Whatda think, Judge Patrick Naugle is dumb or somethin'?
Our review of Born Yesterday, published February 25th, 2000, is also available.
The mobster. The journalist. The dame.
Tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford, All The King's Men) is in Washington, D.C. to help 'influence" a few of our government's highest ranking politicians. Harry has his crooked lawyer in tow (Howard St. John, One, Two, Three), as well as his girlfriend, Emma 'Billie' Dawn (Judy Holliday, Adam's Rib). Unfortunately, Emma comes off as uncouth and air headed to everyone she comes into contact with, which embarrasses Harry to no end. Harry decides that Billie needs to smarten up so he hires journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden, Stalag 17) to help tutor her to be more ladylike. What Harry doesn't anticipate is Paul showing Billie how to think for herself, which leads to the Paul and Billie falling head over heels for each other!
I know of Born Yesterday not through the original 1950 film—or even the original stage play on which it's based—but on the 1993 film name of the same name starring John Goodman, Don Johnson (!), and Melanie Griffith. I saw that film years ago and recall it stinking to high heaven. At the time I wasn't aware that it was based on a theatrical show nor a classic film, and so I discarded the experience as a bad pick from Blockbuster video, and that was that. It would be over twenty years before I'd sit down and watch the acclaimed film that was a precursor to that 1990s dud. I'm glad I finally did because the original Born Yesterday is heads and shoulders better than any other version Hollywood has or will attempt to (re)make.
Based on the stage script by playwright Garson Kanin (who also performed an uncredited rewrite on Albert Mannheimer's screenplay), Born Yesterday was directed by George Cukor, whose filmography includes a seemingly endless stream of classics like The Philadelphia Story, A Star is Born, and My Fair Lady. Cukor was adept at dramas, comedies, and musicals; sometimes combining all three into something special. Born Yesterday—just recently selected for preservation by the National Film Registry—may have been the director's funniest and most deft piece of directing work. Cukor was able to get some wonderful performances out of his three lead actors and the film was such a hit that it was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one (Best Actress).
To my recollection, I had never seen Judy Holliday in a film before Born Yesterday. After witnessing her turn as the dippy, ditzy "Billie" Dawn, I am disappointed that her tragic death at age 43 in 1965 meant that we missed getting a lot of great performances out of this truly wonderful actress. Holliday's Billie is the true soul of Born Yesterday; the character is a funny, oddly endearing creation that sounds like she's been breathing helium while suffering from a nasty case of the hiccups. Holliday's dialogue is sharp and witty, often teetering into hilarity (she notes with self-aware giggling glee, "He thinks I'm too stupid? He's right. I'm stupid and I like it."). If I'm being honest, I fell in love with Holliday the moment she walked onscreen—the character Billie is one of the sweetest, funniest, weirdest characters ever captured on celluloid.
While the bulk of Born Yesterday belongs to Holliday, William Holden makes for an amusing love interest and foil, a man who tries desperately to smarten up a blonde bombshell who may be sharper than anyone knows. Holden's no-nonsense delivery and sharp timing help give the film a character the audience can root for. Rounding out the main cast is the hefty Broderick Crawford as mob boss Harry Brock, whose performance gives the movie a boost every time he's on screen. Crawford's gravely voice booms around the screen, channeling James Remar as he spars amusingly with Holden and Holliday (the twosome's gin game is an especially funny highlight).
The core of Born Yesterday is the relationship between Billie and Paul and watching their romance blossom as Paul attempts to smarten Billie up (which at times feels as futile as pouring perfume on a pig). Holden and Holliday make a unique and eminently attractive screen duo. The dialogue crackles as director Cukor keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. There's much talk about intelligence and IQs in the film, which is apropos considering how smart and tightly written the script is.
Born Yesterday (Blu-ray) is presented in 1.37:1/1080p HD full frame. This black and white film has been restored and turned into a sparkling example of how good older films can look. The image retains a fine layer of grain that is appropriately warm and attractive. I didn't discern any noticeable defects or imperfections in the print, which will certainly make fans of the film happy. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono in English. The soundtrack is a fair representation of the original audio mix; although it's not very lively (not surprisingly, it's front heavy without much fidelity), it gets the job done just fine. Also included on this disc are English subtitles. The only bonus features are a couple of theatrical trailers, and an isolated track of the film's score.
This is a movie I never thought I'd enjoy as much as I did. Isn't it fun when life throws you little surprises?
Born Yesterday should be seen today.
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