Born Yesterday

Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford are riveting, jaw-dropping, heartbreaking and mesmerizing in two of the most detailed, lived-in performances I’ve ever seen committed to film in a Hollywood picture.  In comparison, William Holden seems smug, condescending and two-dimensional.  Holliday and Crawford mop up the screen with him.

Based on a play, it’s still a little stagebound in its execution, and its narrative strategies feel a little rushed and convenient.

Part Educating Rita and part Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The movie has a “serious message” about influence peddling, corrupt congressmen and the effect of corporate power on lawmaking.  At the end, it appears that all that is on its way out, due to a popular revolt led by a newly-smart populace and the newspapermen who have educated them.

Glad that was all taken care of 56 years ago.

The picture was remade in 1993 with Melanie Griffith (way too on-the-nose), John Goodman (mmm, maybe) and Don Johnson (coffee-spit-take) .  Anyone seen this?
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16 Responses to “Born Yesterday”
  1. urbaniak says:

    Judy Holliday was one of the great American actors. Also I hum her rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” in the card-playing scene on a regular basis.

  2. craigjclark says:

    Never saw the remake of this. Just like I’ve never seen the remake of Sabrina (now why did they have to go and mess with that, I wonder).

    • popebuck1 says:

      *Shiver* Ew. You missed absolutely NOTHING with the Sabrina remake. What possesses people to remake something that was already perfect?

      (1) You’re never going to get someone to fill Audrey Hepburn’s shoes. Never. (See Catherine Oxenberg in the “Roman Holiday” remake – or better yet, don’t.) ANYONE, no matter how wonderful, is just going to suffer by comparison. So why put poor Julia Ormond through it to begin with? In fact, why bother at all?

      (2) A remake of a paper-thin romantic comedy should NOT be almost 20 minutes LONGER than the original (113 vs. 127 minutes) – that should have been a warning flag that you’ve got severe pacing issues.

      (3) Either modernize the story to bring it completely into the 1990s – i.e., do something different, to give us a REASON for remaking the movie – or leave it alone as a period piece. People don’t grow up as servants and follow their parents “into service” any more – which made the movie an anachronism even in 1954. (Which is why Wilder had to cast it as a fairy tale, making the anachronism deliberate.) But to maintain that SAME anachronism in 1995, twice-removed, is just ridiculous.

      (One NON-issue I have with the remake: People complained that Harrison Ford was miscast – but then, people made the same complaint about Humphrey Bogart in the original. So I don’t consider that one valid.)

      • Todd says:

        The difference between the original Sabrina and the remake, assuming that Julia Ormond could have worked, is in the casting of the two male leads. One could realistically be concerned as to whether Audrey Hepburn would go for crusty old Humphrey Bogart or studly young William Holden, but in the remake the choice is between one of the biggest movie stars on the planet and some guy who once had a late-night talk show.

        • craigjclark says:

          Who once had a late-night talk show and starred in Dear God!

        • popebuck1 says:

          I totally agree – the casting was another place where Pollack fell down. Greg Kinnear just isn’t a match for Harrison Ford, in any way, shape or form. Who would have been a good “dashing young studly playboy” in 1995 that would have offered a more exciting choice? Christian Slater? Brad Pitt? Val Kilmer? George Clooney was around, though he wasn’t a movie star yet. ANY of those would have outshone Kinnear.

          Now, as an adjunct to point (1) above: no, you’re never going to get anyone to replace Audrey Hepburn, but at the same time, going with Julia Ormond just isn’t even trying. I can see that they were trying to go with a dewy young unknown who might capture that Hepburn magic, but… really, now. Julia Ormond?

          Julia Roberts might have pulled it off – she’s had that “spunky blue-collar gal trying to better herself” persona nailed since way back with “Mystic Pizza.” (She’d have had to ramp up the vulnerability factor, since JR is usually more in-your-face, but I have no doubt she could have done it. It wouldn’t have looked like an Audrey Hepburn imitation that way, either.) Drew Barrymore would have done a lovely job; Reese Witherspoon too. Anna Paquin was too young at the time, but nowadays she could do a credible job in the role. But for heaven’s sake, you need someone with a little more wattage than Julia freakin’ Ormond!

