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Uncouth, loud-mouth junkyard tycoon Harry Brock descends upon Washington D.C. to buy himself a congressman or two, bringing with him his mistress, ex-showgirl Billie Dawn. Brock hires newspaperman Paul Verrall to see if he can soften her rough edges and make her more presentable in capital society. But Harry gets more than he bargained for as Billie absorbs Verall's lessons in U.S. history and not only comes to the realization that Harry is nothing but a two-bit, corrupt crook, but in the process also falls in love with her handsome tutor. Written by
Paul Penna <email@example.com>
It is amazing to think that a talented person like Judy Holliday really was a star only for one decade (on film), and only in a total of nine films. She actually made more than nine, but several of them (prior to "Adam's Rib") were actually small roles or small pictures - including (interestingly enough) "Too Much Johnson" a film that was made by Orson Welles for a Broadway comedy he was directing in 1938. From "Adam's Rib" through "The Bells Are Ringing" Judy managed to demonstrate she was a gifted comic actress, a good dramatic actress, and a fine, even sexy musical comedy star. She would even win an Oscar for her second starring role ("Born Yesterday" - the currently reviewed movie). This should have guaranteed some degree of posthumous movie glory. It does to those who take the trouble of watching her performances, but most of her films are rarely shown (or, in the case of "Adam's Rib" they are shown because the real stars are Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn; and "The Bells Are Ringing" is recalled as one of Vincent Minelli's musicals).
Judy died of cancer in 1965, much too young. Had she lived twenty or thirty more years (even up to the present) her filmography would have been longer and more elaborate. A decade's worth of good performances is too dependent on the tastes associated with that decade. And Judy will always be part of the Eisenhower years - not the most glamorous period of our history.
"Born Yesterday" was a play by Garson Kanin, dealing with an unscrupulous, self-made scrap metal dealer and millionaire named Harry Brock. On Broadway, the part was played by Paul Douglas opposite Judy, and apparently they did not get along too well. Yet their stage chemistry worked, and the show ran for four years. Oddly enough, when the film was made, Douglas was not the star - the role went to Broderick Crawford (who had won the Oscar for best actor in "All The King's Men" the previous year. Yet six years later, Douglas did very well as McKeever, the Wall Street corporate leader, opposite Judy as Laura Partridge, in "The Solid Gold Cadillac". In retrospect it would have been interesting seeing Douglas play a more violent type, but Crawford does quite nicely as the street smart Harry.
Harry, Billie Dawn (Judy - his girlfriend), and his bodyguard/cousin Eddie come to Washington, D.C. Harry wants to expand his scrap iron - garbage dump empire by getting legislation passed allowing him an exception to certain tariffs and taxes. This requires his bribing a Congressman (Larry Oliver) who might sway the required committee in changing the law. Supervising this is Harry's lawyer Jim Devery (Howard St. John), an alcoholic who was once quite promising as a legal scholar (he was close to the great associate justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom he says was his "god"). But Harry, although rather rough himself in manners, decides that Billie should sharpen her image. She seems too naive, but it is actually that she has never been stimulated (certainly not by the rough, unread, uncultured Harry). Harry has attracted the attention of a reporter named Paul Verrall (William Holden), and on Devery's suggestion, he hires Verrall to transform Billie into a socially acceptable girlfriend.
Paul and Billie fall in love, of course, and the education works too well. In fact, while comparable to Eliza Doolittle's education by Henry Higgins it is actually different. Eliza gains a firmer grasp on her self respect because her speech and manners improve. But she never questions the social order of things, or Higgins' political and economic views. That's because Eliza is never trained to be thinking that widely. But Billie is - Paul has her reading books, and looking up words. His education is far more sweeping. As a result, she starts questioning what Harry and Devery are doing in Washington - which Harry is not very happy about.
"Born Yesterday" works due to the acting of Holliday, Crawford (who for all his roughness is funny - see his constant frustration playing gin with Billie), Holden, and St. John. It ends up as reaffirmation of democracy over corruption, and of the possibility of an individual to grow. And it did set the stage for Holliday's screen personae as the urbanite whose humanity and intelligence won out in the end.
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