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Star! Movie Review

film lawrence richard wise

1968 – Robert Wise – 3

The attempt to reteam the producer, director, and star of The Sound of Music three years later resulted in probably the biggest box-office flop any of them ever had. Star! seems to be a musical film-biography of Gertrude Lawrence, a British stage performer of the 1920s and 1930s. On the surface, the film charts the milestones of Lawrence's life. Starting with a newsreel flashback reminiscent of Citizen Kane(Star! director Robert Wise had been the editor on Kane) , the opening scenes trace Lawrence's attempt to find her father (Bruce Forsyth), her early work in music halls, her first marriage, her first big break, and her introduction to Sir Anthony Spencer (Michael Craig) and, through him, to London society. Most of the remainder of the film structures itself around the men she knows, such as her friend Noel Coward (Daniel Massey), and the shows she appears in. The film ends in 1940 with the start of Lawrence's relationship with Richard Aldrich (Richard Crenna) and her preparation for the lead in her stage success Lady in the Dark.

The confusion concerning the film and its reception owes partly to this misleading biographical approach. The real Lawrence, as director Wise has admitted, had only a mediocre singing talent (she was known more for her acting and performing personality), and so the choice of casting Andrews in the lead and to stock the film with seventeen lavish musical numbers makes it look as if the filmmakers wanted primarily (and understandably) to capitalize on the popularity of The Sound of Music in any way they could. The dramatic element of the film, therefore, is static and episodic, something Wise has also indirectly acknowledged when he says that the aim was not to create a biographical film but simply to capture the flavor of the music-hall era. “It had too many musical numbers,” said Wise, “we didn't get Gertie Lawrence's character enough on screen. The numbers were great, but there was not enough development of Gertie herself.”

The best way to enjoy the film is as a vehicle for Andrews' wonderful performances of the songs by Noel Coward, Buddy DeSylva, Al Jolson, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Kurt Weill, among others. At the time of its release, speculation began as to why audiences stayed away, but a shortened, retitled version didn't prevent a loss of ten million dollars. Some theorized that audiences didn't want to see Andrews playing an earthier character than they were accustomed to. Wise himself speculated that the success of the musical biography Funny Girl shortly before the release of Star! had taken away the audience for his later film. What he should have said was that Funny Girl is a much better movie.

Cast: Julie Andrews (Gertrude Lawrence), Richard Crenna (Richard Aldrich), Michael Craig (Sir Anthony Spencer), Daniel Massey (Noel Coward), Robert Reed (Charles Fraser), Bruce Forsyth (Arthur Lawrence), Beryl Reid (Rose), John Collin (Jack Roper), Alan Oppenheimer (Andre Charlot), Richard Karlan (David Holtzman), Lynley Lawrence (Billie Carleton), Garrett Lewis (Jack Buchanan), Elizabeth St. Clair (Jeannie Banks), Jenny Agutter (Pamela), Anthony Eisley (Ben Mitchell), Jock Livingston (Alexander Woollcott), J. Pat O'Malley (Dan), Harvey Jason (Bert), Damian London (Jerry Paul), Richard Angora (Cesare), Matilda Calnan (Dorothy), Lester Matthews (Lord Chamberlain), Bernard Fox (Assistant to Lord Chamberlain), Murray Matheson (bankruptcy judge), Robin Hughes (Hyde Park speaker), Jeanette Landis (Eph), Dinah Ann Rogers (Molly), Barbara Sandland (Mavis), Ellen Plasschaert (Moo), Ann Hubbell (Beryl) Screenwriter: William Fairchild Cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo Composer: Lennie Hayton Producer: Saul Chaplin for Twentieth Century Fox MPAA Rating: G Running Time: 174 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1968: Nominations: Adapted Score, Art Direction/Set Decoration, Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo), Costume Design, Song, Sound, Supporting Actor (Daniel Massey); Golden Globe Awards, 1968: Supporting Actor (Daniel Massey) Budget: $14M Box Office: $4M.

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