|Norman accidentally smacks Esther at Oscars|
"For every dream of yours that comes true, you'll pay the price in heartbreak."
In this technicolor re-visioning of What Price Hollywood? -- a star on the rise juxtaposed with a star on the wane -- the two main characters are romantically involved and get married, adding some dramatic heft to the basic plot line. Norman Maine (Fredric March) is a heavy-drinking lead actor who is in danger of being cast off as too difficult to work with. [As one wag puts it, "his work is beginning to interfere with his drinking."] He becomes smitten with a sweet little hopeful named Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor of Sunrise), who is taken under his wing and signed to a contract. Rechristened "Vicki Lester," she becomes a big star even as Norman's phone stops ringing, culminating in an embarrassing scene at the Academy Awards when he storms in drunk as she gives an acceptance speech. The film shows much more of Esther's early life than either of the two remakes. Gaynor is fine as Esther, but she seems an unlikely bet for major stardom, although in real life she had already won the first Best Actress Oscar [for two silent films] and was an established name and one-time top box office attraction before the film was made -- her performance in this was also nominated for an Oscar, but ironically she had few film roles afterward. March does the best he can with a severely underwritten role. [It also seems unlikely that Maine would be so completely forgotten in so short a time.] Adolph Menjou, Lionel Stander, and Andy Devine are all notable in important supporting roles, and peppery May Robson is as wonderful as ever as Esther's loving grandmother. Max Steiner's score is one of his least memorable.
Verdict: Entertaining behind-the-scenes look at one of Hollywood's sad stories but not quite a true classic. ***.