Yes, many of us do still have a crush on a young Fredric March! 🙂
The 1954 version is a celebration not just of Ms. Garland’s talents but also the steely charm of James Mason. As Vicki Lester’s career spins to the heights of Hollywood, you feel as if there is no room for anyone else, let alone a lover. But it’s also a raw depiction of the desperation of living with alcoholism and denial amid the hypocrisy and hysteria of show business. The 1937 version is delicate and stripped of ’30s Hollywood glamour, and Ms. Gaynor is a light in Depression-era darkness, and not dolled up like Jean Harlow or Joan Crawford. And does anyone else besides me still have a crush on a young Fredric March? His pain as his fame dissipates is a study in restraint in an era of filmmaking not exactly known for subtlety.
“A Star Is Born” is very much a product of our times. Jackson Maine’s problems date back to a wretched childhood, guaranteeing our pity and love, whereas Fredric March and James Mason gave the hero a nasty and dangerous edge. Cooper’s camera crowds the characters, getting in their faces, and the dialogue is determinedly foul with oaths: “If you don’t dig deep into your fucking soul, you won’t have legs.” What? In striving to make the whole thing rough and rooted, Cooper slakes our need for the apparently authentic, and yet the story he tells, with its sudden shock of fame, is little more than a fairy tale. The result is pure Saturday-night moviegoing: it gives you one hell of a wallop, then you wake up on Sunday morning without a scratch.