Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Scen.: Lamar Trotti. F.: Arthur C. Miller. M.: Allen McNeil. Scgf.: James Basevi, Richard Day. Mus.: Cyril J. Mockridge. Int.: Henry Fonda (Gil Carter), Dana Andrews (Donald Martin), Henry ‘Harry’ Morgan (Art Croft), Anthony Quinn (Francisco Morez), Harry Davenport (Arthur Davies), Francis Ford (Alva ‘Dad’ Hardwick), Jane Darwell (Jenny ‘Ma’ Grier), William Eythe (Gerald Tetley), Frank Conroy (maggiore Tetley). Prod.: Lamar Trotti per Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Wellman’s 1937 take on Hollywood and one woman’s rise alongside one man’s fall isn’t as glamorous as its 1954 successor, instead finding its footing amidst the humble beginnings of its protagonist – a ground that it stands for the full length of the picture, despite rapidly changing sets and social classes. Janet Gaynor’s Esther Blodgett may eventually answer to the name of Vicki Lester, but even when undergoing a ridiculous Hollywood makeover she never really sheds her small town roots. They’re always there. Wellman, as he would almost always do with his leading ladies, much to their chagrin, puts very little make-up on Gaynor’s face, save for a few appropriately satiric sequences, allowing the simplicity of her expressive, silentera face to shine through. More than casting and character, what keeps the picture firmly grounded is the use of early color. It has the same effect as early sound, especially in a picture like Wellman’s Chinatown Nights (1929), and brings with it an almost awkward starkness. There are continual bursts of rough color surrounded by an almost enveloping darkness. It’s a darkness that surrounds not only the image but also the story and when it literally and figuratively envelops Fredric March’s Norman Maine, a Taxi-Driver-esque scenario emerges: is what happened real or is it a fantasy, wherein a woman actually gets to keep her successful career without being forced to choose between it and her less successful husband? Interpretation aside, in the end, as Vicki Lester famously claims Norman Maine’s name as her own, A Star is Born firmly reveals a feminist underbelly, as it becomes clear this isn’t a picture where gender roles could ever be reversed. This is a woman’s picture, and despite the likelihood that your face may be wet when the credits roll, it’s a woman’s picture in the least tear-jerking sense of the phrase. But perhaps most notably, and fittingly for a film about the inner working of Hollywood, A Star is Born marks Wellman’s first time working with George Chandler. Chandler would have bit parts in twenty-one more Wellman pictures and, as Wellman would detail, Chandler became a key tool in his directing toolbox. “I had different techniques to gain time to gather my so-called directional forces together. George Chandler was technique number one. […] If he happened to be in the scene that was bothering me, he would find some way of buggering it up, forgetting his lines, sneezing, not once or twice, a seizure, or whispering while I was talking – then the roof blew off, and believe me I could blow it a mile. When I had put George and all his relatives and ancestors where they belonged, I called off work for ten minutes, stormed into my dressing room, slammed the door shut and sat down quietly, and always worked out my problem. It was like magic”.