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August 29, 2014

Movie Review: Born Yesterday (1950, Twilight Time)

Directed by George Cukor

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

The classic tale! Corrupt, kind-of gangster Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) breezes into Washington D.C. to buy a congressman – or two to facilitate his growing junkyard empire. Renting out the top floor of a luxury hotel, Brock becomes concerned that his unpolished chorus line girlfriend Billie (the incredible Judy Holliday in her Academy Award-winning performance) may not go over well with the local intelligentsia. Hiring journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to school her in the finer things, Billie hits the books big time. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Billie goes from dumb blonde to an increasingly aware, socially responsible woman. No longer blind to Brock’s corrupt dealings, Billie decides to take a stand. Confronting the bully, and hatching a scheme to keep herself immune, Billie confidently sails out of Brock’s life with Paul on her arm, in order to marry.

No doubt about it, Born Yesterday is one of the most wonderful movies ever made. Based on playwright Garson Kanin’s hit Broadway play, the celebrated movie adaptation is above all else a tale of redemption. Movie audiences in the past had long laughed at a long parade of dumb blondes and gangster molls before. Born Yesterday was among the first films to suggest that intelligence and wise decisions are available to the least aware, provided they set their minds to it. It also offers a timely message to the viewer as well: In order to defeat bullies, it’s essential to educate yourself and then follow through on what you know is right.

In this sense, Born Yesterday is a far more radical film than My Fair Lady (1964), to which it is frequently compared. In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is transformed from a hardscrabble Cockney to regal lady-in-waiting under the tutelage of Dr. Henry Riggins (Rex Harrison) – but remains a common girl at heart. Not so in the case with Billie, whose slow transformation ultimately dismantles Brock’s ruthlessly constructed fiefdom of corrupt lawyer, for-sale politicians and gun thugs.

More importantly, Born Yesterday is a hymnal to the American way of life, predicated on social justice and equality. Washington, D.C. is depicted lovingly in this film as an idyllic place of art museums and national monuments. Released at the height of the McCarthy Red Scare, this Valentine to democracy is believed to taken some of the heat off of Holliday, many of several who at that time were wrongly accused of socialism.

Another Twilight Time release, this Blu-Ray is reserved to 3,000 copies. In addition to the usually stellar liner notes by Julie Kirgo, the enclosed booklet relates many fascinating tales behind the film’s construction. Most notable is the fact Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn bought the property for Rita Hayward, and didn’t want to use Holliday, who he dismissed as a “fat Jew!” It took some politicking on the part of friends to reinstate Holliday to the film. Another tidbit of the apocryphal was the story that Kanin based the crass, loud-mouthed Brock on Cohn himself. Cohn found out, was not offended, and proceeded with the production anyway!

The Blu-Ray also includes the film’s original trailer and another trailer for its re-release. If you’ve never seen it, you’re depriving yourself of one of American Cinema’s Greatest Comedies. See it Yesterday --        

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