Born Yesterday (1950)

Born Yesterday tells the story of how a corrupt millionaire tycoon Harry Brock hires a journalist Paul Verrall to educate his seemingly dumb showgirl mistress, Emma “Billie” Dawn. But things don’t go accordingly, as Billie turns out to be a faster learner and smarter woman than expected, resulting in Brock’s plan backfiring as Billie slowly uncovers and exposes his crimes. Or something to that extent, with the help of Verrall.

I was pleasantly surprised by this charming little comedy because I have heard a lot of negative comments about it, especially on the IMDB boards (You really need to take what you read there with a pinch of salt). It seems like most of the hate stems from the fact that Judy Holliday, the actress playing Billie Dawn, won the Academy Award over Gloria Swanson for Sunset Blvd. and Bette Davis in All About Eve. I’ll get to her later, but I have to admit that the movie was very enjoyable for me and it’s really rare that I actually find myself laughing out loud at comedies from that era. The lines were so deliciously witty that I can easily compile a whole list of my favourites if you were to ask me to name them.

“If there’s a fire and I call the engines, who am I double-crossing? THE FIRE!?”

“You and your big numbers! You know what, you’ll be wearing one of those across your chest!”

The scene where Billie decided to troll Harry by dancing while the guests were around was hilarious too. Seriously, I have never laughed so much in a movie since The Awful Truth (It’s a very good 1937 screwball comedy that is currently on Youtube, I’d highly recommend it). Another scene that comes to mind would be the one where Harry and Billie were interrupted twice by the maid while quarrelling. The timing is damn perfect, the way they paused and waited for her to get out of the room before continuing to yell at each other.

Actually, the famous gin rummy scene didn’t leave much of an impression for me, but it was great anyhow. Somehow I sensed a sadness in Billie when he left her playing alone there,  it was as if she was deliberately hiding her unhappiness of living with Harry by singing to herself and shuffling the cards.

Anyway, I started with zero expectations but ended being very pleasantly surprised. And now, I’ll get to Holliday’s performance: Fantastic. I don’t get the hate, I’m not saying that Swanson and  Davis were not better (I think Swanson should have won the Oscar too) but Holliday’s performance was very worthy. I have never seen such a fine balance between comedy and drama being achieved by any actress in one performance. Besides the numerous comedic scenes, the dramatic ones are equally, if not better. The slapping scene was very unpleasant, but there a lot of quieter ones too, such as the scene where she talked about her father. I could almost sense the embarrassment when she asked what the supreme court was, I thought it was very subtle but brilliantly done by Judy.

I can understand why some people find the voice grating, but it was ok for me. In fact, I thought it made her even more endearing.

The rest of the acting is fine: I felt that Broderick Crawford was a bit too over the top in his characterization, and he got quite annoying but it wasn’t bad by any means cause the character’s an idiot. William Holden is very good as the reporter too, and I’m kinda surprised at how good-looking he was when he was young. The first movie I watched him in was Network (1976).

Not a perfect film, but a good 7.5/10 for me. Actually, 1950 is considered a legendary year for movies and acting, and I can really see why. I wouldn’t have voted for this movie for best picture, but All about Eve and Sunset Blvd. are masterpieces.

p.s. I need to lose weight. Saw my Vietnam photos and how fat my face looked. FML


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