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Warner Home Video presents
The Star (1952)

"One good picture is all I need!"
- Margaret Elliott (Bette Davis)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: October 05, 2005

Stars: Bette Davis, Sterling Hayden
Other Stars: Natalie Wood, Warner Anderson, Minor Watson, June Travis
Director: Stuart Heisler

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:30m:17s
Release Date: June 14, 2005
UPC: 012569708075
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-BB- C-

DVD Review

If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, Billy Wilder's ego must have been massively bloated after seeing this film. Or that's what its makers must have hoped, anyway, and that Wilder didn't instead place a call to his lawyer to initiate a copyright infringement suit. Heavy on the histrionics, The Star owes a fantastically large debt to Sunset Boulevard, and gives leading lady Bette Davis a spectacular opportunity to emote her heart out, which she did just about as well as anyone. Davis plays Margaret Elliott, who is Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis rolled into one: an Oscar-winning actress whose star has faded, and who now finds herself in dire financial and personal straits. Will Maggie pull it together, or descend to the gutter? And how much scenery will Miss Davis chew up along the way?

Maggie's dilemma is one faced by many actresses in Hollywood once they approach a certain age—as her agent says, she no longer has "that fresh, dewy quality," and she's being put out to pasture. She's got plenty of blame to dispense: to the industry in general, to her rat of an agent and the ingrates at the studio, to her mooching sister and brother-in-law, and particularly to her ex-husband, who ditched Maggie for a trophy wife and now has two little tots to show for it. There are a couple of brighter lights in Maggie's world, though. First there's Gretchen, her daughter, played by an early adolescent Natalie Wood; and Jim Johannsen, a handyman she tried to turn into a leading man, who retained a fondness for Maggie, but not for the business, and is now wisely out of the Hollywood loop. He's played by Sterling Hayden, who was always a magnetic presence; but early on especially, not even his affection for Maggie can sate her bottomless need for the love of those wonderful people out there in the dark.

So she falls from grace quickly and in an ugly manner, starting with her driving drunk, her Oscar riding shotgun, and later reduced to working the negligee counter at a department store. It's an opportunity for Davis to indulge in some mad and campy histrionics, even when her Maggie gets a chance at a comeback. Unfortunately for us, her Eve Harrington, Barbara Lawrence, spends almost all of this movie off screen, depriving us of a true clash of the titans. Still, we're wondering if the town will chew her up and spit her out again—you can take the girl out of Hollywood, but can you take the Hollywood out of the girl?

To love this movie, you've got to adore overheated dialogue like this: "I once thought you were a woman. I was wrong. You're nothing but a career." As you watch, you can almost hear the scribblings of the pens of drag queens, taking notes for incorporation in the act. Bette Davis fans may rejoice at this over-the-top star turn; the rest of us can enjoy it as a bit of trashy fun, at best.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The grays are a little murky; the transfer itself is respectable enough.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: There's a good amount of scratchiness on the mono track, but the dialogue is readily audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from an original trailer, the only extra is How Real is The Star? (07m:46s), which is really more of a meeting of the Bette Davis Fan Club, its members here being her biographer, Charlotte Chandler; actress Carol Kane; author Boze Hadleigh; and Davis devotee and impersonator Charles Busch. Also, apparently Davis's performance wasn't autobiographical, but was an extended dig at longtime rival Joan Crawford.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

An overheated backstage drama that features Bette Davis throwing nuance and subtlety to the winds.


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