Monday, July 17, 2006
If the phrase Hollywood Legend could apply to only one person, that person would be Joan Crawford. With the exception of Lillian Gish, no one had a longer career in motion pictures. Crawford began her career in the mid-twenties and remained a star until the early seventies, reinventing her persona with each decade. From the carefree flapper of the 1920s, the ambitious shop girl of the 1930s, the soap opera queen of the 1940s, the middle aged sexpot of the 1950s and finally the horror scream queen of the 1960s and early 1970s, Crawford graced movie screens for nearly fifty years,winning an Oscar for her role in Mildred Pierce in 1945.
As it turns out, Crawford's private life wasn't nearly as successful as her professional life. She had four unsuccessful marriages and one happy one that left her a widow in 1959. In the middle of all this Hollywood madness, she managed to adopt four children.
In 1979, two years after Crawford's death, her eldest daughter Christina published a scathing biography of her mother and her own life as a Hollywood brat. In Mommie Dearest, Christina describes her mother as an abusive, , sexually promiscuous, alcoholic control freak. Since the American public loves to read about the nasty little secrets of the rich and famous, even the long dead rich and famous, the book shot up on the best seller list.
The powers that be in Hollywood saw how much money Christina's little poison pen story was making and decided that they just had to have a piece of the action. Paramount Pictures snapped up the rights. Originally, Anne Bancroft, who had won an Oscar for 1962's The Miracle Worker(Ironically, Joan Crawford accepted the Oscar for her.)was cast as Joan, but the writers couldn't produce a script to her liking. The next choice was Faye Dunaway, a talented, but mannered actress.
Dunaway's first big splash on the silver screen came in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde. This was followed by a slew of hit films and an Oscar for Network in 1976. As if this resume wasn't impressive enough, Dunaway, like Crawford, costared with Bette Davis (In a 1976 television movie called The Disappearance of Aimee.) and like Crawford, she and Davis hated each other.(Davis would go on to publicly attack Dunaway for the rest of her life.) I guess the producers felt that a feud with the same Hollywood legend that Crawford feuded with really sealed the deal and Dunaway was cast. The result was a camp classic of mammoth proportions.
Joan Crawford has it all. A wonderful career, a beautiful mansion and more money than God, but still there's something missing in her life. A child of her own. With the help of her lawyer and lover Greg Savitt (a fictitious character based on the real Crawford's lawyer and lover Greg Bautzer and played by Steve Forrest.)Joan is allowed to adopt a baby girl she names Christina. (In real life, the baby was originally named Joan, but Crawford didn't want her child to go through life as Joan Crawford, Jr, so she changed her name to Christina.) Joan's life is complete now that she has the child she adores. (We know she adores the baby because she holds her like an Oscar.)
Since this is not only a movie, but a Bad Favorite, all is not well in the Crawford household. Joan's behavior becomes more and more erratic. One night, during an argument, Greg tells her to face the fact that she's getting old. No Hollywood diva wants to hear those dreaded words, so she growls at him and calls him a dirty crooked Hollywood lawyer. Greg isn't taking this abuse lying down. He growls back at her, shakes her silly,(This probably is what two rabid wolves look like when they're mating.) and utters the scathing line, "Are you crazy?" He then bolts from the room and says, "If you're acting, you're wasting your time. If you're not, you're wasting mine." (What the hell does that mean? I can't figure it out.) Joan is so furious with at Greg, that she cuts his head off in all of his photos. (I kid you not.)
Joan's career is also hitting the skids. One day, L.B. Mayer calls her into his office and tells her that she's through at Metro since she's been labeled box office poison. (In real life, Crawford asked to be released from her contract.) Of course in bad movie land, anytime a diva gets sacked, we're in for a treat. Dunaway doesn't disappoint us. Next, we see our heroine in her rose garden chopping up the rose bushes wearing a beaded evening gown. (You really have to see this to believe it.) She has her long suffering, faithful servant Carol Ann (Rutanya Alda) wake up the children to help her continue her destruction. As if Dunaway hasn't destroyed enough scenery with her chopping and chewing, she still has a pesky little tree to deal with. (Tina! Bring me the axe!") Joan chops away, looking like Paul Bunyon at a drag show until the poor little tree falls to its death.
