Thursday, October 2, 2008

What Price Hollywood?

As part of TCM's 80th anniversary salute to RKO Radio Pictures, they showed the 1932 movie What Price Hollywood? last night. The story is of an alcoholic producer who meets and falls in love with a wannabe actress. If the story sounds familiar, it should: it's been more or less remade several times, under the title A Star Is Born.

I personally prefer the 1937 version of A Star Is Born. Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodgett, the young woman who leaves her home in the Midwest against her parents' wishes to try to make it in Hollywood. Needless to say, Hollywood isn't so kind on her, as she finds out that there are tens of thousands of people who want to become stars.

Fate hands her a lifeline, however, when, with the help of housemate Andy Devine, she gets a job as a waitress at a big Hollywood party. Drunk actor Norman Maine (played by Fredric March) sees her and is immediately smitten with her, helping her in her career, and eventually falling in love with her despite the fact that her career, after a change of name to Vicky Lester, is on the rise, while his is waning due to his constant drinking. A Star Is Born is melodrama, to be sure, but in this case, it's quite good melodrama. Janet Gaynor is good, Fredric March is excellent, and the supporting cast is full of the sort of people who played secondary roles throughout their careers, but were of great use to the studio system in that their presence made everything they were in sparkle. Adolphe Menjou plays a movie producer; the aforementioned Devine is constantly genial, and elderly May Robson is wonderful as Esther's grandmother, who goes against the wishes of Esther's parents and encourages her to go to Hollywood to fulfill her dream.

The 1937 version of A Star Is Born is in lovely Technicolor, and this was a deliberate decision. It was felt that filming the movie in color would help to make Hollywood look even more glamorous, showing the very glamour that drove all those Esther Blodgetts to make their way to Hollywood to try to become the next Vicky Lester. The more interesting thing, however, came about at Oscar time. Despite being very similar to What Price Hollywood?, A Star Is Born was nominated in the Best Original Story category. Even more surprisingly, it won. A Star Is Born has been remade under that title twice; in the 1950s with Judy Garland and James Mason, and in the 1970s with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. (What on earth was Hollywood thinking in the 1970s?) All three versions of A Star is Born are available on DVD, but What Price Hollywood? doesn't seem to be.

No comments: