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BORN YESTERDAY (director: George Cukor; screenwriters: from the play by Garson Kanin/Albert Mannheimer/Garson Kanin (uncredited); cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Charles Nelson; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Judy Holliday (Emma “Billie” Dawn), Broderick Crawford (Harry Brock), William Holden (Paul Verrall), Howard St. John (Jim Devery), Frank Otto (Eddie), Larry Oliver (Congressman Norval Hedges), Barbara Brown (Mrs. Hedges); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: S. Sylvan Simon; Columbia Pictures; 1950)
“Its attack on the political system being corrupted is too mild for today’s even more expanded corrupt times.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Cukor (“The Philadelphia Story”) directs this political satire that’s based on Garson Kanin’s hit Broadway play that starred Judy Holliday. Columbia head Harry Cohn wanted Rita Hayworth for the role, but she turned the role down as unsuitable for her. After Cukor voiced approval for Holliday (she made a splash in a small part in his 1949 Adam’s Rib), Cohen relented on his opinion that Holliday was too fat to be the romantic lead. Holliday went on to win an Oscar for best actress. Albert Mannheimer won an Oscar for best screenplay, but ironically his screenplay wasn’t used because Cukor felt it didn’t capture the spirit of the play. Kanin was called in to revise the screenplay but due to legal complications wasn’t given credit.

The plot is simple enough. Self-made junk dealer tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) and his kept girlfriend for the last seven years, the verbally challenged dumb ex-chorus blonde Emma “Billie” Dawn (Judy Holliday), arrive in Washington, DC, to buy Congressman Norval Hedges (Larry Oliver) and arrange for a sweetheart deal for Harry’s business enterprise. The shady legal affairs are arranged by bought insider attorney Jim Devery (Howard St. John). Eddie (Frank Otto) is the errand boy flunkie who is bossed around by Harry in a gruff manner. The ruthless and crude hot shot thinks Billie, for the sake of appearances, needs to become more sophisticated and knowledgeable to mingle with these upper crusts the gangster-like tycoon is wooing and hires bachelor newspaper political journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) for $200 a week to be her tutor. Paul gladly takes the job and has her read books, improve her vocabulary, go with him on personally guided tours to DC’s museums and historical government buildings. In the process she becomes more politically aware about the virtues of American democracy and begins to resent the unethical and swinish Harry. To add insult to injury, the tutor and pupil fall in love. This leaves Harry stymied, as his big cartel merger deal depends on her signature (she’s used as a dummy partner) and she gives the contract she was to sign to Paul, who promises to run the story in his column and expose this scandal.

It’s preachy about safeguarding the public from politicos, lawyers and businessmen who thumb their noses at the laws of the land. Though its attack on the political system being corrupted is too mild for today’s even more expanded corrupt times, it must be understood it was made at the height of the HUAC witch hunts against Reds and any knock at the American government was considered with suspicion. Anyway despite the questionable rosy picture it paints about how well the democratic ideals are working in America, it remains well-acted, witty and entertaining enough as a romantic-comedy.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”