Boyfriends and foliage are not the main victims of Joan's hysterical wrath. The brunt of her abuse is reserved for her children Christina (Mara Hobel, a child actress know all over the South for her Bryan Bacon commercials.) and Christopher. Joan chops off Christian's long locks when she catches the child imitating her, makes her give away all but one of her Christmas and birthday presents and tries to force her to eat a steak so rare that it's still mooing.
On night, Joan, wearing a hideous green cold cream mask and a head band that makes her look like a troll doll, comes into the children's room and finds a wire hanger in Christina's closet. It would be an understatement to say she was pissed. She proceeds to trash the room, beat Christina with the hanger and throw cleanser all over the bathroom. If that's not enough to frighten anyone with a pulse, she orders the child to "Clean up this mess." (Everyone seems to think this scene is a campy delight. Personally, I find it very disturbing.)
Joan, having had it with her ungrateful daughter, decides to send her to a boarding school. A sobbing Christian begs her mother not to make her go. (Why would any child want to stay in that house of horrors with that monster?)
Teenage Christina (Now played by Diana Scarwid) is happy at her school and studying drama. On a home visit, Joan tells Christina that she's broke. Christina will have to work at the school to pay the tuition. Christina is okay with it until she finds Joan knocked out drunk among packages of recently purchased expensive clothes.
Back at school, young love is in bloom when one of the male students shows a less than chaste interest in Christina. When the young man and Christina are caught making out in the barn, a furious Joan (When is she ever not furious?) yanks Christina out of school and blames everyone but herself. ( With her revolving bedroom door, who else is to blame?) Joan drags Christina back home and tells a reporter that she was explelled from school. When Christina calls her on this lie, Joan lunges at the girl and strangles her wearing an expression that would frighten the most seasoned Stephen King fan. Faster than you can say "Hail Mary", Joan carts Christina off to a very strict convent school, where she is to receive no privileges.
While Christina serves her sentence for telling the truth, Joan marries Pepsi Cola CEO Alfred Steele (Harry Goz). The marriage is a happy one for the most part, but Joan's extravagant spending sends poor Al's head spinning right into an early grave. The Pepsi board of directors attempt to retire the widowed Joan from the board, but she isn't having any of it. ("Don't f*** with me fellows. This isn't my first time in the rodeo.") She informs them that if they force her to leave, she'll publicly trash their product.(I guess these means she'll switch to vodka and Coca-Cola.)
A now grown Christina is enjoying a modest success in her acting career. She's even landed a juicy role on a daytime soap. When Christina falls ill, sixty something Joan steps in and plays Tina's twenty something character. If this isn't bad enough, she's so drunk on the show that she can't even read the teleprompter.
The years pass and Dragon Lady finally bites the dust. At her wake, Christina gives a tearful speech over Joan's corpse, spouting some nonsense about no more pain and being free. (What pain was she talking about? The pain Joan was in or the pain she inflected on everyone she ever knew?) At the reading of the will, Christina and her brother Christopher (Xander Berkeley of television's 24) find that they have been disinherited by their mother for "reasons known to them." Joan always gets the last word. Or does she?
Crawford fans were outraged by Christina's book. They felt as though Christina ruined her mother's star image. I personally think this is ridiculous. I for one still watch Joan Crawford films.
Some of the true facts of Crawford's life are much more interesting than this movie. No mention is made of Crawford's affair with Clark Gable, her feud with Bette Davis or her alleged bisexuality. Crawford adopted two other children and they're not even mentioned. (Why did she adopt two unrelated baby girls and present them as twins? Now that's bizarre.)
When the movie was released in 1981, it was meant to be a testament of a woman's life with her famous, abusive mother. The public saw it as a campy comedy. Gay bars held "Mommie Dearest" parties with drag queens dressed like Joan Crawford and wielding wire hangers. Yet, no one will ever forget it. Twenty-five years later, it's still a favorite.
What makes this movie bad? Faye's histrionics, the "bending" of the truth, the overall melodramatic feel.
What makes it a bad favorite? It's a hell of a lot of fun.
Mommie Dearest is avaialbe on DVD and VHS.
