Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
For Julie Andrews fans, Star! will be something more than just a legendary albatross around Old Hollywood's neck--after all, Julie is onscreen virtually every minute of this film, singing and dancing and flouncing around i... more »
"And the lady's habits are utterly charming, but sometimes a
Classic film buff | 05/09/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Star!" was one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the late 1960's. The triumphant trio from "The Sound of Music", star Julie Andrews, director Robert Wise, and producer Saul Chaplin were reuniting in what was anticipated to be another musical blockbuster. Twentieth Century Fox the same studio that "Music" had brought into the black from the verge of bankruptcy, had high hopes for stuffing its coffers with gold. Then the movie opened in October 1968, a legendary disaster that lost almost all of its $14 million investment. What went wrong?
Upon viewing the film, I'd have to assign a lot of the blame to the overlong, weakly written screenplay by William Fairchild. There are many unnecessary scenes, but not enough humor and wit to enliven it. The character of Gertrude Lawrence, the renowned theatrical star, is shown to be grasping, ambitious, self-centered and shallow off stage, with little evidence of warmth and charm to win the audience over despite her flaws. No indication is given that Gertrude has evolved and matured through the events of her life; at the movie's conclusion newly married for the second time, she has the same juvenile reaction she had to her first marriage twenty years earlier. This is not the fault of Julie Andrews who does the very best she can with an unfinished woman. The men in Gertrude's love life, portrayed by Michael Craig, Robert Reed and Richard Crenna are cardboard figures; there is very little spark, sexual or otherwise, with Julie Andrews. The only scenes where Julie gets to connect strongly with a man are those with Daniel Massey who plays Gertrude's best friend and mentor the playwright-actor Noel Coward.
What was right about "Star!"? Actually quite a bit, beginning with the glorious soundtrack. With the exception of Fred Astaire, I don't think any other non-singer has introduced so many standards as Gertrude Lawrence. Most are presented, wonderfully sung by Julie Andrews, some of the best songs composed by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Noel Coward and Kurt Weill. Some highlights: the rueful, elegiac "Parisian Pierrot", with Ms. Andrews in full Pierrot white face and costume, the classic, plaintive "Someone to Watch Over Me", staged exactly as Gertrude Lawrence introduced it, sung to an odd little rag doll, the bittersweet, silky "Someday I'll Find You" as part of a scene from "Private Lives", and the wickedly naughty "The Physician" chock full of Cole Porter's best double entendres with Ms. Andrews contributing her own little bit of devilment (listen to Michael Kidd's amusing story in the commentary). My favorite is the haunting, wistful ballad "My Ship", sung by Julie Andrews alone on a bare rehearsal stage, accompanied only by a pianist. By contrast "The Saga of Jenny", although a smart, clever song, suffers by comparison as an overblown, Hollywood production number that realistically could never have been done on a Broadway stage. Special mention to the jaunty title song that was composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, both lyrics and music are blithe and exuberant, well suited to their subject. I borrowed what I felt was an appropriate lyric for the title of this review.
Another virtue is the star playing the star, Julie Andrews. The musical score is so varied and rich that it provides a broad showcase of her versatility as an actress/singer traveling the professional road from the feisty, raw Cockney performer in "Piccadilly" to her culmination as the sleek, sharp sophisticate in "The Saga of Jenny." Ms. Andrews does not shrink from portraying the unattractive qualities of Ms. Lawrence's character, honestly trying to create a multi-layered flesh and blood woman rather than just a glittering star. She attempts in the latter half of the film to reveal the pathos and loneliness of this woman who has traded her personal life for the sake or her career, and who in rare flashes of honesty and insight, realizes this was by her own choice. Within the limitations of the script she succeeds, this is a significant step forward in her development as an actress.
Daniel Massey acquits himself admirably playing his real life godfather, the renowned playwright/performer Noel Coward. His faultless timing and droll delivery of some of the few witty lines of dialogue are as impeccable and polished as his appearance. He partners Julie Andrews well in the two excerpts from "Private Lives" and particularly in the rollicking " Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?" number from "Tonight at 8:30". His Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor was well deserved.
Other pleasures include the sumptuous period costumes designed by Donald Brooks, which women will probably appreciate more than men. Still for the males, there is a Julie Andrews that is more alluring and soignée than she has been in previous films particularly in the low cut, backless, gleaming white satin evening gown in the "Private Lives" sequence, or the slinky, shimmering, black cat suit in "Jenny." I know I was able to appreciate the hitherto unseen glamorous, sexy side of Ms. Andrews. Michael Kidd's choreography while not as exhilarating as in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" still is entertaining especially in "Burlington Bertie" and "Jenny". The sets by Boris Leven seem authentic to the era covered ranging from the British music hall seediness to Gertrude's lavish Manhattan apartment whose golden art deco mural is reminiscent of his design for the gilded ballroom in "The Sound of Music". The locations are a vast travelogue offering glimpses of actual Broadway theatres to the sun and sea of the French Riviera.
Robert Wise was a good journeyman director and he does some fine work here, but I think he let the production get away from him, creating unnecessary expenditure in the interest of verisimilitude. For example the company travelled to the French Riviera and Cape Cod for brief scenes that probably could have been done in locations near Hollywood. The Cape Cod sequences were filmed at the real summer theatre where Gertrude Lawrence performed and the actual cottage where Richard Aldrich and she were married. The famed Cartier's jewelry store on Fifth Avenue was used plus a fortune in actual Cartier's jewels was rented as ornaments for Ms. Andrews. For a scene taking place in the library of Gertrude's home, Mr. Wise insisted that none of the books used be published after the year being portrayed, even though the bookshelves were well in the background and the titles not visible to the audience. Such dedication to detail and accuracy is laudable to a point, but also pushed up the production costs, making it difficult for "Star!" to recoup the monies spent and realize a profit without becoming a mega hit.
The bonus features on this DVD are the best I've ever viewed. To begin, there is a running commentary with Julie Andrews, Robert Wise, Daniel Massey, Michael Kidd, Sol Chaplin, Michael Craig, Donald Brooks and Richard Crenna, along with many others. The reminiscences are almost always engaging and definitely add to the enjoyment and understanding of the making of the film. Other highlights are "Star! The Sound of a Legend" an original production featurette used to create interest in the forthcoming film, "Silver Star" a 25th Anniversary reunion of the principals in 1993 to celebrate the release of the fully restored film to video, a screen test of Julie Andrews and Daniel Massey and a portfolio of Donald Brooks costume sketches. Best of all, Al Hirschfeld, the master caricaturist, was hired to capture the production's key moments. His witty, creative line drawings zestfully catch the spirit of "Star!" and are presented here which for a fan like me is a real treasure. A full history of the film in a written log from inception to premiere is included, plus the original trailers and TV spots. This is a smorgasbord literally stuffed full of choice tidbits, I've experienced none better.
After reviewing all of them, reading and hearing the commentary and history, I could appreciate all the hard work, time and energy, money spent to bring "Star!" to fruition. What a heartbreaker it must have been for Julie Andrews, Robert Wise, Saul Chaplin, Michael Kidd et al, after pouring their lifeblood into this film not to realize their dream when critics harshly dismissed it, but more importantly it's intended audience ignored it. Hopefully, there is some small consolation that with the passage of time "Star!" has steadily gained belated appreciation for it's virtues and become recognized as a cult classic.