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FLICK PICKS: Judy's 'Star Is Born' on TCM, Blu-ray
June 22, 2010  | By Diane Werts

The eye-popping new restoration of Judy Garland's 1954 Hollywood magnum opus A Star Is Born is all over the place this week, and it's a must-see.

Turner Classic Movies aired it as last week's entry in "The Essentials" (June 19 at 8 p.m. ET), the Movies 101 showcase hosted by TCM's Robert Osborne and cinephile Alec Baldwin.

Now comes the magnificent new DVD/Blu-ray release this Tuesday (June 22) -- a lavish multi-disc tribute that includes the restored movie (in high-def on Blu-ray), plus full discs of extras (1 in the BD set, 2 on DVD) that provide an enlightening look at the collaborative craft of moviemaking.

TCM's TV screening looked fine -- especially on TCM HD -- but the Blu-ray set is the ne plus ultra for this dramatic Garland comeback musical that gave us The Man That Got Away. I've screened the BD, and its super-widescreen Cinemascope Technicolor has been painstakingly reconditioned to the point where the film might look more vivid today in this pristine digital format than on the original scratch-prone 1950s theatrical film.

star is born blu-ray.jpgPerhaps more important for many modern viewers, the film's HD clarity, saturated colors and robust multichannel audio remix make this 56-year-old version of A Star Is Born feel as if it might have been made today. The physical clarity adds a fresh immediacy to the already intense emotions and Hollywood sausage factory evocation, helping younger viewers relate to the film's cavalcade of long-gone showbiz venues (like vaudeville and all-powerful movie studios).

The restoration process is explained in the bonus features, which truly go the extra mile. (Many are carried over from 2000's original standard-def DVD release.) Don't skip past the introduction that details the musical epic's filming process, locations, and the sadly eviscerating studio cuts ordered right after the movie's premiere to allow more theater showings per day.

Then sit back and enjoy the presentation of additional Cinemascope takes of Garland's classic The Man That Got Away jam, shot over the course of five months, spanning three costume changes, various set/lighting alternatives, and different performance choices by Garland (many beautifully presented in split-screen pairings for immediate comparison). There's even a fascinating look at an alternate cut of -- spoiler! -- James Mason's climactic suicide scene.


Newsreels and unused footage of the film's jaw-droppingly star-studded Hollywood premiere are joined by a truly delightful half-hour TV special, aired live in 1954 from the Pantages Theatre as a sort of prototype red carpet pre-show. The star parade is astonishing -- seems like everybody from golden-age Hollywood -- and the raw, ragged nature of early TV offers naked glimpses at the real personalities behind the famous facades.

The goodies go on and on -- audio-only archive recordings from rehearsals and interviews, the Bugs Bunny cartoon sendup A Star Is Bored, and trailers from all three Star Is Born productions (the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor, this 1954 remake, and Barbra Streisand's 1976 rock version).

Unless I missed it, though, there's no single how-we-reconstructed-it featurette, which feels sorely missed. Unaware viewers will be surprised to discover this lengthened version of A Star Is Born contains re-inserted sequences using still photos and grainy rehearsal footage over original audio tracks, subbing for excised footage the studio trashed in yet another example of filmdom's short-sightedness about its own artistic and historic worth.

But nevermind. This Star Is Born is just one big wow from beginning to end, anyway. And after all the hoopla over Garland's glorious comeback and Warner Bros.' no-expenses-spared production, the biggest revelation just may be James Mason's engagingly fearless performance. He's the one who anchors director George Cukor's unexpectedly clear-eyed adult approach for a '50s musical. (This was made the same year as White Christmas.)

Helping us savor it all in the Blu-ray package is a glued-in tribute book (a la Dr. Strangelove), packed with great photos and deeper information on the filming, trimming and rebirth of this all-American classic.

More info and purchase options for the 2010 Deluxe Edition here.




claire said:

I was fortunate to see this restored version on the big screen earlier this year - the colors are astonishing both in their vividness and the effectiveness with which they are used in the film. And though this is pretty much Judy's show, it was James Mason's honest and unsentimental performance that stayed with me after the film was over.

noel said:

Altho I've seen the Garland/Mason "A Star is Born" several times, I watched again on TCM Saturday evening, and was 'wowed' in a big way.

I could not take my eyes off the screen...

The production numbers are genius, but it was the coloration and the energy that stunned me.

This is more than a story....but a work of art.

Judy's remarkable performance remains the peak of her career: last night I noted how so much of her gifts were passed to Liza..Judy is a magnet for the audience, but she is generous to her co-stars.

James Mason is underrated as a performer, and the supporting cast is untouchable.

I could not ever watch the Streisand remake; altho she is very talented, she can't hold a candle to Judy.

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