The cult reputation for this cautionary Behind-the-Scenes/Hollywood saga would have surprised its makers. They knew a stinker when they saw one; and had the post-production wounds to prove it. (Note the obfuscating film poster.) Scripting off his own novel, Gavin Lambert’s moved his junior league A STAR IS BORN from the ‘50s to the ‘30s. So, the tone feels all wrong right from the start, with weak period flavor and too many story-grabs from the famous Judy Garland/George Cukor pic of ‘54*. And not only story points got lifted. As the teen singing sensation who rebels against studio head Christopher Plummer, a game, but over-parted Natalie Wood is given Garland’s gamine look from STAR’s ‘Lose That Long Face.’ Heaps of interference on this Alan Pakula/Robert Mulligan collaboration left the too-much-too-soon storyline as a series of unconnected dots, but it’s hard to imagine it working at any length. Only at the very end, during a black-comedy suicide attempt, do you get a sense of what must have drawn so much talent to the project. We’re left with a few tasty crumbs: Ruth Gordon’s looney gargoyle of a mom; a blast of erotic authority from Chris Plummer; the impossibly glam young Bob Redford; and a couple of pastiche musical numbers from Herbert Ross that show some spirit in spite of Wood’s leaden skipping & inability to lip-synch.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Apparently, Cukor didn’t mind all the story ‘lifts,’ sitting down with Lambert for a series of career interviews, published as ON CUKOR. Much later, Lambert would also write a bio of Wood both intimate & sympathetic.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Roddy McDowall’s major-domo to studio chief Plummer is one of those Hollywood Fix-It guys who know where all the bodies are buried, but would never tell. Much like the real McDowall. Even today, many believe a long awaited Tell-All memoir was only waylaid by the fast-moving cancer that killed him.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Cukor’s first go at the STAR IS BORN story was called WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD/’32, and it remains an overlooked beauty.