An alcoholic movie star falls in love with a gifted
singer whose career quickly starts to surpass his own.
A Star Is Born (1954)
Directed by George Cukor
Written by Moss Hart
Starring Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson,
Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan
Remake of 1937's A Star Is Born
Oscar Nominations - Best Actor (James Mason), Best Actress (Judy Garland), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score (Ray Heindorf), Best Original Song (The Man that Got Away)
To a great many people, 1954's A Star Is Born is the definitive version of this story. It features what might just be Judy Garland's greatest, most personal performance of her career. The character of Vicki Lester mirrors her own life so perfectly that it's impossible not to draw parallels the entire time. Her chemistry with James Mason helps this version stand out as a 1950's masterpiece. I would argue that the film is a bit too long, and that it's padded with nonsensical musical numbers, but that's honestly to be expected. It was a different time. The performances are what make this version of the film great.
Garland plays Esther Blodgett, a singer in a dive bar who has a chance encounter with aggressively drunk movie star Norman Maine (Mason). Maine takes a liking to Esther and hears her sing "The Man that Got Away" in arguably the best scene in the movie. Maine decides to help Esther make a career, even at the expense of his own thanks to alcoholism. Slowly the two grow apart thanks to Maine's problems and his growing resentment. Most film fans know the story, and I think the 2018 version did a better job of establishing love between the leads thanks to Bradley Cooper's way more likable protagonist. But James Mason brought a sad despair to the role that makes his desire to help Esther grow into the stage name of Vicki Lester all the more sad to watch.
A Star Is Born is the film that Judy Garland should've won her Oscar for, but she'd be robbed of a win thanks to a close vote for Grace Kelly. Well, considering we're still talking about Garland's performance over 60 years later, it's safe to say the Academy was wrong (again). Garland and Mason dominate the screen and deliver two flawless performances, keeping this overly long dramatic musical from becoming boring.