No multigifted performer could have wished for a more perfect showcase than Judy Garland was given in “A Star Is Born,” the music-filled romantic drama from 1954 that displayed her singing, acting and dancing talents to fuller advantage than any other film in her stellar career.
This remake of William Wellman’s 1937 tale of Hollywood success, love, self-destruction and studio-system cruelty might well have been re-titled “A Star Is Re-born,” as it revived 32-year-old Garland’s flagging real-life film career, playing struggling young singer Esther Blodgett, who blossoms into screen sensation “Vicki Lester” under the tutelage of husband Norman Maine (a brilliantly heartbreaking James Mason), a once-great film actor spiraling downward into alcoholic doom.
Under the direction of George Cukor, working from a script by Moss Hart, Garland is at the top of her game, belting such Harold Arlen-Ira Gershwin torchers as “The Man That Got Away” with her distinctively genuine powerhouse emotion in state-of-the-art stereo.
In the Blu-ray edition, the colors are as rich as the first day they were printed, the images are crisp, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound puts the viewer in the midst of it all. This is film historian Ronald Haver’s restored version, containing 170 minutes of the original 181-minute premiere, with sepia-toned stills filling in the visual gaps, while the completely restored soundtrack keeps up the narrative continuity.
The package also contains a bonus DVD of alternate takes, deleted scenes, excerpts from Garland’s recording sessions, newsreel and television footage from the 1954 premiere and a collectible book of rare photos, press materials and a fascinating essay by film historian John Fricke.
For fans of the ’54 version of “A Star Is Born” — one of the most inspired and inspiring musical dramas ever filmed, and Garland’s crowning achievement — this special edition is a must-own.
— Gene Triplett