Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Star is Born (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Star is Born (1954)

In director George Cukor's dramatic musical and classic tearjerker - it was a superior remake of William Wellman's non-musical, classic 1937 film of the same name starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March that was inspired by What Price Hollywood? (1932) also directed by Cukor. [Note: It was also updated to modern times twice as a musical drama - first as A Star Is Born (1976) with Barbra Steisand and Kris Kristofferson, and second as A Star Is Born (2018), starring director/actor Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.]; the emotionally-intense psycho-drama also hinted at the real-life troubles and problems (five marriages) in the career of its female star - Judy Garland - a victim of the Hollywood studio system - during the film's making; it was Garland's comeback and self-referential film (after she had been dismissed from her lead role in MGM's Annie Get Your Gun (1950) for health problems), and then suffered from alcoholic binges and suicide attempts:

  • during a late-night gala benefit "Night of Stars" held at Hollywood's Shrine Theatre, boozing, womanizing, brilliant, but fading alcoholic movie actor Norman Maine (James Mason) was searching for one of the dancing performers - young, aspiring newcomer-star actress and vocalist Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland)
  • haunted by Esther's memory, Norman tracked her down and found her in an empty, after-hours Sunset Strip musicians' hangout (with stacked chairs all around); he became transfixed as he watched her sing the memorable torch song blues/ballad classic: "The Man That Got Away," accompanied by her pianist (Tommy Noonan) - the performance was a classic, three and a half-minute uninterrupted camera take
  • now newly-renamed Vicki Lester, her singing career was launched and on the rise in Hollywood; support from Norman helped her at the start, but his popularity was in reverse and on the decline
  • Esther's debut lead film role was in the film's most extravagant and main production sequence: "Born in a Trunk" (including various renditions of "Swanee") - it was a classic, 18-minute sequence, opening and closing it with the song; it was presented as a career success story, a vaudeville performer's rise to stardom, and an exquisitely-staged musical "biography" of Vicki Lester's character; in-between the opening and closing song, Vicki commented on being a "ten-year-overnight sensation," singing such classics as "I'll Get By," "You Took Advantage of Me," "My Melancholy Baby," and "Swanee" (in a minstrel-like performance, wearing a man's hat and suit)
  • Norman proposed marriage to Vicki during a recording session - and she accepted his "public" proposal; their marriage was soon tested by the tragic consequences of Norman's personal self-destruction, disintegration and loss of fame
  • in a classic sequence at the annual Academy Awards Banquet Ceremony, Vicki won the Best Actress Academy Award Oscar and was giving her acceptance speech, when the drunken Norman made an intrusive entrance and interrupted Vicki's speech; while stumbling around, he delivered his own self-pitying speech to demand recognition from the audience: "Congratulations, my dear. I made it just in time, didn't I? May I borrow the end of your speech to make a speech of my own? My method for gaining your attention may seem a little uncon-unconventional, but, uh, hard times call for harsh measures. My - I had my speech all prepared, but I - it's gone right out of my head. Let me see - why, it's silly to be so formal, isn't it? I-I know most of you sitting out there by your first names, don't I? I made a lot o' money for you gentlemen in my time through the years, didn't I? Well, I need a job now. Yeah, that's it. That-that-that-that's the speech. That's the - I need a job. That's what I wanted to say. I - I need a job. It's as simple as that. I - I need a job, that's all. My talents, I may say, are not confined to dramatic parts. I can play comedy, too"
  • Norman was gesturing wildly on stage and accidentally slapped her when he flung his arm out and struck her as she was delivering her acceptance speech for Best Actress
Norman's Drunken and Embarrassing Appearance at the Academy Awards
  • Vicki was willing to sacrifice her career to help her husband Norman regain his stability and sobriety; she sang the first chorus of "Lose That Long Face," followed by her confessional breakdown in the dressing room scene with studio head Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford) about her despair and concern over her alcoholic husband Norman: "What is it that makes him want to destroy himself?...You don't know what it's like to watch somebody you love just crumble away bit by bit, day by day, in front of your eyes, and stand there helpless. Love isn't enough, I thought it was. I thought I was the answer for Norman. But love isn't enough for him....Sometimes, I hate him. I hate his promises to stop, and then the watching and waiting to see it begin again. I hate to go home to him at nights and listen to his lies...I hate me cause I've failed too...All he's got left is his pride"; afterwards, she forced herself to go back on stage to sing the song again
  • Norman's stunning suicidal demise was inevitable; in the film's shocking, tragic but inevitable sequence (of Norman's suicide), he made one last request that Vicki sing a song for him: "It's a New World" - and he also asked for one final look at her: "Hey - I just wanted to look at you again"; and then Norman walked into the ocean from his Malibu beach house at sunset - to commit suicide by drowning himself
  • in the film's memorable conclusion, one of the greatest endings of any movie in the 1950s, Vicki was escorted by her studio accompanist Danny McGuire (Tommy Noonan), to show up to sing at a scheduled Shrine Theatre benefit concert; she passed by a wall with the heart and arrow drawn in lipstick by Norman so many months before (E.B. & N.M.); at the last minute, she was persuaded to come out of mourning to perform; in front of the curtain, the emcee (Rex Evans) was announcing that she would not be appearing, but after receiving a whispered message from Danny, he then excitedly announced: "Vicki Lester will appear tonight!"

Vicki's Unexpected Appearance at the Shrine Theatre

"Hello everybody - this is - Mrs. Norman Maine"
  • before a large audience at the Shrine Theatre in the film's unforgettable and poignant ending, Vicki appeared in a spotlight as she delivered a closing, posthumous tribute line to her deceased husband to honor him, as she proudly identified herself: "Hello everybody - this is - Mrs. Norman Maine" - there was a slight pause and silence, and then the audience stood and burst into ecstatic applause - the camera pulled back slowly, ending with a long shot of Esther smiling through her tears

"The Man That Got Away"

"Born In a Trunk"

"Lose That Long Face"

Vicki's Confessional Breakdown in Dressing Room to Studio Head Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford)

Norman's Suicidal End

Backstage at the Shrine Theatre - Vicki Remembered Heart Drawn on Wall (With Her and Norman's Initials)


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