Margaret Elliot, an aging Hollywood star, on a career downturn, hits bottom when she is arrested for drunk driving. Afterwards, she can only get work behind the counter in a department store. A one time acting protege of hers, Jim Johannson, now a mechanic in a shipyard, tries to offer her stability and a more normal life. Margaret can’t stay away from Hollywood, however. She is offered a small role in a new picture, and tests for it, but loses the part . She is instead offered the lead in a new film “Falling Star” about an aging actress who doesn’t know when to quit. This hits too close to home and drives her finally to leave Hollywood for good and return to Jim.
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The early 1950s saw a boom in Hollywood for movies about movies, or more accurately, movies about the business of movie making and the toll that it takes, particularly on women - “Sunset Boulevard” (1950),“The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), “Barefoot Contessa” (1954) and “A Star Is Born” (1954). If we expand the definition a little bit we can also include “All About Eve” (1950), which, although it deals with the New York theatre world more than Hollywood, still revolves around the problems of an aging actress in the central role. “The Star” is perhaps the least known of this genre of films, and maybe that’s because this material was simply getting better treatment elsewhere. “The Star” does not have the stellar supporting cast or the enjoyable back stage bitchiness of “All About Eve”; nor the gothic weirdness of “Sunset Boulevard”, for instance. As well, Bette Davis had already distinguished herself in “All About Eve”; Margot Channing being an even better written part than Margaret Elliot. Whatever the case, it is a solid, entertaining entry into this group of films.
Bette Davis gives a characteristically brave performance as Margaret Elliot, a woman who at first seems to have a great deal in common with Davis herself. She is Davis’ age, and Davis lets herself be photographed to show it. Margaret is also an Oscar winning actress who is much admired.
The weakness in the movie’s conception seems to be the lack of a really strong antagonist with whom Davis can spar. Lacking this, the sole focus of the film must return constantly to its eponymous star, and her admittedly vivid character. But overall the movie lacks dramatic tension. Sterling Hayden as Jim Johannson, Margaret’s one time discovery who now wants to take care of her, is good but not given enough to do. His sole function in the film seems to be to plead with Margaret to behave herself. It is a passive role for an actor better suited to harder edged characters.
The movie also features a very young Natalie Wood as Gretchen, Margaret’s only child. She is fresh faced and open and Bette Davis has a good rapport with her. Davis particularly excels in a telephone scene when Margaret must talk to her off screen adolescent daughter about her drunk driving arrest making the front pages of all the newspapers.
“The Star” was shot on location around Los Angeles with cinematography by Ernest Laszlo, who achieves a semi-documentary look with the use of a lot natural light in the outdoor shots. The musical score by Victor Young seems intrusive at times, particularly in the more sensitive scenes between mother and daughter.
Overall “The Star” is an often overlooked movie that still has much to recommend it, particularly a courageous and intense central performance that earned its star her 10th Academy Award nomination.