Blind Spot 50: ‘Born Yesterday’ (1950)

I had always heard of Born Yesterday not because of it being a great movie but because of its impact on the Oscars. One of my favorite movies of all time is All About Eve and the actresses Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were both nominated for Oscars for Best Actress.  Both of their performances are some of the best in the history of movies, so imagine my shock that neither of them won the big prize! No, Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday won!

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It is for this reason I have long wanted to check out Born Yesterday and see if Holliday deserved the win or if it was a case of 2 actresses from the same movie cancelling themselves out. Now for Blind Spot I finally got to check this romcom off my list!

In Born Yesterday Holliday plays a woman named Billie who is a ditzy mistress for a mob-like millionaire named Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford). At first I was struggling with her character. Her squeaky voice was irritating and the way she is walked all over is uncomfortable to a modern viewer. However, as she began to learn more from William Holden’s Paul Verrall I started to warm up to her.

Holden and Holliday have such an authentic chemistry that I found myself rooting for them as a pair more than either character by themselves. They both teach each other and become better people based on the discussions they have. It’s not just the suave man teaching the silly woman how to be more genteel but a woman coming to understand her fundamental value as a human and a man realizing some principles and people are worth fighting for.

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It’s easy to be cynical these days, and I know that’s why many don’t enjoy romantic comedies. However, Born Yesterday is kind of a cynical movie. The world surrounding our 2 leads is decidedly broken and there’s no sign of any of it changing outside of the cocoon of their discussions. I got the feeling if Frank Capra had made this film there would be grand speeches and big moments of gravitas but that is not the case here. It’s just about 2 people who make it out of the cynicism kicking and screaming.

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I watched the 1993 remake of Born Yesterday and boy was that a dud. It has most of the same ingredients but without the sense of personal connection and growth we see with Holliday and Holden. There’s nobody to root for and no depth to any of the performances so it all feels quite lazy and mean-spirited. Definitely skip it!!

Now do I think Judy Holliday is better in Born Yesterday than Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve? No I do not but it’s a good performance so I’m not angry about it. She brings a humanity to a character that is easy to dismiss and has fantastic chemistry with her costar so she’s a worthy winner even if she’d still get 3rd place in my book. Also if you have never seen Judy in Bells Are Ringing it’s a very underrated musical that I highly recommend.

7 out of 10

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4 thoughts on “Blind Spot 50: ‘Born Yesterday’ (1950)

  1. I generally agree with your thoughts here. I watched Born Yesterday (1950) recently due to the fact that it was featured on Better Call Saul. I found the early scenes very slow going and difficult to watch due to the sheer putridness of Broderick Crawford’s character; but as you’ve said where the film really starts to come together is when the film finally spends time with its two genuinely sympathetic characters, and showing just how much they have in common with each other, lo and behold!

    Though you’ve described the film as cynical, the sentiments expressed by Holden’s character were astonishingly idealistic, and sincere, so much so that they fall completely flat when read verbatim by a 1990s actor who clearly could not believe them any less himself, and makes no effort to convince us that he is the sort of person who would believe them. The remake really is utterly worthless and bland, and its main faults are that apart from clearly telling a story from another time, the film shows its cynicism in having Don Johnson not teach true lessons, but only transparent attempts to fool the easily fooled and intellectually bankrupt media elite. And John Goodman is simply too warm and good-natured for us to really despise, and the movie knows it and is too afraid to go all the way with its negative characterization. This makes it impossible to accept when he actually strikes our leading lady,
    though the lack of any true comeuppance for her and quick resolution still leaves the film feeling a product of another time.

    So as not to damn it completely, through, I did enjoy the one truly inspired scene where the characters sing a modified version of The Twelve Days of Christmas designed to help Billie memorize the Bill of Rights, with one person gleefully repeating the one right which all Americans have never had any problem embracing: “Just say whatever crazy thing you like!” while John Goodman solemnly intones time and time again the only Constitutional amendment that truly means anything to him: “Don’t raaaaaat on yourself!”

  2. I also have to agree with you about All About Eve, too. Unlike most males, I am not ashamed to admit that it is one of my favorite movies, too, and one that comes the closest to perfection from its dialogue to the acting to the story. Born Yesterday can’t compare, obviously, but I have never been able to decide which performance is better, Bette Davis or Anne Baxter’s, and especially considering that Baxter spends much of the movie aping Davis, and that Billie Holiday’s performance really is as the remake proved inimitable, I don’t have the slightest problem with her receiving the win.

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