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Film / The Star

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Yep, it's Bette Davis's Oscar.

The Star is a 1952 drama film directed by Stuart Heisler and starring Bette Davis.

Margaret Elliot (Davis) was once a big, Oscar-winning movie star but has seen her career fade as she advances into middle age. Lately things have been going quite badly for her; she's so broke that she has started having to sell off her possessions, she's facing imminent eviction from her humble apartment, and she's still plagued by her grasping, greedy sister and brother-in-law. She is also desperate to conceal her reduced circumstances from her daughter Gretchen (14-year-old Natalie Wood), who lives with Margaret's ex-husband, now a famous director.

Feeling sorry for herself, Margaret takes her Oscar statue and goes off on a drunk-driving joyride that winds up with her getting arrested for DUI. Enter Jim Johannsen (Sterling Hayden), who bails Maggie out of the clink. Jim starred with Maggie in a movie years ago, before the war, but then joined the Navy and after the war wound up going into business and owns a boatyard. Jim, who likes Margaret and still remembers her getting him that film part back in the day, lets Margaret stay with him after she is in fact evicted from her apartment. Romantic sparks fly, but Margaret still dreams of a comeback in the movies.

Bette Davis received one of her ten real-life Best Actress Oscar nominations for her performance.


  • As Herself: Margaret is contrasted with Barbara Lawrence, a beautiful young star on the rise who has just landed a big leading role, a part in a literary adaptation called The Fatal Winter that Margaret once intended to play herself. Barbara Lawrence was a real person, and appears briefly as herself near the end of the film, when she and Margaret are at the same party.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: How the movie ends, as Margaret, who apparently has finally accepted that her career is over and put movies behind her, goes home and kisses Jim.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: A formerly silent radio turns itself on in order to broadcast a news report about Margaret's DUI. Jim turns it off.
  • Comforting Comforter: Jim's tender side is shown when he gently tucks a hung-over Margaret into his bed.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: When Margaret notices a cut on Gretchen's cheek Gretchen says she fell out of a tree. She actually got it in a fight with a kid at school who called Margaret a has-been.
  • Downer Beginning: It's a pretty bad beginning for Margaret; the first shot shows her standing outside an auction of her personal possessions. A visit to see her daughter results in sneering condescension from her ex-husband's new wife, and then her lazy, greedy sister comes by to pester Margaret for money. Finally she gets a DUI.
  • Large Ham: Davis really goes to town during Margaret's big dramatic scenes, hamming it up like a Bette Davis imitator, like when Margaret says "Going, going...gone" at the end of her drunken joyride.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The climax of the movie comes at a party where a screenwriter approaches Margaret and says he has a part for her. He wants her to play a faded former movie star who is in denial and can't deal with the fact that she is not a big star other words, exactly the part that Bette Davis is actually playing in the movie. Margaret rejects the screenwriter and goes back to Jim.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: When the woman in the jail cell with Margaret (implied to be a Streetwalker), realizes that the drunk off her ass woman in front of her is who she says she is, the streetwalker says "I'm a dirty name! It is Margaret Elliot!".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Davis is basically playing a caricature of Joan Crawford, who had a drinking problem and whose career was well past its prime, even as Crawford continued to act like a diva. (Ironically the box-office failure of this film helped send Davis into a career slump just as bad as Crawford's.)
    • A random gag has a character named Ralph Bellows described as an actor who "always played the rich, stuffy second lead." This is a reference to Ralph Bellamy who made a career out of doing just that.
  • Plot Hole: The film never explains how Jim knew that Margaret was in jail.
  • Title Drop: Margaret insists "I was a star, Harry!", to her agent.
  • Wag the Director: In-Universe and with disastrous results. Margaret's agent asks a sympathetic producer for a favor and winds up actually getting Margaret a screen test for a role in The Fatal Winter...but not as the sexy heroine, instead as the bitter, frumpy older sister. Margaret, who still thinks she's a beautiful star and is unwilling to play an unglamorous supporting part, ignores both the stage directions and the direct instructions of the movie's director. She glams up and plays the role as young and coquettish instead of bitter and dowdy as in the script. She loses the part.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: The central plot of the movie, as Margaret Elliot is a former huge movie star who simply cannot deal with not being a star anymore.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Sure, a former A-list movie star getting arrested for DUI is news, but it probably isn't news big enough for an above-the-fold "MOVIE STAR JAILED" headline in gigantic type.
  • Your Costume Needs Work: Margaret makes a stab at getting a regular job, and is hired as a cashier in a woman's clothing store. She erupts in rage and quits after one catty matron wonders if she's Margaret Elliot and the other catty matron says no, "Margaret Elliot was much better-looking than her."