A Star Is Born 1937

With the upcoming release of the 2018 version of A Star is Born (this time starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper) it is a good time to look back at the original version starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. Fredric March was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the tragic Norman Maine (he lost to Spencer Tracy). Fredric was 40 years old when he acted in the film and his portrayal of a fading movie star remains one of his best.

The character of Norman Maine was loosely based on John Barrymore (who blew his career because of his alcoholism) and silent film icon John Gilbert (who’d  died in 1936) whose career was ruined when The Talkies came into existence. John Gilbert’s voice was fine but it did not match what audiences were expecting it to sound like and his career went off the tracks. In the film, Norman Maine’s falling star is contrasted to the career of his love, the rising star Esther Blodgett whose Hollywood name becomes Vicki Lester played by Janet Gaynor. Similarly, John Gilbert’s career was failing when he was married to rising star film Virginia Bruce.

The film takes a hard look at the nasty underside of Hollywood stardom and is definitely one of the best films of the 1930’s. It would be remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, again in 1976 with stars Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and here we are in 2018 with the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper version of this timeless Hollywood tale.






Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)


Fredric March won his second Oscar for playing Al Stephenson in William Wyler’s best picture winner, The Best Years of Our Lives.

I think I have mentioned this before, but I am a huge fan of William Wyler. I really love his movies in general (maybe except Ben-Hur), and I really like his directing style, which is fairly simple and straightforward, but effective in its storytelling. He clearly knew how to handle his actors and stories very well, and I more often than not find myself drawn into his movies, even the dated ones like Jezebel.

I did have my reservations about The Best Years of Our Lives (TBYOOL) because it’s…well, a war-themed film and I often find them depressing to watch. And considering that it was from the 40s, that made me not want to watch it even more. However, there was this other part of me that wanted…

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Man on a Tightrope

This essay first appeared on Fourth & Sycamore.

Man on a Tightrope is one of director Elia Kazan’s most underrated films and one of his best. The film’s title has more than one meaning–the main character is a circus clown who very literally works on a tightrope in some of his routines, but he is also the leader of this circus, and the circus is coming under scrutiny from the communist police where the circus operates in Czechoslovakia in 1952, so he must also walk a narrow line betweenMan Tightrope interrogationmaintaining artistic integrity and not upsetting the authorities. This man is Karel Cernik–played with tremendous gravity and pathos by Fredric March–and his family owned the Circus Cernik for generations until the communist state took over ownership with the rise of their regime, though Karel has been permitted to continue management. However, police investigators and propaganda officials keep a close eye on him and…

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