Judy Garland classic 'A Star is Born' tops latest Blu-ray releases

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

22 June 2010


The legendary film that is a showcase for the talents of Judy Garland, “A Star is Born,” leads all new titles arriving on Blu-ray this week.

Garland and her dynamic voice were never better than in “A Star is Born” (Warner Brothers, 1954, $34.99), which looks great in high definition. The movie comes packaged in book-style format with an extra disc that contains such extras as alternate takes, deleted scenes, Garland’s audio recording sessions and more.

The history of the production is almost as absorbing as the film itself. Directed by George Cukor, it was originally released on a limited basis with a running time of 181 minutes. Warner Brothers felt it was too long and had “A Star is Born” trimmed to 151 minutes. Instead of shelving the edited footage, the studio had the negatives destroyed.

In the 1983, the film was re-introduced in a 176-minute edition thanks to the reconstruction efforts of film historian Ronald Haver, who spent months combing through studio vaults. It was a project that earned Warner Brothers’ backing.

Haver uncovered the entire 181-minute soundtrack, footage of three lost musical numbers and parts of the deleted dialogue. Where no film existed, Haver inserted stills. Five minutes of audio was trimmed here and there because no appropriate photos could be found. Meanwhile, the surviving film footage was cleaned up and went through an extensive restoration process. It is Haver’s work that is on display in the Blu-ray edition.

Garland portrays Esther Blodgett, a singer with a traveling band. James Mason plays Norman Maine, a movie star whose career is on the wane because he can’t stay away from alcohol. When he hears Esther sing, he is convinced that she is star material and persuades his studio to sing her to a contract.

The first thing the publicity department does is change her name to the more box-office friendly Vicki Lester. Esther/ Vicki and Norman soon fall in love. While her career continues to rise, his continues to decline. Garland and Mason turn in outstanding performances for which both won Golden Globes.

There have been two other versions of “A Star is Born,” one in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and the other in 1976 starring Barbra Streisand. The original was inspired by 1932 movie “What Price Hollywood,” starring Constance Bennett.

This 1954 version of “A Star is Born” was nominated for six Academy Awards and is ranked seventh of the American Film Institute’s Best Musicals of the 20th century. It is a terrific piece of filmmaking that is highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“Green Zone” (Universal, 2010, $39.98): Were we duped by the Bush administration into starting a war in Iraq? According to this film, we were. It supposes that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction never existed — it was a lie told by the administration, which will kill anyone to cover it up. Matt Damon stars as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who begins to doubt the administration’s claims. No matter what you believe, this is an exciting thriller. Recommended.

“The Last Station” (Sony, 2009, $34.95): This fact-based film looks at the final year in the life of legendary Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), who wants to donate his royalties to the Russian people. Vladdimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), a devotee of Tolstoy, thinks it is a terrific idea. To say that Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren), doesn’t agree would be an understatement. The first-rate cast is in top form. Recommended.

“Riverworld” (Vivendi, 2010, $24.99): A man named Matt (Tahmoh Penikett) is killed in an explosion and then wakes up on a planet where the landscape is dominated by endless rivers. The planet is also inhabited by people from different eras of earth’s history. Helped by riverboat captain Mark Twain, Mark sets off an adventurous journey in search of his lost fiancee.

“Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season” (HBO, $49.99) New Yorker Vince Chase (Adrian Greiner), who has maneuvered his way through the world of Hollywood, lands a lead role in a new film directed by Martin Scorsese. Kevin Connolly and Kevin Dillon also star. The three-disc set includes all 12-episodes.

“She’s Out of My League” (Paramount, 2010, $39.99): Kirk (Jay Baruchel) is an ordinary guy and an underachiever who has a job as security screener at Pittsburgh’s airport. Not surprisingly, he’s never had much luck with women. The, lo and behold, the beautiful Molly (Alice Eve) falls for him. Now the insecure Kirk must make sure he doesn’t blow the relationship.

“Hung: The Complete First Season” (HBO, $49.99): Thomas Jane plays Ray Drecker, a down-on-his-luck high school basketball coach whose wife has left him. But he finds another way to improve his fortunes. You’ll have to watch to find out what that way is. The two-disc set includes 10 episodes.

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