I initially had not heard of this film when I started this challenge, and knew nothing about the plot, so a quick google later, I found out that it is about a girl's rise to stardom, and her famous husband's decline. So from that I knew that the story takes a darker turn in the end. Which was important I think, because when I first started watching this, I couldn't see why this film was in the top 25, but by the end it is much clearer why.
I'll start at the beginning though. Judy Garland and James Mason were so perfect in these roles. Of course Judy would be - she has all the talent to portray a hard-working singer looking for (and deserving) a big break, but James Mason was such a stand out as well. He's so charming and rakish, and unfortunately beset by alcoholism and issues of pride. I wish there was a little more about why he was the way he was, but I suppose there are too many instances of men with these kinds of weaknesses, that the audience can fill in the gaps.
The story begins in a very heartwarmingly, romantic way, with Mason's character- Norman Maine - captivated by Judy's character's (Esther) singing, and determined to give her a chance at the big time. His belief in her, and his charm, makes it easy to see why she would fall in love with him. And as for Esther, she is so kind and open-hearted and talented, that it was great to see Norman fall in love with her.
The real heart of the film comes from Norman's downward spiral though. It's so perfectly filmed, because the audience can see how hard Norman tries, and every beat in the story that shows he can't cope and he's going to fail, was momentous. I was so impressed too with Judy Garland's acting in one particular scene when she just finishes singing an upbeat song on a film set, and she goes on to have a breakdown backstage because her husband can't fight his alcoholism and depression, and Esther can't find a way through to him. It's a magnificent scene. Especially more so, when she has to go back out, brush off her pain and perform the happy number again for the close-up shots. It's just so devastating.
I also thought this film was interesting, in that I believe Judy Garland had many of the issues that plagued Norman Maine's character, so it was interesting to see this film as a glimpse of what that life was like. I think the film does a great job of showing the behind the scenes, at the time, of making movies at a big studio and dealing with stars who have major issues. What goes into promoting a star, and the publicity tactics to cover up any 'bad press', and how the show must go on.
As a musical though, I was not overly impressed. The music didn't really stand out to me, and the production numbers were just okay for the most part. I really enjoyed this as a drama and a character piece, but not so much as a musical. The songs didn't really further the story in my opinion, and served really just to highlight Esther's talent. I was also disappointed that in the end, there was not a final song as a bridge how Esther will accept her heartache and move on to embrace her stardom. Sort of like at the end of the movie Funny Girl. It felt like a missed opportunity. So even though I think this is a great movie, I don't think it will rank as highly on my own top 25 list of movie musicals.
Note: I'm doing another week of Movie Musical posts! I'll truly be caught up after this, because by this Friday I'll be up to the number 4 pick for best movie musical!