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Sunday, March 11, 2018

THE STAR (1952)

Designed as sad, sorry spectacle from a first shot that finds has-been movie star Bette Davis gazing thru a showcase window at her own poorly attended bankruptcy auction*, it’s Hollywood schadenfreude, with the former Queen of the Lot brought down by age, changing taste, bad contracts and self-financed productions. That’s the set up for this post-ALL ABOUT EVE misfire, promising a masochistic field day for Davis, and tsk-tsk voyeurism for the audience. Alas, nothing lives up to the tawdry concept, with a flat script offering diva disapproval and equally flat direction from Stuart Heisler. He does earn some documentary flavor points, especially when a drunk Bette drives off at night (Oscar in hand) not via ‘backscreen projection,’ but on real L.A. streets. Sterling Hayden’s role as the regular guy she once tried to turn into an actor makes little sense while teenage Natalie Wood, a most unlikely daughter, is too bubbly by half. Bette does find a spot to do some good work late in the film, ‘defrumping’ herself for a screen test that goes terribly wrong. But we’re soon back to failing your way up to contentment. Or is it containment?

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Davis had far better roles during her tricky career interregnum between the ALL ABOUT EVE/’50 comeback and the ‘Grand Guignol’ BABY JANE/’62 relaunch. (See THE CATERED AFFAIR/'56.) So naturally this was the one to earn an Oscar nom. And, irony of ironies, who should be up against her that year but Joan Crawford, besting Bette for a change in SUDDEN FEAR, then losing alongside her to Shirley Booth for COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, a role producer Hal Wallis had initially offered to Davis.

CONTEST: *A similar auction of has-been movie star goods opens another film the following year. Guess the title to choose any film for a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up.

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