Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday) is a naive rebellious sweet ex-chorus girl who has been the fiance of Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) for six years. She's a bit tacky & a bit of a lush, but in the main a sweetheart.
Harry is pushy, short-tempered, & runs a gangsterish scrap iron business. Congressman Norville Hedge (Larry Oliver) is a politician who can be bought, & Harry's got him in his flask pocket. Paul Verrall (William Holden) is a reporter in a Clark Kent suit & glasses mode. This character array could've been for a serious drama of corruption, but it's all very lighthearted.
On paper Billie Dawn is wealthy, but only as a dupe of a front for Harry's crooked business machinations. He's put so much in her name to cover his assets & dealings that it would be too complicated to just ditch her or trade upward as his own status rises, so it's a good thing that he's just crazy about her, despite that he belittles her constantly & doesn't deserve her.
She's too lower class to be useful as the "schmoozing wife" with D.C. politicians & such political wives as Anna Hedges (Barbara Brown). While Harry can't imagine his own thuggish personality needs improvement, Billie he wants improved. For this reason Paul was hired to teach her society manners, in the tradition of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.
Billie is just so damned cute no matter what she does. Sitting playing a game of gin rummy, her concentration & facial expressions are a hoot, & her goal is to win every time. No one sensible would want to change her, nor be ashamed of her naive manner, so how could Paul help but fall for his charge.
She becomes enamored of American history due to the influence of the Washington, D.C. environment. She takes to "wandering & worrying & thinking." Her manner of speech doesn't change, but the ditziness is vanquished, & Harry is shocked to discover the gal has a patriotic streak to her that doesn't like dishonest politicians & gangsterish interference with the workings of government.
This is a great story beautifully cast & splendidly acted with witty dialogue throughout. Though largely a comedy it has dramatic force. Everyone down to the slightest support character is simply wonderful, but Judy Holliday shines most remarkable of all in her Oscar-winning performance. She had first brought this character to life when the story was a Broadway play, & it's hard to believe Rita Hayworth was the first choice for the movie, as Holliday was born to play Billie Dawn.
Had not Joseph McCarthy's communist witch-hunt put the kibosh on her career for a couple of years, then she died too soon of breast cancer, Judy Holliday would've been as famous a star as Kate Hepburn or Bette Davis, but we have too few films showcasing her brilliance.
Remade as a mediocre comedy, the later version of Born Yesterday (1993) puts Melanie Griffith in Judy Holliday's role, John Goodman in Broderick Crawford's, & the abominably bad Don Johnson in the William Holden role. Such remakes count on the larger public's lack of familiarity with classics.
People who love classic cinema are apt to have a kneejerk dislike of remakes even if they're pretty good, but in this case, the film does not stand well on its own & is even more certainly incredibly bad by comparison. I rather like John Goodman who in other films has been quite good, but here he reduces to a screaming bore what Crawford managed to render a complex smarmily appealing shithead.
What Holliday could do with native power Melanie Griffith has to impersonate. And the less said about Don Johnson the better; being as good as Holden was the easiest of the three actors' unrewarding task, but Johnson merely sucks.
It's so shockingly bad that anyone not already aware that the original is one of the best American comedies of all time will never want to see it, as the remake just makes it seem like a very bad story all round with nothing to it that could possibly be intelligent or funny.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl