WARNING: Spoilers for A Star Is Born.
Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born is the fourth version of this tale as old as Hollywood. How does Lady Gaga stack up against the likes of Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland? Find out here in our ranking of all four A Star Is Born movies.
What each version of A Star Is Born has in common is the story: an immense talent is discovered by an over-the-hill success, they fall in love, she rises to the top as his alcoholism destroys his career, and just as his implosion threatens to take her down with him, he kills himself, giving her the final push towards stardom. What's changed is the manner of the telling: the 1937 movie (directed by William A. Wellman, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March) is a drama from the Golden Age of Hollywood; the 1954 remake (directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason) a musical retelling; the 1976 film (Frank Pierson, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson) a transference to the music industry and the latest 2018 reimagining (Cooper directing and starring with Lady Gaga) a distillation of all three.
It's a string of movies that spans era, the message remaining eerily relevant as everything around them changes. But just because A Star Is Born is a classic tale, that doesn't mean all the films burn as bright as each other. Here's our ranking of all four (there is also What Price Hollywood?, a similarly plotted story from 1932, but different enough to not warrant inclusion).
4. A Star Is Born (1976)
The biggest decision made by A Star Is Born (1976) was to flip the backdrop; instead of dealing with Hollywood, it locks in on the music industry to, of course, better show producer Barbra Streisand's talents. On the one hand, that allows for Kris Kristofferson's brusque portrayal of a past-it singer and some genuinely engaging songs from the pair; on the other, it leads to a story without the same world structure of the previous versions. This means Frank Pierson is distilling the story down to its romantic core and jumping through the main career hoops. Again, that's got its pluses and minuses, but mainly leads to a film with weak narrative direction; there's just a lot of downtime with Esther and John falling for each other.
It's all very melodramatic, which ramps up as the movie goes. There are strange turns that feel to be conceived removed from the real world, and its end note is incredibly indulgent on Streisand's part. It was successful, ranking third at the domestic box office that year and the Best Original Song win for "Evergreen" makes Streisand the only actor to nab an Oscar for the film (2019 Oscars pending), which belies it being, from a modern perspective, a bit of a dud.
3. A Star Is Born (1954)
Coming only sixteen years after the original, A Star Is Born (1954) was conceived as a career boost for Judy Garland, who'd fallen out of favor over the past decade. It worked. Garland delivers a knockout performance as Vicki Lester, especially in the heartwrenching later period where the film takes the time to show the toll of Norman's alcoholism on her and how she attempts to hide it in happy dance numbers. Yes, it's a musical - a step in the story shifting from Hollywood to the music industry - and a resplendent, well-shot one at that which uses as many cinematic techniques as possible to elevate the story (which is, scene-to-scene pretty similar to the 1937 original).
Despite all that, though, it's also arduous. The songs run up to ten minutes long, with dreams within flashbacks within movies within movies removing any relevance beyond Garland's talents. The length issue is exacerbated by a restored cut. The premiere of A Star Is Born ran for a little over three hours, but was cut down to 154 minutes for theatrical release. 22 minutes of runtime has now been readded, but a high proportion of it is just the audio over production stills. Considering these scenes were already cut for time, with just pans of sepia images they grind the movie to a halt.
Page 2 of 2: The Best Version of A Star Is Born
- A Star is Born (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018