I am sure that at least one of you have seen one version of the film A Star is Born, right? More than likely these days, people are familiar with either the Judy Garland version from 1954 or the Barbra Streisand version from 1976. Both are musicals, and both have similar story lines—a talented singer is discovered by a man seemingly hell-bent on destroying himself. As her career takes off, his falls apart and the downward spiral spins out of control, fueled by copious amounts of booze.
If you haven’t seen either one of those movies, you now know what they are about. They are terribly depressing dramatic pictures full of modern music.
Did you know that there is also a non-musical version released in 1937 that both musicals are based off of? If you didn’t, you do now.
The 1937 version stars Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett AKA Vicki Lester and Fredric March as Norman Maine. And it is quite possibly the saddest movie in the world. Even the happy and funny parts have this black cloud of doom looming over them. By the time the movie is finished, you realize that you have gone through a whole box of tissues and you might need treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
It is just that sad….
We meet sweet little Esther on a farm in North Dakota. She dreams of going to Hollywood and making a name for herself in motion pictures. With the help of her precious granny, she gets to Hollywood all right, but quickly finds out that becoming a star is anything but easy.
When she is hired as the help for a lavish Hollywood party, she meets Norman Maine, a troubled matinée idol whose career is on the decline because of alcohol and unpredictable behavior. He immediately becomes enamored of her and helps her finally get into pictures.
After a successful screen test, the studio gives her a new contract and a new name—Vicki Lester. Another stroke of good fortune comes when the studio can’t find a suitable leading lady for Norman Main in a lavish period piece, so the studio put “Vicki” in the role and the public goes wild for her.
Esther and Norman get married and all seems to go well at first. Norman stops drinking, buys Esther a lovely estate, and they live in a perfect little world of wedded bliss. But trouble begins when Esther’s popularity increases and Norman’s career falls completely apart.
Now you might think that he becomes jealous and enraged that his little wife is way more popular than he is, but that is not the case at all. What you see is a very depressed man who feels that he is a burden to his wife.
He goes back to the bottle and makes an ass out of himself in public more than a few times. Something tells you that things are not going to end well for him as his behavior becomes more self-destructive in each scene.
Through it all, Esther is fiercely loyal to him, makes excuses for him. She loves him, after all. And you feel bad for her. You feel bad for him. You want them to have a happy ending, but you know they won’t have it.
And it breaks your heart….
In the musical versions the couple is less sympathetic. There is that bit of humanity missing from them. They’re characters on a screen. But in the Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version of this film, the characters are more than just characters. They are human, and you feel their pain. Their performances are flawless and stay tattooed on your mind indefinitely after you are finished watching them act out every emotion.
Have you seen any of the three versions of this film? If so, what did you think of them? Please let me know in the comments below!