Take 3: A Star Is Born (1937) Review

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!

A Star Is Born (1937) poster created by Selznick International Pictures and United Artists

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.

The Fredric March Blogathon banner created by the Brannan sisters from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society

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.

Movie award essentials image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background psd created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com. 

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!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Another Man, Another Chance Review

When it comes to blog events taking place on or around Valentine’s Day, romantic stories or favorite couples are usually the chosen topic. But for Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Unhappy Valentines Blogathon, there was an interesting twist placed on their event. For this blogathon, the theme was love stories that were “unhappily ever after”. After reading the requirements, I knew exactly which film I wanted to write about! For about a year, I have had the 1977 movie Another Man, Another Chance on my DVR. In this film, a man and woman who have each lost their spouses fall in love with one another. For some people, Valentine’s Day may not be a happy time. This can be the case for a variety of reasons. Whenever I’ve reviewed a Valentine’s Day themed film in honor of this holiday, the tone of those stories were lighthearted. So, it was nice to be given the opportunity to select a change of pace!

Because the poster for Another Man, Another Chance was featured on my television, I decided to take a screenshot of it with my phone. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: This isn’t the first western of James Caan’s I’ve seen. Prior to reviewing Another Man, Another Chance, I have seen JL Family Ranch and JL Family Ranch: The Wedding Gift (with the latter film receiving a review on this blog). In those films, James’ character was more reserved, his character, Tap, learning from his mistakes and defending his family. With his character in Another Man, Another Chance, David, he appeared surer of himself. However, he wasn’t afraid to express emotions. When he was looking for his wife, David expresses genuine concern throughout his search. As he discovers his wife has died, his eyes tear up as he physically turns away from the sight of his wife’s dead body. Within the movie, the relationship of Francis and Jeanne stole the show! Portrayed by Francis Huster and Geneviève Bujold, both actors had good on-screen chemistry, giving the impression their characters truly loved each other. Geneviève brought a gentleness to her role that is sometimes seen in female protagonists in westerns. This presented a contrast to the harsh environment Jeanne experienced in France and the United States. Francis had a way with words and thought outside the box. When Francis invites Jeanne to come to the United States with him, she reminds him how he barely knows her. Without skipping a beat, Francis tells her how he barely knows America. In order to earn extra money for his family, Francis tries to apply for a part time job at a newspaper by offering to be the Gazette’s photographer. These two examples show the intelligence and wisdom Francis was able to bring to his character!

Showcasing photography: It was interesting to see what the art and business of photography was like in the 1800s! Not only did the equipment look different, but the techniques were different as well. When a customer visits the studio, Jeanne makes him sit in a special chair. This chair features a vertical metal bar with a smaller, curved metal piece at the top. It helped customers sit up straight and keep their head in place as they had their picture taken. While in France, Francis says he can only take pictures for a certain amount of time and on certain days due to needing sunlight. His solution to this problem is moving to the United States and settling in the West, where he feels there will be more natural light.

An immigrant’s perspective: When it comes to stories in the western genre, most of them revolve around characters that were either born or raised in the United States. By devoting a large piece of the story to Francis and Jeanne, the audience is able to see a perspective that is rarely explored in this area of cinema. It also allowed the audience to witness these characters’ contributions to their environment. As I mentioned in this review, Francis tries to apply for a part time job at a newspaper by offering to be the Gazette’s photographer. In the 1800s, photographs were not included in newspapers. However, the editor in chief of the Gazette solved this dilemma by agreeing to create stencils of Francis’ photos and adding them to the paper. If it weren’t for Francis’ talent and profession, the Gazette would never have been ahead of their time!

The Unhappy Valentines Blogathon banner created by the Brannan sisters from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Limited time spent with Jeanne and David’s relationship: One of the biggest plot points (and one of the reasons why I watched this film) is Jeanne and David learning to fall in love again. However, they don’t officially meet until an hour and twenty-eight minutes into the movie. Most of the film revolves around David’s and Jeanne’s life prior to their relationship. I know that context and build-up are important to any story. But for Another Man, Another Chance, there was too much build-up to Jeanne and David’s romance.

The run-time: Another Man, Another Chance is a two hour and sixteen-minute film. Personally, I think this run-time was unnecessary. Several scenes lasted longer than they needed to because of the creative team’s desire to satisfy this length in time. One example is when Francis and Jeanne open their photography studio. The scene itself is somewhere between two to five minutes. Because there are no major conflicts or significant moments happening, that scene could have reduced to either a few seconds or a minute. The film’s run-time might have been an hour and twenty or thirty minutes if scenes like that one had been shorter.

Too many unanswered questions: In the story of Another Man, Another Chance, there is a lot going on within the overall plot. This resulted in many questions remaining unanswered. At the beginning of the film, a wealthy woman named Alice is interested in opening a boarding school in France. She shares how she is unable to have children of her own and mentions her sympathy toward the French people. Later in the movie, Alice ends up starting a partial boarding school in her neighborhood. What caused her to change her mind about that boarding school in France? Where did her sympathy for the French people go? These questions were ignored throughout the story.

