I see Born Yesterday as a film driven by one powerful force called Judy Holliday. Her performance is so memorable and fully responsible for the fun that the movie has to offer. It’s not a well balanced film, but the first 30-40 minutes are pure gold and filled with comedy talent.
But Oscar voters ignored the catfight and went for a performance half dramatic half legendary comedy. Judy’s work has continuously influenced comedy acting for decades! Let’s not forget Jean Hagen’s delicious copycat performance in Singin’ in the Rain, how it was clearly inspired by Judy.
Judy Holliday reprises her Broadway role as Billie Dawn, the mistress of a rich half-gangster businessman, who travels to Washington with him and finds herself tutored by an honest, charming journalist. It’s partly a pygmalion story, as the two of them fall in love. Billie is uneducated, doesn’t know how to properly behave, but you can tell she has a kind heart and is a good person. The transformation of the character is charming, but it shifts the film from silly comedy to more dramatic, morally important scenes.
There are two sides to the performance: the entertaining one and the heart-warming side. Billie is beautiful and pleasantly vulgar in her way of talking. The first line of the character is WHAAAAAT??? screamed with that annoying voice that just keeps making me laugh. But Judy’s performance is a winner even outside language tricks: her way of walking, her silly dance, the bit of arrogance in her eyes… The first 30 minutes make for a performance that needs to be seen to be believed.
So many good scenes, but I have to go back to one of my alltime favourites: the gin rummy game! She is hilarious and spots every comedy moment and every opportunity to shine and give even more boost to the character’s funny persona. Those who’ve seen the film will never forget it, especially the dialogue like: - 41!!! - 41??? - 41!!!! :)) Her chemistry with Broderick Crawford is incredibly affective all throughout the film and their sarcastic dialogues are simply brilliant.
Then there’s the more dramatic side of the character. As I said, Judy is beautiful, but just look into those expressive eyes and you’ll feel the kindness and also the unfulfillment of Billie, who truly wants to be smarter and more respected, but for some reason is unable to see it for herself or to take a step in that direction.
You can feel she’s hurt everytime he talks down to her and offends her and Judy is perfectly capable to also deliver this side of the character – it may not be as fun for us, the audience, but it definitely shows even more range in her acting. And I shouldn’t even mention the slapping scene and how (thankfully) she deliberately makes it uncomfortable and challenging for the audience.
I’m sure the Oscar voters were charmed by this performance, found it both incredibly funny and heartbreaking, as did I and truth is: just looking at Judy puts a smile on your face! I have no more to write that the rating itself .