Star Is Born, A [1937]

"This is Mrs. Norman Maine," proclaims Janet Gaynor, fighting back the tears as she addresses her fans while still rocked by personal tragedy. It's the kind of grandiose gesture we love in a movie star, and the original A Star Is Born is gloriously grand with a cynical undercurrent. William Wellman, working from a sharp screenplay cowritten by the acerbic Dorothy Parker, strikes a balance between romantic glamour and tragic melodrama, all accomplished with a barely concealed caustic wit. It's a Cinderella story of a fresh-faced farm girl, the improbably named Esther Blodgett (they have a lot of fun with that one) who transforms into screen icon Vicki Lester when she comes to the attentions of matinee idol Norman Maine (Fredric March). But when the deliriously happy couple marries, Vicki's rise to the top is counterbalanced by Norman's fall from grace, a precipitous plummet from stardom to alcoholism and bitterness. Gaynor's milk-fed wholesomeness is a tad corny next to March's worldly cynicism, but she's a movie star through and through. Adolphe Menjou costars as a mercenary agent with a sing-song patter. One of the quintessential Hollywood Self-portraits, A Star Is Born was remade twice and was itself inspired by George Cukor's wonderful What Price Hollywood? and the real-life story of Colleen Moore and John McCormick. March based his character on John Gilbert and John Barrymore. --Sean Axmaker

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