Small, western town image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Every so often, I come across a film that, intentionally or not, made a significant contribution to the world of film. In the case of Another Man, Another Chance, this was done by telling a type of story that isn’t often seen in westerns. The creativity found in this movie is something I can appreciate. It should also be noted how this is one of the few bilingual westerns. But, to me, the overall project could have been much stronger. Another Man, Another Chance did not need to be over two hours. While watching the film, I noticed several scenes that could have easily been cut shorter. It also doesn’t help that Jeanne and David’s relationship was not featured in the story as much as the synopsis advertised. Even though this blogathon highlights romance gone wrong, I feel there are better stories of this nature to watch on Valentine’s Day. My personal choice is the PixL film, Same Time Next Week. Similar to Another Man, Another Chance, the protagonists learn to fall in love again. But in the 2017 film, the overall story is a lot stronger.

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

Have you watched a western on Valentine’s Day? If so, which one was it? Tell me in the comment section!

Have fun on Valentine’s Day!

Sally Silverscreen

My Conclusion to the Youth-Led Film Double Feature!

V211-social media
Youth wearing 3D glasses image created by rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

It’s now been a week since I published my reviews for this double feature. Since that time, I’ve been able to ponder over the films I have seen and my thoughts on both of them. In the conclusion of my double feature, I will reflect on what I learned, as well as the three questions that I sought to answer. These questions were the following:

 

Is there any aspect of either film that could be seen as relevant today?

Besides having young actors as the leads, do these films share any similarities?

Do the socio-economics of each film’s world affect the characters or the story?

 

As I was watching Rich Kids and Over the Edge, I was surprised to discover that there was nothing about either film that could hold it back from standing the test of time. No bygone pop cultural references or lingo plagued the scripts. By having each story focus on a simple concept, it helps each film achieve a sense of universality. I was also surprised by how little influence socio-economics had in both films. Before watching them, I thought socio-economics would be an overarching theme. But Rich Kids and Over the Edge put an emphasis on the exact same thing: its characters. Speaking of characters, there were two similarities I noticed when writing my reviews. The first one is how the youth in both films desperately needed guidance in their lives. Because they weren’t receiving any from their parents, they chose to find it somewhere else. The second similarity is how the young characters turned toward their friends for advice and help, showing how youth need to spend time with their peers. After everything is said and done, I ended up liking Rich Kids more than Over the Edge, giving the former 7.1 and the latter 6.1. Despite this, I can now recognize that they share important similarities as well as differences.

Have fun at the movies!
Sally Silverscreen

 

If you want to read my articles related to this double feature, here are the links to those posts:

Introducing My Youth-Led Film Double Feature!

Take 3: Rich Kids Review (Youth-Led Film Double Feature Part 1)

Take 3: Over the Edge Review (Youth-Led Film Double Feature Part 2)

Take 3: Rich Kids Review (Youth-Led Film Double Feature Part 1)

Welcome to the first part of my Youth-Led Film Double Feature! This review will contain spoilers and here is the link to the double feature’s introduction:

Introducing My Youth-Led Film Double Feature!

Rich Kids poster
Rich Kids poster created by Lion’s Gate Films and United Artists. Image found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rich_Kids_(film).jpg

1. In your double feature’s introduction, you mentioned the fact both Rich Kids and Over the Edge were released in 1979. Is there anything from this time period that could have influenced these films?

The film, Rich Kids, explores how wealth does not make an individual or a family invincible, as well as how money does not solve every problem. These morals can also be found within the Getty kidnapping case, which was showcased in the movie, All the Money in the World. Wealth could not prevent John Paul Getty III’s parents from divorcing or experiencing personal conflicts. Money doesn’t take away the trauma John Paul Getty III likely dealt with as a result of the kidnapping incident. Because this situation took place on July 10th, 1973, six years before the premiere of Rich Kids, I would guess the creative team behind Rich Kids absorbed these messages, contemplated on their importance, and wove a fictional, dramatic story around them.

 

2. In this introduction, you also mentioned how you originally thought Rich Kids “was a documentary style film about a group of rich kids growing up over a period of time”. Despite being different than what you expected, were you able to find some enjoyment in this film?

Rich Kids is a character-driven character study. When a film’s creative team decides to adopt this kind of story-telling, it’s important they create a cast of characters that the audience wants to spend their time with. Because these characters were well acted and written, it encouraged me to stay invested in their stories and journeys. In my opinion, I think it’s better that Rich Kids wasn’t the story I was expecting. Since this group of characters was smaller, it allowed the audience to not only become familiar with them, but to also truly know them. Had this film been about a group of children over the course of several years, it might have felt like they were competing against each other for attention.

 

3. Do the socio-economics of each film’s world affect the characters or the story?

While there was wealth being flaunted within this film, it didn’t happen as often as I thought it would. Rich Kids’ creative team places the wealth in the story to simply show it exists. But their primary focus is to present their characters as human, flawed, and inexperienced in life. When Franny visits Jamie at his father’s apartment for the first time, she is entranced by the magnificence of its existence. Even though she questions the cost of everything within that environment, her initial reaction is representative of how most people would react when entering a fantastical looking space. In reality, the characters influence the wealth, not the other way around.

