“The Star” (1952) starring Bette Davis & Sterling Hayden

The story of every woman who ever climbed the stairway to the stars…and found herself at the bottom looking up. Played, as it could only be, by the two-time winner of the Academy Award!

When the Hollywood star fades… the woman is born.

-Taglines for the film

Middle-aged former Oscar winner Margaret Elliot (Bette Davis at age 44) is a Hollywood has-been. Maggie hopes to resurrect her past stardom in a leading movie role. However, no job offers are coming and she’s broke (w/ creditors selling off most of her valuable personal items). A young ingenue (Barbara Lawrence) has been getting the types of roles Maggie played. Divorced from her successful/actor husband, Maggie shares joint custody of their 13 y.o. daughter, Gretchen (Natalie Wood ay just 13). Maggie is torn btwn her fear of age, devotion to her daughter, and drive to get back to where she belongs. She has an extended family that she had cared for financially, but is no longer able to do that. When it looks as if Maggie has hit rock bottom (spending a night in jail for a DUI), Jim Johannsen (Sterling Hayden at age 35 y.o.) re-enters her life. He is an old friend who got his big break in Hollywood b/c of Maggie’s notice. However, Jim soon came to the realization that he didn’t want to be an an actor. Jim works as a boat parts supplier/mechanic and lives a quiet/contented life.

Jim: You know, it’s funny, I was just thinking. Sailors are a lot like actors. With them it’s always the next ship and the next voyage, and with an actor it’s always the next part and the next picture… Always chasing rainbows.

This is a short (89 mins.) movie which packs a punch; it’s a must-see for fans of Davis and the classics! Some astute viewers said it was like a (dark) view into what could’ve happened to Margot Channing (Davis’ character in All About Eve). The director (Stuart Heisler) was on contract at Paramount (1940-1942), turning out mostly “B” movies. As a freelancer, he did a fine job w/ Storm Warning (1951) starring Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan. Here we have a no-frills (non-glam) style of directing, which suits the themes. The writers of the (terrific) screenplay (Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert) were a married pair. Hayden goes a great job in his (understated/good guy) role; his real life reflects that of Jim.

[1] This is worth seeing for Davis alone. She’s just great. She also gleefully said she modeled her character after Joan Crawford! OUCH!

[2] Ironic isn’t it, that Bette Davis would get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for a role in which she portrays a washed up actress? There’s a great “Sunset Boulevard” moment in the story when she affirms to her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood) , “…if you’re a star, you don’t stop being a star.”

[3] Hayden, of course, is at his sterling best; how nice to see him playing a tender, kindly role, for a change…

[4] “The Star” is a realistic look at the ego of someone who has been isolated from reality and surviving on her identity as a film star. Unlike her male counterparts, she has to face the passage of time, and she can’t. […] And although someone commented that this character is probably like Davis herself, yes and no. Davis was very smart in that she went into character roles – where every leading lady ends up eventually – comparatively early in her career.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews


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