  3. eronanke says:

    I saw the remake. It was… eh. I mean, I haven’t seen the original or anything, but it was an enjoyable watch. Not earth-shattering. They made her a Vegas showgirl, if that’s any different from the original.

  4. greyaenigma says:

    I’m curious — have you seen the Spencer/Hepburn non-romantic non-comedy Keepr of the Flame? I saw this a couple of years ago and was struck by how contemporary it seemed in some ways.

  5. Todd says:

    Perhaps Mr. Urbaniak could tell us, did Holliday and Crawford do the roles on Broadway or something? Because their performances have the feel of something they’ve done a thousand times. All their timing, the sheer wealth of detail, Crawford’s ferocity, Holliday’s weird gliding in and out of coherence, it’s just dazzling and doesn’t look like the sort of thing you’d get out a few run-throughs, which is more what Holden’s performance looks like.

    • popebuck1 says:

      I know that Holliday, at least, became a star on Broadway in the play version – stepping in as an understudy at the last minute, in true 42nd Street fashion, when Rita Hayworth left the cast.

      Before being allowed to reprise the role in the film version, she made her film debut in Adam’s Rib with Tracy and Hepburn. Legend has it that Katherine Hepburn leaked items to gossip columns about how Holliday was so good, she was stealing the picture from Tracy and Hepburn, all because Hepburn felt Holliday deserved to repeat her role in Born Yesterday. And I guess the strategy worked.

      I don’t think Broderick Crawford did the Broadway version of Born Yesterday – however, Crawford, Holliday, and Holden ALL performed in a one-time-only stage version of the play in Hollywood – staged for critics as a special publicity stunt for the movie, to emphasize the “literary” pedigree and all.

    • popebuck1 says:

      Oops! I mixed up my “who Judy replaced” facts. She unerstudied and then replaced Jean Arthur in the Broadway cast, and Rita Hayworth was Harry Cohn’s (chief of Columbia) original choice to play Billie Dawn in the film.

      Also, it turns out she played a few bit parts in the movies before doing Adam’s Rib, but it was definitely her first major movie role.

      One more side fact: Holliday’s early days as a cabaret performer in New York included a company called the Revuers, where she performed with fellow struggling thespians Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Leonard Bernstein.

      • Todd says:

        Says here at the IMDb that the original actor in the Crawford role turned it down for the movie because the part had been substantially reduced. His loss.

        All through the movie I kept thinking I’d seen Judy Holliday in some other movie, but of course it was just that I’ve seen countless actors imitate her over the years.

        • popebuck1 says:

          The other big Hollywood story is that Broderick Crawford based his powerhouse performance on Harry Cohn himself!

        • urbaniak says:

          All through the movie I kept thinking I’d seen Judy Holliday in some other movie, but of course it was just that I’ve seen countless actors imitate her over the years.

          Perhaps you’ve seen “Adam’s Rib,” another Garson Kanin/George Cukor collaboration. It’s a Hepburn/Tracy movie; JH’s is the main supporting role. I rented a bunch of her films a few years ago and she’s fantastic in everything, even when the movies aren’t. (Jack Lemmon made his film debut opposite her in “It Should Happen to You.”)

          Her characters are usually variations on the “ditsy blonde” but she takes that archetype and fills it with an emotional depth and real-life resonance that her imitators get nowhere near. AND her comedy skills are sharp as a set of steak knives. She was something.

          On “Born Yesterday” special props should also be given to George Cukor, who was one of the great actors’ directors of all time. His films are filled with beautifully nuanced, spontaneous, lived-in performances. Him working with Holliday was like Kazan working with Brando, IMHO.

  6. urbaniak says:

    Another Judy Holliday Fun Fact is that she worked at the office of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre when she was a teenager.