Fredric March, Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month, can be seen tonight at his best in two films and at his very worst in one.
March is excellent as the John Gilbert-John Barrymoreish soon-to-be has-been in William A. Wellman’s A Star Is Born (1937), the tale of a small-town girl (Janet Gaynor) who, thanks to lots of luck and lots more screenplay contrivances, becomes a major Hollywood star.
The fact that A Star Is Born actually works is a testament to the talent of those involved in this Technicolor David O. Selznick production, including versatile director Wellman (the man handled all sorts of movies), Fredric March as the tragipathetic alcoholic has-been, Gaynor as the newcomer, May Robson as Grandma, and screenwriters Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Robert Carson (with the assistance of numerous other uncredited hands).
Elements found in A Star Is Born – itself an (uncredited) adaptation of What Price Hollywood? (1932) – were taken from a variety of true stories, including those of the aforementioned John Gilbert and John Barrymore, plus former silent eraleading man John Bowers (who drowned himself in 1936), Ina Claire (Gilbert’s second wife who did quite well for herself in a handful of early talkies), and Colleen Moore (“This is Mrs. Norman Maine” – though in Moore’s case it was “This is Mrs. John McCormick”).
William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives should have ended at the war plane cemetery, but this multiple Oscar winner and major 1940s blockbuster, however sentimental, it definitely worth a look.
Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great, on the other hand, is probably not only Rossen’s very worst movie, but it’s also one of the worst movies I’ve ever watched. Even Oliver Stone’s disastrous 2004 Alexander doesn’t quite manage to be more of a bore – though I wouldn’t say it’s any less painful, either.
Irving Rapper’s One Foot in Heaven (1941) is shameless religious hokum, based on the real-life story of a pastor and his wife. On screen, the pastor’s tale feels as true as a televangelist’s sermon. Even March, the usually excellent Martha Scott, and Warner Bros.’ first-rate production values can’t save this one.
I haven’t watched Bedtime Story (1942), but it does have a good cast (March, Loretta Young) and a reliable director (Alexander Hall of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and My Sister Eileen).
March is one of the many luminaries in cameos in Make Me a Star (1932).
5:00pm Star Is Born, A (1937) A fading matinee idol marries the young beginner he’s shepherded to stardom. Cast: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, May Robson Dir: William A. Wellman C-111 min.
10:00pm One Foot In Heaven (1941) A minister and his wife cope with the problems of church life in the 20th century. Cast: Fredric March, Martha Scott, Beulah Bondi, Gene Lockhart Dir: Irving Rapper BW-108 min.
12:00am Bedtime Story (1942) A stage star’s dreams of retirement conflict with her playwright husband’s need for a hit – with her starring. Cast: Fredric March, Loretta Young, Robert Benchley, Allyn Joslyn Dir: Alexander Hall BW-85 min.
1:30am Make Me A Star (1932) A grocery clerk goes to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. Cast:Joan Blondell, Stuart Erwin, ZaSu Pitts, Ben Turpin Dir: William Beaudine BW-86 min.
3:00am Alexander The Great (1956) Biography of the ancient warrior who conquered the known world. Cast:Richard Burton, Fredric March, Claire Bloom, Barry Jones Dir: Piero Mussetta C-136 min.