Rapid Response: Born Yesterday (1950)

Born Yesterday

How stupid must people think I am to believe that this is a good movie? What, you think I was born yesterday?

That bad pun was probably more jokey than all of George Cukor’s “Born Yesterday” actually is. After seeing a handful of his movies now, including “Adam’s Rib” just over a week ago, I realize Cukor’s films feel less like comedies full of punch lines, screwball situations or witty jabs and are slighter in their straight presentation of socially awkward dialogue. There’s an audience for that sort of thing (and this movie surely has its defenders), and it typically makes for pleasant movies.

The difference however is that the main characters in “Born Yesterday” are strikingly unlikable and idiotic to the point that it has to soapbox the ideas of morality and intelligence in society.

It feels a little like a “My Fair Lady” (also directed by Cukor) story mixed with, for whatever reason it comes to mind, “Legally Blonde.” A ditzy blonde learns about the government and life from a good looking journalist; and she wears glasses! How kooky is that?

The difference with “Born Yesterday” is that the Oscar winning Judy Holliday’s Billie is such a freakin’ idiot and has slim to none redeeming qualities beside being a generally morally sound person. In her early scenes she’s a horribly annoying chorus girl who’s impossible to like. Every time she screeches “WHAAAT” from across the room, you practically beg that Lucille Ball was cast in the role (she actually auditioned, along with every other blonde bombshell in Hollywood at the time).

Her boyfriend, businessman Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), is just as bombastic and unlikeable, but she at least has more chemistry with him than she does with the bland journalist Paul, played by William Holden. His introduction into Billie’s life is already as flimsy of a sitcom scenario as you can get, and the pair is forced together into romance beneath Washington D.C. landmarks.

The fact that anyone thought such a character could be redeemed by bringing her to a collection of tourist traps and buying her a dictionary is beyond me. In fact, even the morality claims regarding corruption in the government are handled much better by Frank Capra in movies like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” amongst others. Here, the speeches seem tepid and outdated.

The movie was nominated for Best Picture and won an Oscar for Holliday, but it also helped to make William Holden a star. Holden appeared as the lead in four movies in 1950 including another Best Picture nominee, “Sunset Boulevard.” I can’t begin to say how much I would’ve preferred to watch that film.

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