Born Yesterday (1950) (Blu-ray)
(Twilight Time, 7.8.2014)
Exploring the timeless (if unrealistic) theme of knowledge triumphing over ignorance, Born Yesterday is the kind of sophisticated comedy that director George Cukor could direct in his sleep. Judy Holiday plays Billie Dawn, the ditzy mistress of Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), a blowhard tycoon who is downright moronic. Brock hires journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to school Billie in the ways of the world, an undertaking that makes Brock’s many shortcomings far more apparent to his newly enlightened girlfriend.
Born Yesterday’s roots in theatre (it’s based on Garson Kanin’s play) are apparent in its talky nature and Crawford’s performance has some of the same one-note limitations as his work in the previous year’s All the King’s Men. Playing a nerdier hunk than usual, Holden offers a slightly more nuanced portrayal and Holiday delivers a performance that is altogether iconic. However, the conception and evolution of Billie is simpleminded in a way that Holiday’s performance can’t quite overcome. Born Yesterday offers an intriguing glimpse of a far simpler time, but you probably won’t find yourself getting swept up in the drama.
As always with Twilight Time, this Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies, available exclusively through Screen Archives and the TCM store. This disc’s sparkling transfer honors the film’s classic status, but extras are limited to trailers, an isolated score, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo. The enigma of Judy Holiday is briefly explored in this essay, including the (possibly apocryphal) rumor that her IQ was 172, roughly double that of her character. It’s also impressive to note that Billie Dawn was her first starring role.
In exploring the film’s production history, Kirgo explains that Holden was reluctant to appear in the film, as he felt the role was too insubstantial. In the end, Born Yesterday helped make 1950 one of the most distinguished year’s in the actor’s storied career. His other major film that year was Sunset Boulevard, which features Gloria Swanson in one of the greatest of all screen performances, one that was inexplicably defeated at the 1951 Oscars… by Holiday. -- Jonathan Doyle