Libby: Not knowing him? I spent my life knowing him! I knew what he was going to do before he did it! I knew him backwards!
Oliver: You didn't know him at all. He was quite a guy.
Hollywood. A charity gala is being held at the Shrine Auditorium. Actor and big movie star Norman Maine (Mason) is one of the star attractions at the gala, but he shows up late and very drunk and acts disruptive backstage—Norman has a severe case of alcoholism. He nearly makes a fool of himself when he staggers drunk onto the stage as a band is performing, but the lead singer in the band, one Esther Blodgett (Garland) reacts quickly and plays it off, dancing with Norman until the song is over.
Norman is very grateful to Esther for saving him from public disgrace. He tracks her down to a bar where she's singing with her bandmates, and is so impressed with her talent that he talks her into quitting her band and trying to make it in the movies. Through a misunderstanding they lose touch, but eventually Norman finds her again and gets her an audition. Esther is hired for a big part in a musical, and just like that, she's on her way to fame and fortune, after taking the stage name "Vicki Lester".
Esther/Vicki and Norman fall in love and get married. But while her star is on the rise, his star is falling, and soon he is an unemployed alcoholic has-been. He manages to quit drinking for a while but winds up going on an epic bender, which eventually leads to tragedy.
- Award Show: Vicki wins an Oscar. This leads to a memorable drunken disruption by Norman at the ceremony:"I want a statue for the Worst Performance of the year!"
- The Alcoholic: Norman's addiction of choice, which takes a toll on his career and personal relationships.
- Book-Ends: Begins and ends at the Shrine Auditorium, the first scene being Esther and Norman's Meet Cute, the last scene being the one where she delivers the famous line "Hello everybody, this is Mrs. Norman Maine."
- Busman's Holiday: What do Esther and her band do, after playing and singing at the Shrine Auditorium, and going from there to a gig at the Cocoanut Grove where they play and sing some more? They all go to a local bar, where they unwind after a hard day's work by...playing and singing some more. This is what Esther's doing when Norman tracks her down.
- Norman says "I just want one more look" after saying goodbye to Esther after their first date. He says it again near the end right before he commits Suicide by Sea.
- When they first meet Esther is taken aback when a drunk Norman scrawls a heart with their initials on it backstage at the Shrine Auditorium. She nearly breaks down when she sees the heart on the wall again, just before she goes onstage at the end.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: For somebody else. When Esther comes to tell Danny she's quitting t he band, she offers him a cigarette, but refuses to actually give it to him. Then she lights a match and holds it in front of his face before blowing it out.
- Deleted Scene: In-Universe. Cukor's original cut ran 182 minutes. Despite that version getting a very good reception, Warner Brothers still went ahead and cut the film to 154 minutes before putting it out in wide release. When attempts were made to restore the film to Cukor's cut in the 1980s it turned out that most of the removed footage had been destroyed, but the soundtrack was mostly intact. As a consequence, the restored version runs 176 minutes, with the missing scenes represented by panning and zooming over production stills while the audio track runs.
- Driven to Suicide: Norman strolls into the ocean, feeling that he must kill himself lest he ruin Vicki's life and career.
- Establishing Character Moment: Norman shows up at the gala not just drunk, but drunk and loud and making a spectacle of himself.
- Forgotten Trope: The 1954 film had a specimen of the ballet sequence on film in the "Born in a trunk" sequence.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Vicki and Norman get married after knowing each other for only a short while.
- Gilligan Cut: Libby's comments on the phone about all the ridiculous spectacle he's planning for the Maine-Lester wedding are immediately followed by a cut to Vicki and Norman getting married by a justice of the peace in a county jail.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Norman's implied main motivation for his suicide, after he overhears Esther/Vicki say that she is willing to give up her career to help him.
- The Ken Burns Effect: Used heavily in all the deleted scenes represented with still frames and soundtrack.
- Lens Flare: The lens flares from the various spotlights as Norman is staggering onstage at the gala make the whole scene that much more ominous.
- Meet Cute: Although maybe it isn't "cute"...but Esther and Norman first meet when he stumbles blind drunk onto a stage where she's singing in a number, only for her to cover by dancing with him like it was planned.
- The Musical: Although the 1937 film just had Esther making it big as an actress, this one has Esther singing in several musical numbers, because this one has Judy Garland. The third and fourth versions of A Star Is Born went whole hog and set the story in the music world.
- Noodle Incident: The waiter at the Cocoanut Grove apparently knows Norman well enough to set him up with women. When Norman spots an attractive woman in a green dress, the waiter shakes his head no, and says "Pasadena. Leave it alone." And that's it.
- Right Behind Me: Esther, boggling after a drunk Norman nearly ruined her song, says "It's a wonder to me that Mr. Norman Maine is still in pictures!" Norman, who is standing right behind her, says "It is indeed!"
- She's Got Legs: The very first shot of Esther shows her tightening up her stockings prior to going onstage.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare:
- Stock Scream: One of the first uses of the Wilhelm Scream. It's heard twice, once in the "Somewhere There's a Someone" number, and once when characters are watching Stock Footage of 1953 film The Charge at Feather River, where the scream is used. (The Wilhelm Scream originated with a 1951 film called Distant Drums.)
- Suicide by Sea: Norman Maine kills himself by walking into the ocean after his career tanks and his depression worsens.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Gender-flipped with Norman.