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USA 1950
Directed by
George Cukor
103 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Born Yesterday

Judy Halliday’s Oscar-winning performance as Billie Dawn, the uneducated but good-hearted mistress of New Jersey scrap-metal mogul Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) is the only reason to watch this johhny-come-lately rom-com that falls between stage and screen with a thump.

Based on a play by Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday is a Pygamlion-like story of how news reporter Paul Verrall (William Holden) is hired by shonky businessman Brock to teach never-read-a-book-in-her-life Billie how to comport herself in proper society, something for which the loutish Brock himself has no time. Verrall does this by taking her to a few of Washington D.C.’s cultural hot-spots and giving her some newspapers to read.  In a short time the enlightened Billie realizes what a pig Brock is and becomes a better person.

It is ironic that George Cukor would go on to direct My Fair Lady (1964) the admirable musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s classic 'Pygmalion', as this film is such a charmless, humourless affair. This is mainly down to Crawford's brutish bellowing in a one-note performance that drags the film down whenever he is on screen.  How much of this is due to Cukor who keeps most of the action stage-like I cannot say but it’s hard to imagine that it would have been any more palatable in a theatre setting. Instead of unfolding it with anything even resembling wit, Cukor and screenwriter Albert Mannheimer lard the story of how Billie breaks free of bully-boy Brock with a lot of hokum about Thomas Jefferson, The Bill of Rights, and tyranny of the mind, material more suited to a Capra homily than to what could have or should have been a jolly romp (imagine Cary Grant in the Holden role).

Even when only Halliday and Holden are on screen it doesn’t amount to much as Cukor does nothing to make Varrell’s attraction to Billie even remotely credible, the former being a completely hollow character. Which leaves you with Halliday’s daffy bottle blonde. It’s an engaging enough performance but it's also a caricature which clearly worked well enough in the easy-to-please ‘50s but hardly sustains these days.

FYI: The film was remade in 1993 with Melanie Griffiths, John Goodman and Don Johnson in the leads.




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