This is a long film and a rather sad one. I settled in to watch it one dreary afternoon and finished it feeling a lot more dreary! I have to say after a few hours of watching I did start fast forwarding the singing parts. It just seemed to go on forever.
I have no doubt that this is a cult classic. There are some great scenes and it is a tragic story. I reflected on my reaction to it bearing in mind that the previous film, A Matter of Life and Death, had felt really authentic in terms of its age but just was a bit too happy ending. So what is it that I want? Not a happy ending and not a grisly real world, life goes on ending. And that reflection made me realise that this is a brilliant film because it is much more like real life. These are real flawed people trying their best to make their way in the world. But failing bloody miserably because a lot of us do.
Judy plays Esther Blodgett who wants to be a star. She has worked for years at this, done all sorts of jobs to survive and needs a lucky break. She is part of a singing group and they are on stage when a drunk James Mason barges in. He is a superstar who is failing because of a horrible drinking problem. Everyone knows it. Just not him. Judy saves him from embarrassment and he later, a little more sober, seeks her out at a club to thank her. He hears her sing and knows that she should be a star. He promises to make her one and he urges her to quit the band, not go on with their tour and wait for him to get her the big break only he can. She says she’ll think about it and he goes home where he arranges for her to be seen. Then he drinks. The next morning he is carted off to the next film set in a drunken stupor. Meanwhile Judy has quit the band and waved them off! Eventually James Mason does track her down. She is struggling but working towards getting her big break alone because she understands she has to do something or nothing will happen.
Judy gets a contract with the film company. Back in those days you were contracted to a studio. They change her name and she becomes one of the masses. But James Mason continues to subtly champion her and it works. She becomes a big star just as his star is truly waning. Drinking or not his reputation now proceeds him. They marry and they are very happy. But his struggling career and her burgeoning one is just too much for his drinking problem to handle and he ends up drunkenly crashing her Oscar acceptance speech. Excruciating.
Judy decides that she must give up work and concentrate on looking after him. She tells the studio boss this one morning whilst James Mason is sleeping off a bender. He wakes up to overhear this conversation and realise that he has no career and is now holding hers back.
He decides to kill himself which he does by drowning himself in the ocean. Obviously Judy is devestated and it is only when her friend Jimmy, from the singing group, tells her that the only good thing that James Mason did in the end was maker her career and now she was single-handledly wrecking it – does she realise that the show must really go on.
And so the show goes on!
Don’t approach this film in a half hearted fashion. This is a long haul film. It’s heavy going and the subject matter at times is terribly uncomfortable. It’s a musical. Although not all the time. I’m glad I’ve seen it because it’s excellent but I think it’s hard work and I’m unlikely to repeat the experience. But I would recommend it. With the health warning.
Love Wish Vintage xx