Watch a hilarious video:
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Anyone 40 years or older has probably been to a drive in movie sometimes know as an "open aired theater." You'd pay the admission(Some theaters charged by the carload. Others only charged adults, allowing children under twelve to enter for free.) at a small building which housed the box office. From there, you'd park your car in front of a giant outdoor screen,attach a small speaker to your window and watch a double feature right in the privacy of your own car. Between the features, they would run coming attraction trailers and amusing little animations advertising the treats sold at their concession stand. These were called Intermission reels.
The concession stand was an adventure of it's own. You could buy standard movie theater fare like popcorn, candy and soda, but they also served pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs and ice cream. Most of the food was pretty awful. The pizza was frozen, the burgers usually had more filler than beef, (A friend of mine once said that drive in burgers were so full of cornflakes that the package should read, "Best to you each morning.")and the popcorn was so greasy that you'd have slippery fingers for a week. The hotdogs were usually awesome. Yet, we didn't care. We loved it all.
The heyday of the drive in was probably from the late 1940s until about the early to mid 1970s. These were the years before cable, (Can you believe there was really a time when all we had was ABC, CBS and NBC?), VCRs and DVD. At the drive in, you didn't have to dress up (Some people even brought pajama clad kids.) and could see two recent films in your own car. In warmer climates, like my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, drive ins were open year round. In colder climates, like my current home state of New Jersey they were only open in the warmer months.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Cable, home video, rising insurance costs and rising crime were all factors in the demise of the beloved drive in theater. There were once several thousand drive in movie theaters. Today there are only a few hundred left in the whole country.
The drive in was also a great outlet for independent filmmakers. The most popular of these was the exploitation film. These were ultra low budget quickies that were willing to go farther than mainstream Hollywood. They would tackle subjects like lesbianism, S&M, tranvestism, etc. The most well know of these films today would be Ed Wood's "Glen or Glenda."
The most successful of these filmmakers was Hershel Gordon Lewis. Lewis' movie career began with nudies, basically films of nudist camp activities. When he sensed that the public was beginning to tire of seeing out of shape naked people play volley ball, he and his business partner Dave Friedman began to search for something no one had done before. They took notice of the popularity of horror films. Up to this point, the most explicit horror film was Alfred Hitchcock's now classic "Psycho" (1960). The brutal shower scene was the most explicit murder scene recorded on film up to that point. Hersh and Dave decided to do Hitch one better by making a film with not one, but several murder scenes ten times more explicit than the shower scene in "Psycho". Hersh and Dave didn't realize that they were making movie history by creating a whole new genre known as the slasher film.
Lewis and Friedman then scurried down to Miami, Florida, where Hersh threw together a script, hired some local amateur actors and threw together a gory little epic in just nine days. The result was the cult camp classic Blood Feast.
Blood Feast opens in a small apartment, where a beautiful young girl has just returned home from work. (We know she's in danger because the drum roll in the background gets faster and louder.) She turns on her cheap transistor radio (The kind kids of my generation would get every Christmas. It would stop working by New Years.) and the program is interrupted by an announcement that another beautiful young girl has been found murdered. Since she is a beautiful young girl and she's in this movie, we know she's a goner.
The action moves to her bathroom. She's enjoying a bubble bath, when suddenly a mad man with a butcher knife stabs her to death. (Are we ripping off Psycho?) The creep then commences to lop off her leg. We are treated to a long shot of the dead girl, with her bloody leg stump sticking out from the bath water, a piece of raw liver on her eye and her boobies covered by bubbles. (It's ok to show all of this gore, but God forbid if we see a nipple.)
The local police team led by Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin, a professional actor credited as Thomas Wood to avoid paying a SAG fine.) is baffled. The only clues are her membership in a book club and a book found by her body titled "Ancient Weird Egyptian Rituals." (How's that for a witty title?)
The action now takes us to a small catering store run by elderly, handicapped Fuad Ramses, played by Mal Arnold, a thirtyish actor who does the worst Bela Lugosi imitation since Ed Wood's wife's chiropractor. Mrs. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton, obviously a community theater actress and no relation to Michael Bolton.) comes into the store. She's looking for a someone to cater her daughter Suzette's (1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason) twenty-first birthday party. Ramaes agrees to cater Suzette's party, but not before he hypnotizing Mrs. Fremont.(Not only does he never hypnotize anyone else, but this serves no purpose to the rest of the film.) Since Mrs. Fremont asked for something unusual, Ramses suggests an Egyptian feast.
