her singing, and decides to help her become a star. They eventually marry, and her fame rises while his drinking crashes his career. She stands by him though, and through good times and bad they learn that the price of fame and stardom is higher than they ever could have imagined.
This version on Blu-ray is the restoration cut done in 1983 which inserted all but five minutes of the original "trunk show" extended edition. A Star is Born was originally shown at 181 minutes, but was trimmed for regular release. This cut is the one that was shown on special occasions complete with an intermission and almost three hour running time. One five minute stretch of the original film was lost forever, so here we get the soundtrack married with stills and rough outtakes to make up for the missing bits.
Originally the first deluxe DVD edition came out almost ten years before this new Blu-ray. Back then the transfer was excellent with only some minor issues such as problematic color shifts and specks here and there. This new high definition treatment looks a bit darker, and provides deeper contrast along with the extreme color saturation we've come to expect in the format. It makes the film a bit more dramatic, and the colors look clear.
There is a bonus DVD that provides all the special features. Originally these were found on the "B side" of a flipper disc, but now they get their own disc. Most of the features are simple repeats, but a couple of extra extras have been thrown in.
Bonus DVD Special Features:
* Introduction: A look at the making of the film, and explanation of what missing elements are introduced. It clocks in under five minutes.
* "The Man That Got Away" Alternate Takes: This segment contains two variant versions of the movie's signature song done with completely different sets and costumes. It's interesting to see how obsessively this sequence was filmed, and in the end they got the right one on screen. Here they even show you a split screen comparison of two takes on a day when Garland performed the song twenty-seven times.
* Alternate Takes: Four varying versions of scenes including "Here's What I'm Here For," "Lose That Long Face," the shampoo commercial, and the final minutes of James Mason's character.
* "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street" Deleted Song: This performance comes from the "trunk show" version of the film, and is a bizarre take with Esther taking over for her mother in a show.
* Film Effects Reel: A comparison of different film color treatments the studio was considering for the movie.
* A Report by Jack L. Warner: This is a promotional piece with the Warner Brothers studio head touting A Star is Born. This was meant to tear people away from television and come out to see their big production.
* Newsreel Footage of the Premiere: Since this was a risky, big-budget comeback for Judy Garland, pretty much all of Hollywood showed up on the red carpet to support her. This newsreel documents the crazy event with twenty thousand onlookers lining the streets. It's awesome to see old glamorous Hollywood in full swing. Imagine a party with star shaped cakes and Joan Crawford and Cesar Romero dancing around just for fun.
* The Premiere Shot in Cinemascope: Widescreen color footage of the premiere's red carpet.
* TV Premiere Footage: A kinescope of a live television special that aired when the film premiered, offering you yet more black and white footage of the movie's opening night.
* "A Star is Bored": A Looney Tunes spoof of the film starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
* Audio Vault: A wide selection of audio features including songs, radio specials, and audio elements from the film.
* Trailers: Theatrical trailers for all three versions of A Star is Born. The thirties, the fifties, and the seventies all collide in these trailers that prove Hollywood remakes are nothing new. Can't wait until they remake this one with Miley Cyrus and Taylor Lautner!
Also included this time around is a booklet which is part of the packaging. The paper is thick cardstock, and it has forty pages of essays and photos to enjoy.
Overall this is a great package which should make film buffs feel like they are getting everything they could possibly want to document a classic film. A Star is Born is revered by fans of Judy Garland, and this is certainly the version to get if you want the best transfer and extras. These kind of Cinemascope MGM musicals are divine on Blu-ray because they work better with the vivid colors and sharp contrasts the format offers. Hopefully we'll see more of Garland on Blu-ray, and if they all have this much care given to them it should be a joy.
Guilty only of being a classic comeback for Judy Garland.
Review content copyright © 2010 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.55:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 176 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Takes
* Premiere Footage
* Vintage Audio
* Vintage Cartoon