Star 80 (1983)


Sleazy club promoter Paul Snider (Eric Roberts, Runaway Train) helps small town teenager Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway, Personal Best) became a famous Playboy model. But as Stratten’s fortune rises, the emotionally unstable Snider begins to feel that he is losing control over his discovery, and tragedy ensues.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I have this feeling about Dorothy. This hunch. She’s gonna be a big star.”

Star 80 is legendary choreographer-dancer-actor-filmmaker Bob Fosse’s last movie as a director. It received mixed reviews from film critics and performed poorly at the box office. But time has been kind to the movie. Over the last four decades, most people have come around to the idea that this is one of the best docudramas of the ’80s.

Fosse directed only five movies — Sweet Charity (1969), Cabaret (1972), Lenny (1974) and All That Jazz (1979) are the other four — and all of them revolve around the same idea: showbiz isn’t a bed of roses. Star 80 could be interpreted as the final chapter in a quintet of unrelated productions that deglamorized the entertainment industry.

The film recounts the true story of model and actress Dorothy Stratten, who was murdered by her estranged husband, Paul Snider. The story is told entirely in flashbacks, and Fosse handles the nonlinear narrative with assuredness. Although the director was accused of exploiting a real-life tragedy, it’s obvious that he was more interested in exploring the perils of fame than in merely reenacting a murder case.

What’s more, Fosse does something that you don’t see every day in a Hollywood movie: as a bizarre as it may seem, the filmmaker decided to tell the sad tale from the perspective of the killer. The audience is practically forced to experience Snider’s slow mental deterioration, which is perhaps why the movie is tough to watch.

Fosse later said that he had more things in common with the scummy Snider than with the innocent Stratten, and that’s one brave admission. Fosse’s affinity with Snider notwithstanding, the director shows tremendous compassion towards the ill-fated Stratten, who was never given the chance to be her own person.

Moreover, the film is perfectly cast down to the smallest roles. Eric Roberts is a force of nature as the troubled Snider. Mariel Hemingway is equally brilliant in her own quiet way. She wisely decided to evoke Stratten rather than emulate her. Carroll Baker (Baby Doll), who plays Hemingway’s mother, underplays beautifully as well.

Cliff Robertson (Charly) is superb as Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner. Robertson plays Hefner as a cross between Moses and Ron Jeremy. Hefner is depicted as nothing but a wealthy street pimp who exploits Stratten as much as Snider (I wasn’t shocked to read that a furious Hefner tried to sue Fosse and company). The idea of Hefner and Snider being two sides of the same coin adds another layer to the story.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Star 80 is a flawlessly crafted true crime drama, additionally enriched by superb performances from the cast. If you are remotely interested in the murder-suicide of Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten, this is essential viewing. Plus, being his very last movie, it is a must-see for any Bob Fosse fan. Color, 103 minutes, Rated R.

Original Theatrical Trailer:


20 responses to “Star 80 (1983)

  1. Hi Mr. Binford – Thank you for covering this film which I really love! Best performance by the underrated Eric Roberts, and Mariel Hemingway is wonderful as well–and my goddess Carroll Baker (still alive!) is perfect as the taciturn mother. The film is chilling but definitely has that Fosse feel.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I give Fosse credit for doing the film the way he did, it’s not easy doing a story like this from the point of view of the killer as you’re literally seeing someone lose their grip on reality and sanity, and that he pulled it off is something to admire. Both Hugh Hefner and Peter Bogdanovich threated Fosse with legal trouble actually, the character of Aram Nicholas is really Bogdanovich, but Bogdanovich said he would take Fosse for everything in court if he was portrayed in a negative light, thus the change. If truth be told, both Hefner and Bogdanovich were unnecessarily at each other’s throats in the wake of Stratten’s death, neither did everything 100% right by her, but they each loved her in their own ways, and that they spent more time blaming each other for what happened to Stratten instead of mourning the woman they both cared for gave both their reps a black eye.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, Bogdanovich was very angry with Fosse. Interestingly, I don’t remember him raising hell over the TV movie, Death of a Centerfold (Jamie Lee Curtis plays Stratten). Anyhow, I thought Fosse did a good job presenting all aspects of the tragedy.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great write-up! That IS crazy, coming from the killer’s point of view. I remember seeing parts of this movie but I think I was actually too creeped out to watch all of it!
    Fosse was so fascinating. I love All That Jazz. One of my favorite things to tell people is that Michael Jackson got all his moves from Fosse. If you ever see Fosse dancing in A Little Prince, especially, you can see several moves he makes that the young Michael Jackson had yet to acquire, including going up on his toes, and touching his belt buckle and his hat in a certain way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are absolutely right about Jackson stealing from Fosse (did he ever acknowledge it?). Fosse was a genius, and All That Jazz is probably the most ingenious movie musical ever made — the number “Bye Bye Life” is the work of a master.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This to my mind is Eric Roberts’ finest performance, powerful and chilling. Was reminded of Star 80 recently when watching the TV series Welcome to Chippendales, in which the lives of Snider and Stratton intersect for a short time with Steve Banerjee, the originator of the Chippendales club.

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  5. Nice review of this sad sad story. Stratten was a stunning looking woman (her series from Playboy of being famous blondes is breathtaking ironically two she depicts were doomed too Harlow and Monroe). Eric Roberts is truly psychotic in this. I mean where was the Oscar. This film fills me with dread. I hate seeing a vivacious woman destroyed by such an awful person. Humans desperate enough are capable of anything good or bad. This endless cycle of violence is depicted chillingly in this film.

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  6. Have you ever read Bog’s book on the Stratten affair ‘The killing of the unicorn’?. I’d like to but it’s pretty difficult to find a decent priced copy. I’ve read that it is a peculiar book. In ‘My lunches with Orson’ Welles rips his friend Bogs for writing it. So strange with Bogs you can go from John Ford to Dorothy Stratten.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, that really did him no favors. I still like his excellent movie books. A pretty crazy life. Someone will have to write his bio. Did you know he lived with Tarantino when he was basically homeless? So many connections with him.

        Liked by 1 person

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