Warner Home Video released an extras-packed two-disc DVD of the 1954 classic “A Star is Born” on Tuesday.
For once, DVD ”extras” are something special, an incredible four-hour array of deleted scenes, audio of recording sessions and a radio version of “A Star is Born” that Garland did many years before the film was released.
The DVD also contains two TV specials that were broadcast for the movie’s premiere in Hollywood — a fascinating and amusing look at the primitive live TV broadcasting capabilities of the early 1950s.
In the special, one of the supporting players in the movie — Jack Carson — acts as the host and we can see him sweating and squirming as one snafu after another makes his job tough.
It is also lots of fun to watch how quickly celebrities were hustled past Carson so that they could be introduced to the TV audience on their way into the theater — we get quick glimpses and startled smiles from a host of A-list and B-list performers from Elizabeth Taylor to Mamie Van Doren.
The movie itself remains a brilliant but flawed creation capturing Garland in peak vocal form in some of her signature numbers (“The Man That Got Away” among them).
The movie represented a comeback attempt by Garland after her Hollywood career was declared dead and buried when she was fired from the movie version of “Annie Get Your Gun” four years earlier. Garland violated one of the cardinal tenets of Hollywood — leaving a movie after it began production — which made her basically uninsurable and unemployable for film work.
The singer pulled herself together — thanks to the help of her new husband/manager Sid Luft — made a triumphant concert comeback with a legendary engagement at the Palace Theatre in New York, and then mounted a campaign to restore her film career.
“A Star is Born” was a musical remake of a 1930s hit with Janet Gaynor. Sid Luft lined up top talent, including director George Cukor, co-star James Mason, and the great songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin.
Sadly, Garland reverted to her earlier problematic behavior during the shooting — adding millions to the cost of the movie and making her appearance in the movie itself a challenge to the director and editors (the picture took so long to shoot that Garland is in terrific shape in some scenes and not so great looking in others).
When the movie was finally released, critics hailed it, but the three-hour running time made it a distribution challenge. The studio wound up chopping about a half-hour out of the film for second-run release, the expected Oscar for Garland went to upset winner Grace Kelly (for “The Country Girl”), and the movie wound up losing a lot of money.
For the second time, the singer-actress was banished from Hollywood and — with a few supporting role exceptions — she never really returned (and died before she hit 50).
Despite its flaws, “A Star is Born” shows why Garland was one of the great musical stars. Her singing is spectacular and the emotions she could tap into in some dramatic scenes are so powerful as to be slightly frightening.
The new DVD presents the movie in its best video format ever — with the brilliant Technicolor cinematography fully restored and a crisp soundtrack that serves every great song in the movie. And fans will not want to miss that amazing disc of extras.