Wednesday, December 2, 2009

1968 - STAR a musical by The Sound of Music team.

Another big budget musical failure from the musical disaster group of the 1960's which includes: Hello Dolly,  Paint Your Wagon, Sweet Charity, Camelot, Finian's Rainbow, etc.  Robert Wise had directed Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and was so enamored of her,  that he looked for another film to make with her.  The idea appeared to have been that Wise would create a smart, sophisticated story around Julie Andrews where she could play a sexy,  glamorous personality.  Wise and his production team decided to do a musical biography of a stage actress named Gertrude Lawrence.

Who was Gertrude Lawrence?  An English musical comedy star from the 1930's and 40's who made her name on the London and New York stage.  Still haven't heard of her.  She was the original Anna in The King And I with Yul Brynner back in 1951. 1951, wasn't this musical made in 1968?  Did anyone really remember Gertrude Lawrence anymore?  The answer was apparently not.   This was a huge flop of a movie.  Robert Wise and 20th Century Fox had miscalculated.

Almost from the beginning of the film Julie Andrews seems off, her cockney accent, her super perfect vocal performances, her look.  She brought a lot of baggage to the role, namely Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music and I hate to say it, she just doesn't have that sexy a figure to be playing a glamorous and sexy theatrical performer.  They dress her up in a lot of pretty costumes, she sings a lot of songs (15!!!), she gets to do dramatic scenes, but she seems stiff and her performance seems almost amateurish most of the time.  The big problem however is that every time she is on screen (which is the entire 3 hr film) all I could think about was "what is Maria Von Poppins" doing in this musical and where's Dick Van Dyke?

But everything seems off in this film, the script never made Gertrude Lawrence interesting, she seems more like a pain in the ass, than a larger than life personality.  The critics at the time noted that Robert Wise copied the same newsreel storytelling technique that Orson Welles had used in Citizen Kane which Wise had edited.   But if the idea was to telescope her life and times, it didn't seem to work.  The film lurched from one situation to another.  Apparently the songs were musical numbers chosen from Gertrude Lawrence's successful shows but titles like "Has Anybody Seen Our Ship" and "Burlington Bertie" were got going to make the soundtrack album a best seller 1968.

The blame for the failure of Star must end up with Robert Wise.  Wise was a craftsman when it came to making films, you can put his list of films up against any other director and it has some impressive stuff on it.  But musicals were never his strength.  The Sound of Music was expertly made, but that movie had Christopher Plummer whose performance kept that film from being total junk.  Wise's other musical West Side Story, is almost unwatchable but that's another story.

As I looked into the life of Gertrude Lawrence for this post, I found this amazing article about her.  After reading it, it's clear the filmmakers were way to cowardly to tell the story of her life. 

176 (whew!) minutes.

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