Prior to Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Fredric March Blogathon, I had never heard of Fredric March himself. But, as with any blogathon, it gave me a good opportunity to introduce myself to new films and talents! While exploring Fredric’s IMDB filmography, I discovered he starred in the 1937 version of A Star Is Born. This is a title I am familiar with because of its multiple remakes. However, this is my first time watching any version of the story. Based on what I’ve heard, A Star Is Born covers some heavier topics. Since the version I’m reviewing was released during The Breen Code era, it will be interesting to see how these topics are presented in the script. But this will never get discovered unless we read my article about A Star Is Born!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: I’ll talk about Fredric March’s performance first, as is customary for a blogathon revolving around an actor or actress. Like I mentioned in the introduction, I had never heard of him prior to the event. However, I was really impressed with Fredric’s portrayal of Norman Maine! He did a good job of showing the delicate balance his character was walking; a public figure dealing with an addiction. His acting abilities were also expansive, ranging from dramatic to comedic. At a dinner party, Norman made funny faces when asking the bar-tender for a second drink. Moments later, he angrily threw plates on the floor, upset that Esther/Vicki was disappointed in meeting him. This is a good example of how Fredric can pull off a performance in both styles of acting!
Speaking of Esther/Vicki, I liked Janet Gaynor’s performance! Similar to Fredric March, she was very versatile while portraying the film’s leading lady. Her performance allowed the audience to witness Esther’s/Vicki’s growth as a character. At the beginning of the movie, Esther/Vicki started as a bright-eyed, hopeful young woman who wanted to jump into the world of show-business. As the story progresses, Esther/Vicki gains experience and wisdom, growing up along the way. Since Esther/Vicki and Norman spend most of the movie together, the audience is treated to the banter between Janet and Fredric! A perfect example is during a boxing match, when Norman asks Esther/Vicki to marry him. Both actors never missed a beat and complimented each other so well.
It was nice to see Esther’s/Vicki’s friendship with Danny McGuire. Portrayed by Andy Devine, Danny and Esther’s/Vicki’s friendship provided a bright spot among the film’s heavier moments. Despite being surrounded by the unpredictability of Hollywood, Danny had such a kind heart and was always in Esther’s/Vicki’s corner. This friendship was one of my favorite parts of A Star Is Born and I wish it had featured in the story more.
Showing how tough industry entry is: When Hollywood/show business is featured in a film’s script, the more serious or honest parts of the industry are sometimes glossed over, sugar-coated, or omitted. With A Star Is Born, the creative team wasn’t afraid to show how difficult it is to find success in entertainment. While waiting to apply for a casting agency, Esther/Vicki sees a poster on a wall. This poster stated the number of extras represented by that casting agency. Even though it was a simple moment, it illustrated how so many people shared the same dream as Esther/Vicki. While working a waitress job, Esther/Vicki uses that opportunity to impress the guests with her acting skills. Despite her best efforts, the majority of the guests don’t pay her much attention. Networking is important when it comes to finding employment. But Esther’s/Vicki’s experience shows how it’s not the “end all, be all” in any job search.
The use of mixed-media: Throughout A Star Is Born, different forms of media were shown on-screen. For a movie released in 1937, this was not only ahead of its time, but also a pleasant surprise! At the beginning and end of the movie, pieces of a script were featured. These pieces bookended the story, presenting the film as if it were a potential biographic movie. I thought this was a creative way to visually deliver this narrative. When Esther/Vicki finally gets a studio acting job, a close-up of her contract signature can be seen. Even though it was on-screen for a few seconds, it highlighted the reality of Esther’s/Vicki’s next step in her career. The film’s use of mixed-media provided additional context to the story, as well as emphasized important events within the plot.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Limited use of lighting: A Star Is Born featured some scenes that took place at night. But because of the limited lighting in these scenes, it was difficult to see characters’ faces. A great example is when Esther’s/Vicki’s grandmother is giving her granddaughter necessary advice. Throughout this scene, I was only able to see the side of Grandmother Lettie’s face or her face was completely hidden by the darkness. This ended up being a somewhat distracting part of the film. I know the aforementioned scene was supposed to take place while Esther’s/Vicki’s other family members were asleep. However, I think at least one lamp should have been kept on in the room.
Some rushed parts of the story: I understand there’s only so much story one can tell in an hour and fifty minutes. However, there were parts of A Star Is Born that, to me, felt rushed. After Esther’s/Vicki’s studio acceptance, she receives her first job: a small, walk-on role. While practicing her lines for this job, Norman recruits her for the lead role in one of his movies. This part of the story skipped over Esther/Vicki building her resume and earning that lead role. Instead of showing themes of hard work and perseverance, the rushed nature of this plot-point simply showed Esther/Vicki being lucky. Because of how rushed some parts of the story were, it, sometimes, felt like things were moving too fast. Norman and Esther’s/Vicki’s relationship serves as one example, with them getting married after knowing each other for a short period of time.
Omitted components: At the beginning of A Star Is Born, one of Esther’s/Vicki’s biggest doubters is Aunt Mattie. She feels that Esther/Vicki is wasting her time dreaming about something that, she feels, will likely not come true. But Esther/Vicki ends up proving her wrong, becoming a star in Hollywood. Unfortunately, we never see Aunt Mattie realize she was wrong or apologize for not supporting Esther’s/Vicki’s dream. If this had been included in the script, it would have provided an important component. I was surprised that The Great Depression was not mentioned during this story. Considering A Star Is Born took place during 1935 to 1937, I think it should have been brought up in context to the box office. In a newspaper article, it was mentioned how movie theaters were relieved of showing Norman Maine’s pictures due to a cancelled contract. But because The Great Depression could have directly impacted ticket sales, this should have also been considered by the characters.
My overall impression:
If you had asked me a month ago who Fredric March was, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. Now that I have seen at least one of his films, I want to actively seek out more of his projects! Fredric’s performance in A Star Is Born was so strong, I was blown away by its versatility. I also liked seeing him perform alongside Janet Gaynor, as they not only worked well together, but they also had really good banter. While this movie does contain heavier subjects, they were handled in a reverent and mature way. At the same time, these subjects, like Norman’s alcohol addiction, were only brought up enough for the audience to get the point. In my three years of movie blogging, I’ve seen a number of Breen Code era titles. However, this version of A Star Is Born is definitely one of the better ones! As I mentioned in my review, it does have its flaws. Despite that, there’s a lot this movie gets right, making it worthy of a recommendation!
Overall score: 7.7 out of 10
Have you seen A Star Is Born? If so, which version is your favorite? Please let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!