After Mrs. Fremont leaves, Ramses takes us to his back room and we see his statue of the ancient goddess Ishtar. (A department store mannequin spray painted gold and wearing costume jewelry. I kid you not.)
Soon we find out that Suzette and Detective Pete are an item. At a lecture on Egyptian rituals, they learn of an ancient cult of Ishtar worshipers who celebrated by eating the flesh of young girls. (AH! Fuad Ramses worships Ishtar, murders young girls and owns a catering service. I get it.) Hersh shows us a flashback scene of ancient Egypt where a young starlet with 1963 hair and make up is sacrificed on an alter.
Even with all of this overwhelming evidence staring them right in the face, Pete and the rest of his Keystone Kops remain baffled and the murders continue. One young girl is butchered to death on the beach while she makes out with her boyfriend. (Wouldn't any serial killer worth his salt have killed the boyfriend, too? Where's the Son of Sam when we need him?)Another has her tongue ripped from her mouth while the soundtrack plays a dreadful violin rendition of "How Dry I Am." (The most famous scene in the film. Fuad simply knocks on her door and she opens it. The elderly, cripple Fuad overpowers this big, strong, young woman and she doesn't even bite him when he yanks out her tongue.) Still another young girl has her face hacked away, but lives long enough to all but identify Fuad. Pete still doesn't get it.
Since all of this murder and butchery has taken place in the first forty-five minutes, Hersh must have felt he had to offer us some filler. That can be the only explanation for the scene that follows. Suzette and several other bikini clad babes play beach ball in a swimming pool to an amateur piano piece. Alas, the murder and gore are far from over. Suzette's best friend Trudy (Toni Calvert, who costared with Mal Arnold in another H. G. Lewis classic Scum of the Earth.) is abducted by Fuad in broad daylight, in the middle of the suburbs. (If you slow down the DVD, you can see a neighbor mowing his lawn.)
On the night of Suzette's party, (There's a mad serial killer on the loose and her best friend is missing. Why is she still having a party?) Fuad arrives and insists that he can't serve the food until it's blessed. He asks Suzette to lie on the kitchen counter top and pretend to be sacrificed. Any woman with half a brain would have bolted from the room, screaming for her life, but since Suzette only has on quarter of a brain, she agrees. Just as Fuad is about to hack Suzette to pieces, Mrs. Fremont walks in. Fuad manages to escape out of the kitchen door.
Meanwhile, Pete finally figures out that Fuad is a suspect. His suspicions are confirmed when he breaks into Fuad's shop and finds poor Trudy's bloody body. He then gives his fellow detectives a long winded explanation of Ishtar and the Blood Feast. (Did Hersh think the audience was a s dumb as the characters in this film?)
The police arrive at the Fremont residence just as Fuad is darting from the house. They chase him (The limping Fuad keeps a respectable distance from the cops.) until he takes refuge in the back of a garbage truck. The driver unwittingly turns on the garbage crusher, killing Fuad. He died like the garbage he was. The end.
I normally try not to review low budget or independent films because I have a great respect for independent filmmakers. The fact that they even get their films made and released is quite a feat. Yet, this film has such historical significance I couldn't ignore it. Let's face it, without Blood Feast we may never have had The Exorcist, Halloween, Friday the !13th or even Night of the Living Dead.
Also, Blood Feast boasts more campy scenes than any other movie, with the possible exception of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Connie Mason's eyes always seem to stray right into the camera, (I could never figure out whether she was reading cue cards or she just wanted to make sure her face was on camera.) grief stricken characters cry loudly, but quiet down when other characters have to deliver dialogue, and the red police light in the beach scene is obviously someone off camera with a red flash light.
Lewis made several more of these types of films before retiring from filmmaking in the 1970s. In 2002, he made a sequel called Blood Feast2: All You Can Eat. The sequel was a tongue in cheek film meant to be campy. Yet,it wasn't the same.
What makes this movie bad? Ridiculous premise, high school acting, dumb characters.
What makes it a favorite? It's a trail blazer and any film that can bring back my beloved drive in memories can't be all bad.
