Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Old Movie Review - "Born Yesterday" (1950)

As the ad pictured above states, "Born Yesterday" was a hit Broadway play by Garson Kanin, that was made into a George Cukor directed movie in 1950.  I watched this movie for the first time just last night.  I had seen clips of this movie from time to time over the years, and three years ago, I saw a production of the original play staged by the Pittsburgh Public Theater.  I confess that I was most familiar with this movie, not so much for the fact that Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar for this role, but for whom she beat out to win that Oscar, but more on that later.

The plot of the movie is a variation on the Pygmallion theme.  Holliday plays Billie Dawn, the quintessential Dumb Blonde, who is the mistress of Harry Brock, a rough and tumble, crude and crooked business man, played by Broderick Crawford.  Brock comes to Washington DC in an effort to bribe a Congressman or two as a way of making his businesses even more profitable.  So as not to be embarrassed by his not-so-bright mistress, he engages a Washington journalist, Paul Verrall, played by William Holden, to tutor her and "smarten her up".

The predictable happens.  Holliday turns out to be a lot smarter than anyone thought, she comes to realize just how crooked and awful a person Crawford is, and, of course, she and Holden fall in love.  Holliday originated the role of Billie Dawn on Broadway to much acclaim, but, as is often the case in Hollywood, she was not the first choice to play the role in the movie, Jean Arthur was, but through some series of machinations, Holliday eventually got the part anyway, and good for the movie viewing public that she did.

It is a nice little comedy with a nice message.  The cast is terrific.  Holliday was quite a  comedic talent - the scene of her and Crawford playing gin is a classic - Crawford is excellent as the contemptible Harry, and as for Holden, well, let's just say that "Born Yesterday" keeps in tact a string for me of having never seen Holden be less than absolutely terrific in anything that I have ever see him do.

The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, but its only win was Holliday's Best Actress Oscar, and let's talk about that one. That Oscar victory has to be one of the greatest of all time because of whom she beat out for the prize.  Also, nominated that year were what many consider two of the greatest roles for an actress in the history of movies:  Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Blvd." and Bette Davis in "All About Eve".  I had always thought that this was a case of two clear cut front runners splitting the vote and allowing for an upset win by Miss Holliday.  In doing some Internet research on this, I learned that the vote was indeed split, but not so much between Swanson and Davis, but between Davis and Anne Baxter, who also received a Best Actress nomination for "All About Eve".  Regardless, Holliday was terrific as Billie Dawn, and her Oscar was well earned.

Now, here's a real trivia question for you, after an all-star ballot of Holliday, Swanson, Davis, and Baxter for "Born Yesterday", "Sunset Blvd.", and "All About Eve", who was the fifth actress nominated for the prize that year? Give up? it was Eleanor Parker for a movie called "Caged".

Oh, and here is a brief portion of that gin game that I alluded to earlier.

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