150. Ben-Hur (B+)
151. Only Angels Have Wings (B)
152. Midnight Cowboy (B-)
153. Holiday (B+)
154. Modern Times (A+)
155. Singin' in the Rain (A)
156. A Star Is Born (1976) (C+)
157. A Star Is Born (1954) (A-)
I was planning to watch the original 1937 film with this, but the only copy I could find has the picture quality of a mediocre VHS tape, so I didn't bother. This is one of those Hollywood perennials (we're apparently going to be getting a new Clint Eastwood-directed version starring Beyonce in 2013, which sounds like such a change of pace for Clint that I'm interested to see it), and has been unofficially remade many times more (including in the upcoming The Artist
, from the looks of the trailer). Contrary to my original intent, I watched the Barbra Streisand version first, because mom wanted to watch it. The Judy Garland one is a superior film in all but one respect (well, maybe one and a half), so the ended up working reasonably well.
One of them major influences of the Garland version was to add music the equation, something both the Streisand one and (one imagines) the Beyonce one being mooted use too. The "half" thing I mention is that Streisand's actually has at least one rather memorable song on it ("Evergreen", which won the Oscar that year). Garland can definitely sing, but all the songs in her version (and there are a lot of them; honestly, they could have stood to be trimmed) kind of go in one ear and out the other, though some of the performances themselves are memorable on film.
The other thing more credible in the 1976 version is the descent of Norman. Other than being introduced drunk (which is memorable), James Mason's Norman Maine seems pretty normal and functional right up until his allegedly intolerable behaviour leads to the termination of his contract; Kris Kristofferson's John Norman at least is show constantly indulging in unreliable behaviour. 1954's Maine's fall seems kind of unsupported, and it happens way, way too fast (there's a particularly ridiculous line where a delivery guy calls him "Mr. Lester" at the door, as if he wasn't like the biggest star in Hollywood until about a year earlier).
Otherwise, though, the 1954 version blows the 1976 one out of the water. Better director, better actors, better aesthetic, better script, better supporting characters (though neither movie has many of them, to be honest, which is particularly noticeable in the Garland film, which is 3 hours long). There are some really wonderful scenes with Garland (though the fate of Maine seems uncomfortably parallel with the road she would eventually travel), particularly her slow breakdown describing how it feels to watch Maine's decline. However, while most of the reviews I've seen of this film talk up Garland's performance to the moon, I was at least as taken with James Mason. Notwithstanding the reservations I have with his plot, Mason's performance is incredible, pitch-perfect in every scene.