Watch the film from Grindhouse Theater:
NEXT: MOMMIE DEAREST
Sunday, July 02, 2006
In the mid 1960's, a scathing novel, written by failed actress Jacqueline Suzanne hit the bookshelves and became an instant bestseller. Valley of the Dolls was the story of three young starlets who claw their way to the top in New York City and Hollywood. Along the way, they deal with booze, drugs, (The "Dolls" of the title.) and promiscuous sex. It's actually pretty tame by today's standards, but remember this was the sixties, a time when Barbara Eden couldn't even show her navel on television,so this was really hot stuff.
Of course, as with any trashy bestseller, Hollywood called. Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights and planned on a big budget, splashy extravaganza. They wound up with a big budget splashy disaster.
Instead of casting big movie stars in the principal role, Fox cast not so big television stars. As Anne Welles, the lovely, but cold secretary who becomes a super model, Barbara Parkins, star of the groundbreaking sixties nighttime soap Peyton Place (Easily the "Desperate Housewives" of its time.) was cast. In the role of Neely O'Hara, a Judy Garlandesque singer-actress, Fox cast Patty Duke, an Oscar winning actress, who was better know for playing twin cousins on her own sitcom, "The Patty Duke Show". The other plum role, Jennifer North, a Marilyn Monroe type sex symbol was filled by Sharon Tate, who's biggest claim to fame was a small role on "The Beverly Hillbillies". Helen Lawson, a hard nosed Broadway diva was to be played by the real Judy Garland. By this time, Garland's years of drug and alcohol abuse had left her a haggard, frail mess at the tender age of 45 and she was soon replaced by Hollywood legend Susan Hayward.
Our epic begins with Anne Wells moving from her small New England hometown (We are treated with stills of various little old lady relatives crying as Parkins narrates the details of her departure.) to the Big Bad Apple. Anne lands a job at an entertainment agency and her first assignment is to deliver some contracts to Broadway hag Helen Lawson.
Anne arrives at the theater and hears bit player Neely singing her little heart out. While Lawson is signing the contracts, Anne points out Neely's talent.(Anne must be the only fan of Patty Duke's voice double.) This doesn't sit will with the old bag. She tears up the contract and tells Anne that she'll sign nothing until the agency has Neely fired. ("Tell that sonofabitch to get off his butt and earn his oats.")
Anne decides she's had enough of show business and monsters like Helen Lawson. She decides to quit until she meets young, hunky ladies' man Lyon Burke, played by Paul Burke, a not so young, far from hunky actor. Anne tells Lyon Neely's story and he fells so sorry for her, he books her on a telethon. Neely lipsyncs a lame song by her never known voice double while her beads get tangled in her boobs. (I kid you not.) In the real world, she would have been laughed out of town, but in this bizzarro universe, she may as well have been Barbra Streisand belting out "Don't Rain on My Parade" because she's a huge hit. Soon we treated to a montage of Neely's progress. We get to see Patty Duke wake up. Patty Duke spit out water in the shower. Patty Duke practice scales. Patty Duke's double tap dancing followed by Patty Duke being given pills. (Oh Oh!)
Anne and Neely befriend Jennifer North, a beautiful blonde, who insists she has a lovely body, but no talent. (Ironically, Sharon Tate gives the best performance of the three leads.) On the night of Neely's telethon triumph, the three girls go to a nightclub to see singing sensation Tony Polar.(Tony Scotti, who hasn't been seen or heard from since.) When Tony and Jennifer see each other, it's love at first sight. Alas, there is an obstacle. Tony's domineering sister Miriam (Lee Grant) watches his every move and disapproves of the relationship. Of course in bad movie land, a dried up, bitter spinster can't override young love. Not only do they marry, but Tony's career takes off. He lands a leading role in a big movie musical co-staring now superstar Neely O'Hara.
Even Anne gets a ride on the gravy train. One day, while she's taking dictation, the CEO of Gillian Cosmetics decides that Anne would make the perfect Gillian Girl. Faster than you can say Elizabeth Hurley, Anne is the most famous model in the world.
The action now moves from the East Coast to the West Coast. Just like the sun, our lovelies rise in the east and fall in the west.
