The Star (1952)

Synopsis:

Oscar-winning actress Margaret Elliot’s (Bette Davis) film career is on life support. Broke and unwanted, careerist Elliot is convinced that all she needs is a good role to return her back to the top. Will Hollywood give her another chance?

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Come on, Oscar! Let’s you and me get drunk!”

The Star is the least celebrated but grittiest of the three 1952 movies that explored the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Bad and Beautiful and Singin’ in the Rain are the other two). All three movies give us a glimpse into the dark side of the Dream Factory (even the jolly and tuneful Singin’ in the Rain shows us how unkind the world of entertainment is).

The film was directed by Stuart Heisler (Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman). The script was written by the husband-and-wife writing team of Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. The role of Margaret Elliot was allegedly based on movie star Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), whom the writers knew well. Davis was aware that Crawford was the main inspiration behind Elliot and was all too happy to deconstruct her archenemy. Davis went as far as to ad lib “Bless You,” a famous Crawford affectation.

But there are quite a few striking similarities between Elliot and Davis’s own life and career. For example, there is a chilling scene with Davis’s Elliot telling off her money-leeching relatives, which echoes Davis’s difficult relationship with her mother, sister, and daughter, all three financially dependent on Davis. I’m also sure the career-driven Davis understood well how hard it is to stay on top.

In any case, Davis is pretty fantastic here. Whether she goes on an alcohol-fueled rampage or begs her agent for a great role, Davis does a great job conveying the desperation of her character. Davis portrays Elliot as a hopeless addict whose drug of choice is her career. In one brilliant sequence, Elliot auditions for a small but key role in an upcoming movie. Elliot foolishly ruins the audition by acting coquettish, thinking that by doing that she will be considered for the leading role.

Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing) plays a fisherman and ex-actor who tries to help the faded movie star (Davis hand-picked him for the part). Hayden’s famous “I-don’t-care-attitude” is perfect for his character. Because he’s pretty much the antithesis of Davis’s edgy personality, sparks fly almost immediatelyNatalie Wood (Splendor in the Grass) has a small role as Davis’s daughter. Actress Barbara Lawrence (A Letter to Three Wives) has a cameo as herself.

The Star had a very tight schedule and was shot mostly on location. Oscar-winning cameraman Ernest Laszlo’s (Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg) gritty black and white cinematography accentuates the pseudo-documentary quality of the movie. The rough edges give the movie an air of authenticity. It all fits perfectly with the film’s unglamorous presentation of Hollywood.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Star has remained somewhat undervalued. Many viewers and critics have called it a poor man’s Sunset Boulevard, but I found the movie honest and intelligent. The film has some great lines. Only the ending felt a bit contrived, yet the finale does make sense within the context of the movie. B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.

4 responses to “The Star (1952)

  1. It’s such a fascinating film and you explain all the reasons why! I’ve been laid up with Aussie flu (just getting out of it after 40 days – Biblical – sans meds, the new approach) and admit that I have now watched Feud: Bette and Joan three times from beginning to end in that period. With some justification! And this of course came to mind albeit I haven’t given it a spin in a few years… Their lives really did intertwine and this was one of those self-referential situations arising. Can you imagine anyone doing something that interesting now? I suppose MAPS TO THE STARS is the closest – now that I think of it. But it’s of a different variety. Plus I don’t know who it might concern …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. I’ve read Shaun Considine’s book The Divine Feud (I believe the TV show was mostly an adaptation of the book) and it was interesting to read how many times their paths crossed — it didn’t start with Baby Jane, it didn’t end with Baby Jane. Anyhow, I still need to see Maps to the Stars (I’m a huge Cronenberg fan). PS Hope you feel better soon!

      Like

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