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Robert Wise's direction is remarkably assured, Ernest Laszlo's cinematography absolutely breathtaking, Boris Leven's production design sumptuous, the music — largely made up of Cole Porter and George Gershwin standards — wonderful, and Michael Kidd's choreography flawless. Star! (1968), however, is as inert a vanity production as one is ever likely to sit through — and, at nearly three hours, that's a whole lotta sittin'. An aggressively ostentatious biopic of stage legend Gertrude Lawrence, the film is undone from the get-go by the unfortunate casting of Julie Andrews as the reputedly ebullient actress. Andrews, possessing a voice of unparalleled range and beauty, has no problem handling the numbers, but, as with most of her early film performances (yes, even Mary Poppins), she's stiff and mannered. For a woman who attracted suitors like flies to a windshield, the unfailingly decent and proper Andrews just can't muster up the requisite sex appeal. But even with the right actress in the role, it's doubtful that Wise's film could've ever justified its ridiculously drawn-out run-time. Told in flashback as Lawrence watches a sepia-toned newsreel of her life, the picture charts the actress's life in maddeningly minute detail, from her modest vaudeville beginnings, to her thankless struggles as a chorus girl, to her eventual superstardom as the darling of London and New York City stages. No matter how stylish it all is, nothing can mask the utter lack of compelling drama in Lawrence's life. The poverty into which she was born was obviously rough, but if there was anything notable about her childhood, it isn't in this movie. By the time she found work as a spotlight-hogging showgirl, Lawrence was already an opportunistic diva, sabotaging her co-stars' costumes and intentionally flubbing her choreography to draw the audience's attention. She married young and badly, but her husband was little more than a benign drunk, and easily divorced. Her lifelong friendship with Noel Coward is interesting, but his constant appearance in the film, played (or, essentially, mimicked) by real-life godson Daniel Massey, only makes one wish they were watching his story instead. The picture is such a literal-minded retelling of Lawrence's life, it becomes obvious that Star! is nothing more than an unrepentant vanity production for Andrews, and, with each passing hour, it becomes all the more insufferable because of it. Some of the musical numbers are well worth watching, but it's hard to justify sitting through the self-indulgent framing drama to get to them. Perhaps the easily amused can while away the time spotting the early appearances by young or unheralded actors, like Jenny Agutter as Lawrence's daughter, Richard Crenna as her second husband, Richard Aldrich, and, best of all, Robert "Mike Brady" Reed as the irrepressible playboy Charles Fraser. The film was cut down to two hours after it bombed in its initial release, but was restored 20 years later to its intended length. Some have hailed it as a lost classic. But seriously, only Julie Andrews completists need bother. Fox presents Star! in a mostly decent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras, which are surprisingly plentiful for such a massive flop, include a feature-length audio commentary by Robert Wise and some of the cast and crew, a vintage featurette entitled "Star!: The Sound of a Legend," a text retrospective "Silver Star" from the Laserdisc release, screen tests for Julie Andrews and Daniel Massey, stills, theatrical trailers, and television spots. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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