A Star Is Born – Blu-ray Review

Showbiz is such a fickle career choice. People act like actors, actresses and directors have so much control over their film choices, as if they knew that the quirky indie flick would bring them Oscar glory or a supporting role in an action flick would rocket them to stardom. It’s a hit or miss industry. The biggest star on the planet can find their latest masterpiece going straight to video. Offers can vanish overnight with a bad test screening. It’s a random career with no real path to success or failure outside of being born a Baldwin brother. Even getting the big break isn’t up to the future screen star. A key to entering the Hollywood movie dream factory is a fortunate encounter whether it be with a casting agent, producer or a noted star. It’s who you know that explains a majority of careers. A Star Is Born examines a singer that gets her big break thanks to a chance meeting.

Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) dreams of showbiz success. She’s in Hollywood, but the doors to the studios are shut. She’s got more vocal talent than the starlets being thrust onto the screen. She exists by working numerous jobs including carhop at a drive-in diner. At night, she takes singing gigs in the hopes of being discovered. One night her big break stumbles into the room. Norman Maine (James Mason) is a cinema superstar of action films. He’s become a bit of a bad boy joke with his drunk routine that interrupts any event. One night he hears her sing and becomes completely enamored of her talent. He wants to share his passion for her with the studio head. There is potential in the woman.

Vicki goes through the complete process that turns little people into cinema idols. They change her name to the more sexy Vicki Lester. They transform her look. She works her way up from small roles to her name above the title. She quickly becomes a marquee player with America in love with her voice and spunk. Things, however, go downhill for Norman. He’s been stuck in too many studio stinkers while his drinking and diva behavior have made him unwelcome by numerous directors. He’s become a cancer in the industry. The only thing he does right is marry his discovery. Can he make a comeback? Can she survive the star treatment?

This is the peak of Judy Garland’s cinema career. In a strange sense, she is playing both characters. She was the young woman with a great voice that was discovered. She rocked to the top with various Mickey Rooney musicals and The Wizard of Oz. And then her own battle with substance abuse took a toll on her life and career. Garland is the unreliable performer. She found herself dumped by her studio. She had been off the screen in nearly four years before getting the offer for A Star Is Born and the film summed up both ends of her career.

When A Star Is Born was originally released in New York and Los Angeles, the film ran three hours. Cinema owners hinted that they wanted an intermission. Instead of this simple solution, Warner Brothers took the film’s running time down by 40 minutes, slashing two musical numbers. And much like many films from that era, the footage cut was lost.

What is presented on the Blu-ray is a semi-restored cut that clocks in at 176 minutes. While the cinema detectives weren’t able to track down all the snipped footage, they found a complete version of the audio tracks. They augmented the missing visual moments with stills shot for the various scenes. This might prove a bit disconcerting for a few folks, but it does allow us to know how this story really was meant to be played. It’s worth the effort to truly see Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born in a proper running time.

The video is 2.55:1 anamorphic. The 1080p image brings a Technicolor shine to this showbiz tale. The film was shot in an early Cinemascope process so the edges of the frame aren’t as detailed as modern scope images. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that really shines during Garland’s musical numbers. The new mix isn’t too full of surround surprises. But it allows a richness of the tracks to come out. French Dolby Digital 2.0 and Spanish Dolby Digital Mono dubs are provided. The subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.

Book has 40 pages covering the production, actors and promotions.

Introduction (3:02): This sums up the production of the film and restoration efforts. The include shots of George Cukor walking past the camera during the slate.

The Man That Got Away Deleted Scenes (22:33) have five different takes of Judy singing the song. Cukor chose different outfits and locations.

Alternate Takes (11:13) gives us fresh footage of four scenes: “Here’s What I’m Here For,” “Lose That Long Face,” “Trinidad Coconut Oil Shampoo,” and “Norman Maine’s Finale.”

When My Sugar Walks Down the Street Outtake (0:57) is the parents from the stage show.

Film Effects Reel (0:54) has shots from the opening of The Robe.

A Report by Jack L. Warner (6:22) is a short featuring the head of Warner Brothers pushing A Star Is Born.

Huge Premiere Hails A Star Is Born Newsreel Montage (7:53) is footage of the Pantage opening including Lucy and Desi.

A Star Is Born Premiere in Cinemascope (2:05) gives us the lavish opening in widescreen and color. Bogart arrives.

Pantages Premiere TV (29:49) is a television special that was broadcast live from the theater. This was a precusor to what E! used to do on red carpets around Hollywood.

A Star Is Bored (7:12) is a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1956. It spoofs the film while Bugs Bunny gives his story about how he became a superstar.

Audio Vault starts with two audio outtakes from the film: “Oliver on the Phone with the Director Discussing Norman” (1:25) and “Norman and Esther on the Roof of the Hotel Lancaster” (3:35).

Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (58:21) is an audio version of the film featuring Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon in the leads. Cecil B DeMille hosts the show.

Judy Garland Promotional (3:01) is audio of her talking with Louella Parsons.
Recording Sessions includes audio-only rehearsal takes for “Born in the Trunk,” “Someone at Last,” “My Melancholy Baby,” “Black Bottom” “Swanee” and Extended Playback of “Someone at Last.”

Theatrical Trailers for three versions of A Star Is Born including the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor, the first remakes with Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson’s Seventies revival.

A Star Is Born dazzles the eyes and ears with its tale of a woman’s big showbiz break and an actor’s self-destructive fall from fame. Judy Garland and James Mason bring so much to their roles that keeps it from turning into self-parody. The bonus features remind us that this is was a huge deal when it was released. This should go next to your Blu-ray of The Wizard of Oz.

Warner Home Video presents A Star Is Born. Directed by: George Cukor. Starring: Judy Garland and James Mason. Running time: 176 Minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: June 22, 2010.

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