Friday, June 10, 2011

Janet Gaynor in A Star is Born

Janet Gaynor, the first Best Actress winner received her second and last Oscar nomination for playing Esther Blodgett aka Vicki Lester, a young woman who comes to Hollywood with the hopes of stardom in the original version of A Star is Born. I'm pretty sure that Janet Gaynor wasn't that far behind her competition. She was probably last but her movie actually received seven nominations and it was a real success. The fact that Janet Gaynor wasn't the biggest star and she had already won took some votes away from her, I'm sure.

Out of the many remakes and versions, this one is the least known and talked about. I guess the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason is the one that's considered a true classic despite the fact that it wasn't a financial success at the time. This original version was, however, a real success and it even received a Best Picture nomination. I think Fredric March gives a really great performance as Norman Maine. I'm not saying that he's totally worthy of the Best Actor Oscar but I preferred him to the two other nominees of his adversaries that I've seen (Muni and Tracy). The movie itself is a little bit slow and even boring and yet I really liked it because it was way less sentimental and much darker than the 1954 version. All in all, it was just great and the Oscar win for its story was richly deserved.

It seems really impossible not to compare Janet Gaynor's performance to Judy Garland's now legendary work in the 1954 version. Judy Garland left her mark on that role and if anyone says A Star is Born, you immediately think about her. Therefore, it might be dangerous to see her before Gaynor. But if I'm perfectly honest to myself, I was never really thinking about Garland while I was watching Gaynor (how funny, the initials of both of their names are J.G.). I can announce it here to the world that this performance of Janet Gaynor is a totally independant and memorable one.

Janet Gaynor's role might seem to be very meaty but in fact, she's not really given truly great material. I mean, the whole story of the movie (and the movie itself) is just excellent and yet she never really got really huge scenes like Fredric March. It was obvious all the time that I had to see March because he was so great and after a while, the story was really about him and Gaynor got stuck in the background. Unfortunately, I might add as I firmly believe that had she been given more to do, Gaynor could have given a truly brilliant, unforgettable performance. This way, she's only really good but I guess that can be enough sometimes. This time, it was, at least for me.

This Esther Blodgett is not very showy, she doesn't have extremely long musical numbers so Janet Gaynor had to work with what she had (which wasn't exactly that much). Gaynor was primarily a silent screen actress and she wasn't as renowned for her talkies as she was for her silent pictures. However, her previous experience helped her a great deal here. She could really play with her face and she showed so many emotions with little smiles and slow tears. There's nothing exaggerated about her and yet there's also some purity. At the beginning she gives the usual "country girl with a dream" that gives me creeps every time but here it wasn't that bothering. Boring yes, but never annoying.

There are something incredibly funny elements in Gaynor's performance that's quite often ignored. And those are the great impressions of the great stars in her day. She gives a brilliant Mae West, for instance. Actually, I might even say that the humorous parts are the best ones.

There's one exception, of course, and that's the scene at the Academy Awards. I actually felt that Gaynor showed Esther's humiliation really well and it was indeed a very heart-breaking moment without huge tears and such. I guess that was the moment where I realised how much better this performance could have been had Gaynor been given a little bit more to do.

So, I can say that Janet Gaynor is very good as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester but I can't say that she really is great. She's very charming, she's very loveable but the limits of her role prevented her from being truly outstanding in this part. As I said, she's really enjoyable but I couldn't help wanting a little bit more. It's lacking work but a good one, at least.
This might change to a 4 later but now I'm most comfortable with this rating.

Luise is next.


Louis Morgan said...

I basically agree, I liked her to a degree, but her whole instant stardom was a little hard to buy.

dinasztie said...

Exactly. :) I forgot that but you're totally right.

Sage Slowdive said...

I sort of loved her in a way - call me crazy, but she rivals Garland for me, and I liked her alot more.

dinasztie said...

In some ways, she was indeed better than Garland. For example, I loved her Oscar scene more. It's just the overall effect of Gaynor that wasn't the strongest. I wanted to avoid comparisions.