|The Star (1952)
Run time: Approved | 89 min | Drama, Romance
Director: Stuart Heisler
Writers: Dale Eunson, Katherine Albert
Stars: Bette Davis, Sterling Hayden, Natalie Wood
Movie queen Margaret Elliot’s popularity and fortune have gone bad, but she’s sure she can jump-start her dimming career. A well-fashioned look at Hollywood backstage, with Davis’s performance lending absolute authenticity.
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I loved this movie! I campaigned 20th Century Fox to bring it out on video because my copy was on BETA and my Betamax has long since broke. What’s interesting about this movie is that it was first offered to Joan Crawford who turned it down flat. At the same time, "Sudden Fear" was presented to Davis, who didn’t like the script. Davis also turned down "Come Back, Little Sheba". Well, guess what? Davis accepted "The Star", Joan accepted "Sudden Fear" and Shirley Booth got the chance to repeat her stage success in "Sheba" and all three got nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 1952! Amazing.
Bette Davis did everything but hit the ceiling in "The Star". She was trying her best to give an Academy Award-type performance. And it was. Margaret to her agent: "You can do everything but get me a picture, can’t you?! Harry Stone, the big star-maker, the gentleman agent, my friend!" That was one of the early great lines uttered by has-been movie queen, Margaret Elliot. There were many more to come. Davis turned in a realistic performance as the aging star and conveyed the frustrations that many older performers feel when they realize the truth about their failing careers.
Margaret is torn between her fear of age, her devotion to her young daughter and her drive to be "put back where I belong." She is saddled with a family that she had cared for, financially, since she became a star and their inability to understand that she was no longer a rich and famous actress. I loved the scene when she throws out her sister and brother-in-law in a fit of screaming anger, then grabs her Oscar and takes a drunken ride through the streets of Beverly Hills. After her arrest, Margaret pays a visit to her agent’s office. He tell her that she’s had his office "running around in circles". Margaret retorts, "Well I’VE been ‘running around in circles’, too! But not MARGARET ELLIOT circles!"
When Margaret gets the chance to tryout for a movie ("The Fatal Winter") she’s wanted for years, she’s informed that she is not reading for the lead, but the lead’s older sister, Sara. Elliot plots to convince the producers that she should play the younger part by botching the screen test, playing the older sister like a young siren.
Sara: "It isn’t like you to pay a social visit, Jed Garfield, what are you doing here?" Jed: "You got it fixed up real nice, Sara, real nice". Sara: "I like things nice. What do you want?" Jed: "You used to be quite a girl, you still think you are, don’t you?" Sara: "I still know what’s right from wrong." Jed: "You think it’s right to tell folks you were in the lane the night of the murder?" Sara: "I was there, Jed Garfield, you KNOW I was there…" Jed: "Well, if you was there, what was you doin’ there?" Sara: "None of your business what I was doing there." Jed: "Well, it’s my business if you’re tryin’ to ruin my brother." Sara: "Maybe I was thinking what he tried to do to me." Jed: "You don’t know Lance, when he’s crossed." Sara: "I know Lance Garfield, pretty well! You don’t know HOW well, I know your brother."
She played this like a flirting, young teenager and the test was awful. But it was wonderful ACTING by Miss Bette Davis!
For those who expect to see Margo Channing of "All About Eve", they won’t see her here. Davis IS Margaret Elliot! When she said to the old women at the department store, "I AM Margaret Elliot, and I intend to STAY ‘Margaret Elliot’!" she meant it.
I am crazy about the entire movie. The ending is contrived, but so what? This is what Davis herself described: A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED BETTE DAVIS MOVIE! Pop some corn, get a candy bar and a big soda and watch this on a very rainy day.
During "The Star," Bette Davis commands the lead as Margaret Elliott, a Hollywood, Oscar-winning has been. The show is about handsome Jim Johannson (Sterling Hayden), a boat mechanic & fan of Elliott's, teaching her that there's more to life than being an actor. The adorable adolescent, Natalie Wood, plays Gretchen, Elliot's beloved daughter.
Elliot can't deal with the mid-life transition off the set & into retirement. She's so resentful she becomes a drunkard. During a classic scene, Davis uses one of her own Oscars, propped on the dashboard of Elliot's car & heads for the posh homes of the stars in Beverly Hills saying, "Come on, Oscar, let's you & me go get drunk!" Davis' portrayal of a fallen actor makes her seem older than she actually was. Of all the characters Davis embodied, I think she got Margaret Elliot spot-on! After she gives a faux sight-seeing tour of the stars' mansions to no one while drunk & driving, she lands in jail. That's when Jim bails her out, then takes her to his home on the ocean docks. The rest of the story is worth knowing.
Interestingly, this 1952 performance earned Davis her 9th Oscar nomination at 44yo. She was anything but washed up like the character she played, with 43 years of acting in movies & many more nominations & awards left to go. Davis was less than half-way into her acting career!
Bette Davis is doing a dry-run/out of town opening for her own future in "The Star". Playing a actress down on her luck and getting it from all sides (creditors are selling her possessions, her ex-husbands’ new wife is constantly condescending and her sister is always at the door for a crisp $20.), her only refuge is her daughter, played by Natalie Wood in what appears to be her gawky, teenage phase.
Bette smokes as much as usual, completely blows her top at least five times, and in the most memorable scene, takes her Oscar on a drunken tour of all the young actresses houses – good thing they all live on the same street!
This character is a step below Margo Channing, well on her way to Baby Jane Hudson. Davis received her second-to-last Oscar nomination – her last being for "Baby Jane". She owns the screen because she brings a humanity to the character – she still has her pride, even though that doesn’t get you very far in a town with a short memory.
I believe the Oscar used was one of Bette’s – at least they didn’t use one of those phony ones. Its a symbol in the movie of what once was.
I give Davis a lot of credit for playing characters close to her own life ( I would imagine even she felt the ageism of Hollywood ) and when she says that she’s directed more than one director, you can tell she knows what she’s talking about.
Its also poignant and a little disturbing to see Natalie Wood on a sailboat at one point.
Tragic but redeeming film about a fallen movie star called Margaret Elliot, played by the incomparable Bette Davis. Once one of the great Hollywood faces, her face now seems to be a cynical mirror of disillusionment. A 'washed up' and 'over the hill' actress's struggle with life, identity and human alienation is the story of this very moving and poignant film. Wat struck me about this film are more things than I could mention, but in particular the way this film plays with reality and illusion; fact and fiction. For the film is about a vain, self-absorbed, older movie star struggling with the loss of her appeal and beauty. And, her confrontation with the new young stars that have taken her place in the publics perception. All things that Bette Davis herself must have been dealing with at that time. There for it's a very brave and dramatic film and part for her to chose in that phase of her career. I truly admire her for that. "The Star" has obvious parallels with Billy Wilder's "Sunset Blvd" (1950), but this film is a little more raw and down to earth. Less stylish but a little more human and dramatic perhaps. Some of the metaphors and uses of symbolism are beautifully sharp and touching at the same time. I love the scene where Margaret in her desperation steels a bottle of her famously worn expensive perfume 'I Desire', and then has an awakening when the bottle turns out to be odorless; a display bottle – an illusion; empty and meaningless. Watching this picture gave me another great title to put on my list of favorite films about film. Also a true recommendation for fans of classic cinema, in particularly Bette Davis fans.