Neely is now a temperamental, booze soaked, pill popping mess. She's become a terror to anyone who comes near her. Before long, Mel (Martin Milner) her loving husband leaves her and she takes up with Ted Cassablanca (Alex Davion), an effeminate costume designer who everyone thinks is gay. ("Ted Cassablanca is not a fag, and I'm the dame that can prove it.")One night, a drunk drugged up Neely, wearing only a bra and slip, catches Cassablanca skinny dipping in her pool with another woman.(In Suzanne's novel, it was a young boy.) This gives Patty a chance to really act. She screams like a five year old throwing a tantrum, flails her arms and pours a whole bottle of booze into the pool.
Neely's personal life isn't the only victim of her addiction to Dolls(Pills)and booze. Her career suffers, also. In the tradition of other "stars on the skids", she finds her self in a sleazy skid row bar. Just like the old cliche, one of her hits plays on the juke box. (Just like Susan Hayward in "I'll Cry Tomorrow', Ann Blyth in "The Helen Morgan Story" and countless others.)She announces her identity to the other bar patrons, but no one believes her. (Ever wonder if this happened to Whitney Houston in a crack house?) Eventually, her antics land her in a sanatorium, where Patty gets to emote her way into bad movie history.
Hollywood isn't any nicer to Jennifer and Tony. After one hit film, Tony's career is on the skids.(Think Olivia Newton-John and Grease.) As if that wasn't bad enough, it's soon discovered that Tony has some mysterious, genetic Hollywood disease and has to be institutionalized. Of course Jennifer can't even afford to support herself, much less an invalid husband, so she forced to go to Europe and star in soft core "art" films. (As Neely says, "Nudies! That's all they are! Nudies!") This works out until she discovers that she has breast cancer and has to have a mastectomy. Of course, since this means no one will pay to see her naked anymore, she swallows a handful of pills and kills herself. (I don't understand how this can help her husband.)
A now clean and sober Neely is being released from the santatorium. Lyon gets her a comeback role in a Broadway musical, but that isn't enough for our little Neely. She decides to steal Lyon away from Anne. This pushes Anne over the edge and soon she's popping Nelly's Dolls.
Ann's entire addiction is shown in a five minute montage ending when she throws her pills in the ocean after passing out on the beach.(I guess Patty Duke's histrionics took up so much screen time that poor Barbara Parkins got cheated out of some real acting.) She goes back to her little Peyton Place like hometown.
Even without the dolls, Neely is still a holy terror. The cast of her Broadway show hate her and she gets a younger actress fired. (This is meant to show us that Neely is becoming another Helen Lawson.) Lyon is invited to a party honoring Helen Lawson and Neely crashes it. She and Lawson have a big catfight in the ladies' room and Neely pulls off Helen's red wig, revealing thick, white hair. (Why is she wearing a wig? Doesn't Miss Clarol live in bad movie land?)
Neely's unprofessional antic finally get the best of her. On the opening night of her Broadway show, she so drunk that she puts on the wrong costume and the understudy has to go on in her place. Of course, no bad show business movie would be complete without an understudy becoming a star.(Besides Shirley MacLaine,how often does this happen in real life?) This pushes Neely over the edge and she rolls around in an alley among garbage cans shrieking the names of everyone she's ever know, including herself.
Ann is now happy and clean living in her quaint New England hometown. Lyon pays her a visit and asks her to marry him. She turns him down because she wants to be her own person. (A message well ahead of its time in 1967.) She then trots off into the snow and takes a nice stroll wearing no winter gear. Credits roll.
In some ways, it's scary how prophetic this film really is. Anne Wells quits Hollywood as did Barbara Parkins. Patty Duke, like Neely O'Hara had a nervous breakdown. Jennifer North dies and in real life, Sharon Tate became one of the victims of the brutal Manson Family murders.
What makes this movie bad? Hammy acting, big hair and a lame script. What makes it a bad favorite? Hammy acting, big hair and a lame script.
Watch the cat fight:
NEXT: BLOOD FEAST (1963)
NOTE: i WELCOME ALL COMMENTS.
Has there ever been a female star as big as Barbra Steisand? Cher? Not quite. Bette Midler? NAH! Whitney Houston? PLEASE! Even her most fierce detractors have to admire her guts. Can you imagine how people must have laughed when this awkward little Jewish girl with a nose the size of the state of Florida professed her desire to be a star in an era when stars looked like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe? Yet she beat the odds. Not only did she become a star, but a superstar. How many stars can boast winning a Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar and several Grammys before their thirtieth birthday? Barbra did it.
