Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Born Yesterday

Born Yesterday; comedy, USA, 1950; D: George Cukor, S: Judy Holliday, William Holden, Broderick Crawford

The primitive brute Harry Brock somehow managed to gain a fortune thanks to shady methods, so he travels to Washington to bribe a few politicians in order to alleviate his business even more. However, he thinks that his beautiful, but equally as dimwitted girlfriend Emma 'Billie' is embarrassing him whenever she says something, so he hires the intelligent reporter Paul to educate her a little bit. That backfires: Billie turns smarter than expected and sees through Harry's plan for a corrupt cartel, based on her name, so she and Paul stop him and fall in love.

A charming adaptation of Garson Kanin's Broadway play, George Cukor's "Born Yesterday" is a simple yet very satisfying comedy that ultimately turns into an essay about the clash between the intelligent and the dumb, the educated and the uneducated, and even between the corrupted and uncorrupted, thereby even adding a few (idealized) celebrations of American political life (Harry's intentions are quite similar to the main antagonist in the classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"), whereas Judy Holliday delivered a fabulous performance in both versions. With that charmingly annoying accent, that reveals a "backward", wild, but also untouched nature, Holliday practically steals the show as the naive Billie who blossoms into a smart woman thanks to her tutor, whereas some of the best jokes come swiftly, extracting their power from the quietly hilarious clash between the two equally dimwitted Billie and her boyfriend Harry.

For instance, after a session where Paul taught her about Thomas Paine, her boyfriend Harry shows up and calls her shallow. She replies with: "Who is Tom Paine?" Harry does not know, and is unsettled by the fact that she does know. What follows is a comical attempt of "getting even" from him, when he every 15 seconds suddenly disrupts her further tutorial and tries to find someone she does not know about, which would prove he is smarter (he asks who is Rabbit Maranville, but Paul answers instead of her, etc.), until he finally asks: "What is a peninsula?", and before she can anwser says triumphantly: "A piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland!" The electrifying finale, where Billie and Paul outsmart him, is the highlight of the story, especially Paul's reply to Harry's attempt of strangling him ("That's the only thing you know, right? A kick is the answer to everything. The bigger the problem, the bigger the kicks. Well, not this time.") However, as sweet as Holliday is, she did not deserve an Oscar over Davis in "All About Eve" or Swanson in "Sunset Blvd." - at best, she was equally as good as them.


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