Captain Rowdy’s review published on Letterboxd:
They really don't make movies like this anymore. What seems to exist as a vehicle for a then recently sober Judy Garland, could exist without her, but she is so damn good in it that I wouldn't like the film if she didn't grace nearly every scene. She is Esther Blodgett, a name you can't make up. And unfortunately it fits Judy (and is in fact the second Esther she's played!) She is awkward standing, awkward looking. Not at all what we imagine a star to look like. But a failing Hollywood icon named Norman Maine sees her untapped potential, her latent spiritual materials and helps shoot her into superstardom.
This movie is ahead of its time. Released in 1954 with much acclaim, some shots seem straight out of the 80s, 90s or yesterday even. I often wondered what it was that made George Cukor step up so much for this picture? His other movies don't look like this. And My answer is Judy Garland. The obvious similarities between her life and Esther's and Esther's character in her breakthrough movie is beyond startling. And Garland appears so naturally in front of the camera that one would say 'well frankly she's merely playing herself.' But no. She has always had a gift of seeming vulnerable, weary and yet belting out songs like the 4th of July. And A Star is Born really is the film of her acting career.
The Man that Got Away sequence usually has me flailing around in a gaygasm, but in my most recent viewing I just held my breath. What an incredible piece of footage this is! Obviously not just because its a single shot on short little Judy but the POWER behind that voice, that staging. It's easily one of the best musical moments I've ever seen. All the songs in fact are wonderfully written and performed, fitting into this movie so snuggly like a nesting doll on your Grandma's shelf. There's layers, is of course what I mean.
So there's Judy, but then there's the script. A Star is Born is essentially a look at the brutal systematic making and breaking of celebrities known as the Hollywood machine. It's sad and honest look into the shallowness of stardom and the sadness of a falling star is too ahead of its time. Probably why Garland didn't win the Oscar (instead giving it to the phony Grace kelly). Could Hollywood look at themselves this way? But I must admit, my favorite aspect of this wonderful picture is the love story. James Mason is compelling as Norman Maine, a drunken middle aged man that takes young Esther under his wing. The scene where he scrubs make up off her face (applied by Hollywood specialists to give her the star look) has a touch of funny, and a dab of melancholy. Here is a father figure some women could flock to. And that's just what Esther does. There's so many charming, sensitive scenes involving the two that I could sit and rewatch them over and over rather than ever watching Casablanca. I could list the moments, but I wont because they truly need to be experienced- not told about. The warmth of these scenes supersedes Norman's questionable interests in this little lounge singer. Because eventually it all seems to be about love. Or at least that's how Esther sees it.
Perhaps its a bit long, and Garland's Tour-De-Force performance may turn some people off. But the scale and precision of this film cannot be ignored. And hell, its SO much better than the Streisand version. Cukor needed to make more movies like this. 3 hour epic love stories, with music and drama and tears! Oh the tears! Please watch this movie.