Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Daniel Massey, Julie Andrews, Richard Crenna
STAR! (1968). Director: Robert Wise.

It must have seemed like a good idea back in the sixties. Let's take the director of the mega hit The Sound of Music, Robert Wise, and team him up with Julie Andrews, the star of not only that film but of Mary Poppins. This was the period of big, long "road show" movie musicals, and everyone must have figured Star! would be one of the biggest and most successful of them all. Boy, were they wrong! Let's get one thing straight at the start. Star! didn't fail because tastes had changed (even if they had); it failed because it was bad.

"Poor Jenny" from Lady in the Dark
Even if The Sound of Music hadn't been based on a hit musical, it had a compelling story line. Star! is not based on anything but the life of Gertrude Lawrence, best known to those of us today as the star, with Yul Brynner, of the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical The King and I. She had only a few film appearances, and while she was well-known in theatrical circles, she was perhaps not quite a household name. So Star! was already lacking built-in pre-appeal. Then there was the fact that the only thing Lawrence and Andrews had in common is that they were British; Andrews simply wasn't able to successfully approximate the real Gertrude Lawrence. The sketches and songs early in the picture that are meant to be funny fall completely flat because Andrews, despite her talent, is no Lucille Ball  -- nor Lawrence. Andrews makes a good try at coming off like a tempestuous and difficult diva (which is how the film tries to portray Lawrence ) but she just can't get that far away from Maria Von Trapp.

Spending spree at Cartier's 
Star! provides some basic facts of Lawrence's life, although it fictionalizes and exaggerates a lot and combines two suitors, a banker and a small-time producer, into one character (Richard Crenna). Her other suitors include a military captain (Michael Craig), another actor named Charles (Robert Reed), a show biz type briefly essayed by Anthony Eisley, and a husband named Jack (John Collin), who is nothing much like Lawrence's actual first husband. Her closest relationship is probably with Noel Coward, played herein by a de-sexualized Daniel Massey. (The production saved money no doubt by casting male actors who couldn't command large fees.) The film also details her troubles with debts and taxes that nearly landed her in jail, and one of the best scenes has her dramatically declaiming before a a judge (Murray Matheson of Wall of Noise) in bankruptcy court. Lawrence spent much more than she earned, thinking nothing of, say, dropping into Cartier's to buy whatever she fancied.

"He Never Said He Loved Me"
There are several production numbers in the film, staged by actor-choreographer Michael Kidd [It's Always Fair Weather], but most of them are unmemorable, campy, too-weird, or all three. The "Poor Jenny" number from Lady in the Dark is at least lively, but also staged in a way that is more stupid than inventive. There is a silly number set in a Limehouse brothel that could have used more dancing. The one production number I enjoyed, very well performed by Andrews, was one in which she appears to be a harem girl singing about how her doctor loves all of her separate parts but "He Never Said he Loved Me." It has the whimsy that the rest of the film is lacking. At another point Andrews sings a simple love song on a bare stage and nails it beautifully.

The movie makes the mistake of proceeding as a documentary of Lawrence's life which the lady herself is watching and commenting on. Although this is a widescreen picture, about half the movie uses about only a third of the screen to reproduce black and white newsreels. It's a dumb and pointless approach. But then the whole project was ultimately pointless, laying an egg at the box office, almost killing off Andrews' career, incurring the wrath of bored critics, and doing little to revive interest in the real Gertrude Lawrence, considered one of the greatest theatrical talents of the 20th century -- more's the pity. The movie never even mentions her appearance in the film version of The Glass Menagerienor --shockingly -- her triumph in The King and I. 

Verdict: Ten good minutes out of three hours (!) is not enough to save this movie. **. 


angelman66 said...

Oh, this one is sooo rotten—some of the most ineffective musical numbers ever, despite the presence of the brilliant Andrews and songs by the masters. Poor Jenny is particularly poor in fact!
When Blake Edwards and Andrews made the satire SOB years later, they paid homage to this turkey but inadvertently made an even worse movie than Star!
- C

William said...

LOL! Yes, Andrews and Edwards have made more than their share of stinkers, but fortunately they've made some good ones as well. As for the numbers in "Star!", was Michael Kidd kidding? And three hours long! I thought it would at least be entertaining to sit through, but it became more of an effort the longer it went on. Killed off the "road shows" and nearly killed off Andrews' career. Nuff said, as they say.