Unfortunately, superstars develop super egos. By the mid 1970s, Barbra was so popular that people would have paid to watch her read the phone book and she knew it. That's the only way to explain this little mess called "A Star Is Born."
Barbra stars as Esther Hoffman, an up and coming pop singer. (Barbra Streisand? Up and coming? Yeah! Right!) One night, Esther is performing in a nightclub with her group The Oreos (White Barbra wedged between two African-American singers. Get it?)when in walks burned out rock star John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson). JN is so wasted, he causes a big ruckus and the club closed.
Any normal woman would be horrified by this incident, but no one said Esther was normal. Instead she not only lets him drive her home, but agrees to accompany him to his concert later that afternoon. The date is a total disaster. JN gets drunk, ride a motorcycle on stage, injuring and maybe killing several fans and leaves poor Esther stranded out in the middle of the desert.
By this time, one would think Esther would run from this relationship, but our plucky heroine isn't giving up on her man. Before long, Esther and John Norman are getting all hot and sweaty and bathing together in a bathtub surrounded by candles.(I kid you not.)
On night, at a benefit concert, John Norman forces Esther on stage in front of hundreds of rowdy rock fans. The crowd is very hostile until they hear Esther sing. She brings down the house. (We're really supposed to believe all these rock fans are going to go ballistic over a Barbra Streisand ballad.) Esther's life has changed forever. She's become...well...Barbra Streisand.
Esther becomes so grateful to JN for making her a star that in true co-dependent fashion she marries him. Marriage doesn't change the guy. (Does it ever?) He keeps on drinking and doping.
Esther's star rises faster than you can say, "Love, soft as an easy chair" while John Norman's is falling even faster. He's burned so many bridges, that no producers will take a chance with him. This doesn't discourage Esther. She keep on defending him until she catches him in bed with a skanky groupie who was only sleeping with him to get an interview with her.
The scene that follows is pure bad movie camp. Barbra runs around,acting like Elizabeth Taylor on meth. She bolts from the bedroom, throws a potted plant at the wall and acts her little heart out. John Norman follows, they get into this "I love you. I hate you." wrestling match and wind up making passionate love on the living room floor.(After what she just caught him in bed with, she should have made him bathe in RID.)
Our star crossed lover enjoy a brief honeymoon period, but before long John Norman is back to his old ways. One morning, a drunk John Norman crashes his expensive sports car and kills himself while listening to a Barbra Streisand eight track. (After all, this is the '70s.)
At this point, Barbra turns the acting meter up to "FULL RED ALERT." She cries over John Norman's corpse, (Kris looks like he can't keep a straight face and he's supposed to be dead.) runs through the house bellowing John Norman's name and rips up a cassette tape. After this she uses whatever energy she has left to perform a dreadful rock medley of John Norman's songs.
The behind the scenes antics of this film are more interesting than anything that made it to the screen. Several crew members were fired or quit because of treatment by Barbra and her then lover Jon Peters. Kris Kristofferson relieved his stress by staying drunk during the entire shoot. Despite all this drama, the film made a bundle of money and set up Barbra for life.
What makes this movie bad? Lame script, overacting and Barbra's '70s white girl afro. What Makes it a Favorite? The fact that even the mighty can fall.
UPDATE: A STAR IS BORN IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD WITH AN AUDIO COMMENTARY FROM BARBRA HERSELF. IT CAN BE PURCHASED AT AMAZON.COM
Check out Barbra's finale:
NEXT: Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Welcome to my new blog. A few years back, I created a site dedicated to my favorite bad movies. It was a very enjoyable experience and proved to be popular. Events in my personal life forced me to give it up, but, now I'm back.
At least once a week, I will review a different films, to which I feel are so bad they're good. It's meant to be humorous and not my intention to trash anyone's talent. Sometimes, even the most talented people in show business can commit a blunder that makes one think, "What were they thinking?"
Please feel free to give feedback as long as it isn't hostile. This blog is meant to be entertaining and let's keep it that way. Thank you for visiting my site and I'll look forward to hearing your comments.