Star Is Born, A (1954): Cukor-Judy Garland Masteriece–Part Four

Director George Cukor planned for the picture to wind up on February 13, so that Judy Garland could have a rest.  She had been very tired–the shooting had been a big long struggle for her.

Indeed, with all his excitement, it was tough for Cukor to go through this picture. The rugged production seemed interminable–the six months in actual production established some kind of a record in Hollywood.

By late March, Cukor was engaged in cutting an assembled version of the picture, paying strict attention to Hart’s cutting notes. Having never seen the picture assembled until then, some of the cutting took him aback. The picture was clouded–he was distracted by scene after scene not coming off, which was most upsetting, because he remembered the rushes being wonderful. In April, the cutter and Cukor went over the whole picture again, polishing and tightening it. The first four reels went along with a terrific zing, but Cukor felt there were still retakes to be done.
“A Star Is Born” was easily the most demanding film of Cukor’s career, perhaps because of his perfectionism and insistence to overlook any minor detail. Perceiving this film as an important event, there were good reasons for Cukor’s insecurities. It was his first musical, and there were younger directors in Hollywood, most notably Vincente Minnelli, who were competing for such projects.
In April, Cukor held a long discussion of his options with his William Morris agents. With his contract at Metro up soon, Cukor would be free to do pictures at other studios. Sensing that his position as a director was declining, Cukor determined tolook not only at the New York theater, but at the European situation as well. Once free agent, Cukor intended to take advantage of his “extensive” friendships with authors throughout Europe, which was impossible for him before, because MGM wasn’t interested in outside material.
Back in California, after a lengthy trip to Europe, in July l954, Cukor plunged headlong into the post-production of A Star Is Born. He was concerned with the studio’s premature enthusiasm, from the topbrass all the way down to the sales department. Cukor told Huene he would settle happily for just a small part of the extravagant predictions made. Modest or not, Cukor informed all his friends that his picture would unveil to the “waiting world” in September.
In August, Warners held the first preview of what Cukor now called “that little quickie” he had been working on for the last ten months. Though Cukor was always nervous on such occasions, the picture went extremely well in spite of its three-and-a-half hour length. Garland’s performance generated hysteria and immense applause from the screaming viewers. Initially, Cukor thought the response was excessive, but he was carried along with it, too.
It was at this preview that Cukor first saw Warner’s cuts. Judging by the results, Jack Warner had really been `at’ the picture. Jack used a heavy, inept and insensitive hand. Snipping here and there, he succeeded in muddying things up, making scenes incomprehensible. Jack cut out the scene in the car driving from the Club to Esther’s motel, which meant the audience knew nothing about her background, giving the effect of Maine just being on the make.
The picture was edited brutally, stupidly, and arbitrarily by Warner, with many of Garland’s finest moments taken out. Warner’s disastrous cutting shortened the running time from 182 to 153 minutes, so that there could be more showings of the film a day. Cukor himself thought the movie was too long–he could easily sweat out 20 minutes, and no one would be the wiser. Cukor suggested to cut the proposal scene on the recording stage because, charming as it was, it seemed anticlimactic after the passionate love scene in the nightclub. But Warner was at first adamant about cutting the film, holding it was all great.  
Unfortunately, Warner also tampered with the dubbing, emasculating many scenes by flattening the sound out. Angry, Cukor felt like a “two-fisted fighter.” Although he despised Warner’s cuts, Cukor himself wished the picture were shorter, based on his belief that “Neither the human mind, nor the human ass can stand three and a half hours of concentration.”