Whatever it is, they all seem completely hypnotised. Just like the man gazing at the freeway sign that Steve Martin drives by at the beginning of L.A. Story. Which worries me. Because by the end of that film, Steve Martin was doing exactly the same thing...
Today, I continued the review of the Best Picture contenders of 1937 by watching...
A Star Is Born
William A. Wellman
Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell & Robert Carson
(based on a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson)
Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander
1 win, for Best Original Story, plus a Special Award for colour cinematography
Remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and then again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand, the original 1937 version of A Star Is Born is the only one to receive a Best Picture nomination. The story follows the plight of wannabe starlet Esther Blodgett (Gaynor) as she arrives in Hollywood with big dreams and no plans. The work is tough. Or at least it would be if she could get any. With no prospects, she takes a job as a waitress for Hollywood parties, where she catches the eye of silver screen sensation Norman Maine (March). The two quickly begin a love affair and Norman uses his connections to shoot Esther to the top. But as her star rises, Norman's string of flops and struggle with alcoholism see his career fade into oblivion.
It seems unlikely that this is a realistic account of how the movie business actually operated in the thirties. While there must have been a few ingénues plucked from obscurity to star in major studio films, Esther's rise to fame is just a tad too fairy tale. Then again, perhaps I just have a case of sour grapes. I mean, I've travelled a lot further than she has. Where's my Norman Maine? (Relax, Matt, she's a fictional character...)
In any case, the Hollywood star system is really just a backdrop to the real drama of A Star Is Born, which is the fascinating marital dynamic created when one spouse is the talk of the town and the other is a has-been. In fact, the most interesting aspect of the protagonists' relationship here is that they rarely discuss the issue. Esther and Norman are not at each other's throats at all. They have a genuine love and respect for each other. Sure, Norman pulls a Kanye, interrupting Esther's Academy Award acceptance speech in a drunken tirade, but he doesn't denigrate his wife. Instead, his rant is just a stinking bowl of self pity. And rather than hold a grudge, Esther is profoundly concerned for him. Which is understandable. He's an alcoholic, after all. Norman's struggle is heartbreaking, and while his tragic end is probably an act of cowardice, it could also be interpreted as the ultimate sacrifice to ensure Esther lives out her dream.
The petite Janet Gaynor, Oscar's very first Best Actress, received her second nomination for this role, which includes a spate of brief but accurate impressions of Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and Mae West. The talented Fredric March is exceptional as the fading movie star, delivering a touchingly subtle performance. Andy Devine succeeds again as the quirky sidekick, appearing in his second nominee from 1937 along with In Old Chicago. He is topped, however, by Adolphe Menjou, appearing in his third, a trio of showbiz-related pictures. His meatier roles in Stage Door and One Hundred Men and a Girl leave a greater impression, though.
And as if this film hadn't been remade enough already, there is yet another remake in the works, this time starring Beyonce and, potentially, Russell Crowe.