 

4. Do you agree or disagree with Siskel and/or Ebert’s views on these films? Why?

In their review of Rich Kids, both Siskel and Ebert agree that the overall film should have kept its focus on the children. I second these opinions, as I found Franny and Jamie’s story to be more interesting than those of the adults. Because the divorce of Franny’s parents was inevitable and because Jamie’s parents were already divorced, there was no sense of intrigue from that part of the script. However, I do disagree with Siskel and Ebert on their views of the adults in this film. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them “boobs” (Gene’s words, not mine), but I would say they are uninvolved in the lives of their children. They are so caught up in their own problems and stress, that they easily and quickly lose sight of what is really important.

 

5. When it comes to both films, Siskel and Ebert agreed on their views of the adult characters in each story. Did these characters have any significance within their respective movie?

As I said in answer number four, these adults were so caught up in their own issues, that they lost focus on their most important priorities. This part of the story highlighted the importance of young people having a parent, guardian, or mentor that maintains a healthy amount of involvement in their lives. Because these adults weren’t involved in the lives of their children, both Franny and Jamie lacked the guidance that they desperately needed. They ended up finding guidance and life lessons elsewhere.

101994-OM0XMB-226
Money image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/bills-and-coins-in-isometric-design_1065328.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/business”>Business vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

6. Besides having young actors as the leads, do these films share any similarities?

I haven’t seen Over the Edge yet, but based on Siskel and Ebert’s review of that movie, I can confidently say that one similarity between these films is the frustration the young protagonists feel about not being heard or understood by the adults. In one conversation, Franny tells Jamie how they have few rights because of their young ages. This statement makes them feel powerless and limited in their abilities and resources. Both Franny and Jamie are twelve years old, an age when most adolescents want to be seen less as children and hope to achieve a little more independence. Through their behavior and choices, these aspects of growing up are incorporated in Franny and Jamie’s story, as they are trying to form their own identities.

 

7. Did you develop any thoughts and/or questions while watching this film?

I don’t have any questions, but I did come up with two thoughts while watching Rich Kids. The first is how I loved the set design of Jamie’s dad’s apartment! From the tropical inspired oasis which is the first room characters encounter to the eccentric and eye-catching media room, these sets were both imaginative and impressively caught on film. My second thought revolves around the psychological well-being of the children. During one conversation, Franny confesses to Jamie that she named her dog after an imaginary world she created in her mind. The more she visits Jamie at his dad’s apartment, the more she uses that space to materialize her imaginary world. Later in the film, Franny shares with Jamie that prior to the start of their friendship, she lost her sister due to medical issues. I wish this script would have left some room to talk about how divorce and even a death in the family can affect a child’s psychological state, especially since Jamie’s stepdad was a psychologist. But I guess there’s only so much you can do in an hour and thirty-six minutes.

 

8. Is there anything about this movie that you liked or didn’t like?

Like I said in answer number two, I thought the characters were well acted and written. Because of these components, it felt like the audience took a glimpse into the lives of real-life people. This script also gave these characters a chance to come across as relatable. As Ebert said in the Rich Kids review, the conversations of the children “have a ring of truth to them”. I feel this way not just with Franny and Jamie’s conversations, but with every person in this project. The characters and their journeys were one of the strongest parts of this film!

 

As for what I didn’t like about this movie, I was not a fan of how Franny’s parents didn’t explore other options before deciding to get a divorce. At one moment in the film, Franny’s father’s lawyer suggests that Franny’s parents attend marriage counseling. They don’t even bother thinking that idea over and choose to treat divorce as the “end all, be all” of their problems. Like I’ve said on more than one occasion, I feel that ending a romantic relationship is a decision that shouldn’t be chosen lightly, especially if children or those who are dependent on the couple are involved. While this story is about how children deal with divorce, I think Franny’s parents should have discussed other options first.

 

9. Is there any aspect of either film that could be seen as relevant today?

An overarching theme that I noticed in this movie was the idea of knowing you’re not alone when dealing with a serious issue. Throughout their relationship, Jamie helps Franny deal with her parents’ inevitable divorce. Because his parents divorced prior to the start of their friendship, Jamie is able to use his experiences to show Franny that she is not the only one who has traveled down that road. They both become a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear for each other. This idea is definitely just as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1979.

 

10. After watching Rich Kids, is there anything you can take away from your movie viewing experience?

The biggest takeaway for me is how everyone experiences hardship, no matter who you are or what your economic status is. But as Rafiki from 1994’s The Lion King said, “you can either run from it, or learn from it”. In Rich Kids, Franny and Jamie try to handle their problems the best they realistically can. They do this by relying on one another and providing insight when necessary. Because of this, they are able to temporarily escape their issues and build a lasting friendship.

exploding heart 0912
Breaking heart image created by Kjpargeter at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/broken-heart-valentine-background_1041991.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen