What Modern Film Lacks: “A Star is Born” (1954)

The 1954 epic drama of a failing actor marrying a singer who rises to stardom is one of the greatest films to come out of Hollywood, with sweeping performances by Judy Garland and James Mason, in a world of remakes, this film is certainly a favorite of the silver screen.

With itself being a remake, with the original in the 1930s, “A Star is Born” now has four renditions, with the Garland and Cooper/Gaga being the definitive ones. While the 2018 effort is stunningly beautiful and has a modern take on the timeless tale of love and addiction, the 1954 film brings a certain nostalgia that modern films lack.


More specifically, that of musical style. Once again, it is time to bring up Arthur Freed. You cannot talk about Judy Garland without talking about Arthur Freed, as he was the one who popularized how musicals of the Golden Age look in terms of color, are shot in terms of cinematography, and are choreographed when it comes to the inevitable dance routines.

Unlike most musicals of the 1950s, specifically the MGM films like “Singin’ in the Rain” (52) and “An American in Paris” (51), “A Star is Born” is a musical with dance numbers, but is more like a sweeping epic film with moments of brevity to lighten the mood. The film is dark in tone and uses musical elements such as song and dance to not only give us a break from the drama, but to showcase Esther (Judy Garland) and her rise to stardom, with each number highlighting a point in her career.

The problem with this film, mainly, is also what makes it great. Judy Garland.

While the performance is arguably the best of her career, it was also the peak and last attempt at revival. It was her first film since her MGM days, and much like her MGM films, a majority of which were musicals where she played the love interest, “A Star is Born” plays on her “girl next door” appeal of the 1940s, which was ultimately why she never received such heights again.

Judy Garland was typecast all her life, with studios and the public never getting Dorothy out of their heads. She battled addictions throughout her career and while she is celebrated now as one of the finest actors of the silver screen, she never got the award she deserved, the one she was robbed of in 1954 – the Academy Award for Best Actress. It is probably for the best anyway, as no one really remembers who won that year anyway (Grace Kelly for “The Country Girl”), proving once again that the Oscars are arbitrary and that great performances and actors are sometimes greater than those who won.