Tag Archives: Judy Holliday

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 2: Watching Old Favorites With a Community

We’re in the middle of the TCM Classic Film Festival’s first full day, and during this break I have between screenings, I wanted to talk about what it’s like to watch an established favorite with a community like the one at the TCM Festival. In a prior post, I discussed the fact that I tend toward the old favorites when faced with a screening dilemma, and much of my reasoning for that comes from the sense of community that comes from sitting in a theater and watching something you’ve seen dozens of times.

born-yesterday

Last year, the screening of The More the Merrier proved to be my festival highlight, due to the sheer joy of hearing raucous laughter while Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea were on the screen, and anticipating when that laughter was going to come. I had the same experience this morning with the screening of Born Yesterday (1950). Those loyal readers of Backlots may be familiar with the love I have for Born Yesterday and its messages of freedom through knowledge, and when I arrived at the theater I was thrilled to see that the line to get in was one of the longest I’ve ever seen, extending around the ropes and even necessitating the management to form another line outside. When we were let in, there was barely a single seat left in the theater. I began to look forward to another enthusiastic crowd.

Born Yesterday, and especially Judy Holliday, have always held a bit of a special place in my heart. The combination of physical comedy, topical and progressive subject matter, brilliant and sincere performances, and a witty, dynamic script combine to make a movie that clicked for me at a young age. So much so, in fact, that in 7th grade I chose to do a class report and presentation on Judy Holliday, highlighting clips from Born Yesterday to illustrate my points about her acting ability, including the one below.

(Apologies for the faulty video, but this is the only clip of this scene that seems to exist online, and it’s too good to leave out of this post.)

When this scene came onscreen this morning, the audience went wild, laughing uproariously at Holliday’s card organizing, as well as her mannerisms and quirks that make the scene one of the greatest bits of downplayed physical comedy that I’ve ever seen. When Holliday called out “Gin!” and spread her cards out on the table, in the face of her brash and uncultured boyfriend, the audience clapped loudly.

To hear others appreciating Born Yesterday as I do, and appreciating Judy Holliday as I have for so many years, is a priceless gift of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Rarely in life do we classic film fans get the opportunity to sit in the dark, with our favorite people up on the screen, with nothing but love opposite them in the audience. But once a year at the festival, we can be assured of it.

Thanks for reading, and keep watching this space for more! Here are some photos from some other things that have been going on:

2017 TCM Classic Film Festival - The 50th Anniversary Screening of "In the Heat of the Night" (1967) Red Carpet & Opening Night

Opening night red carpet featuring In the Heat of the Night (1967)

2017 TCM Classic Film Festival - Hand and Footprint Ceremony: Carl and Rob Reiner

Hand/footprint ceremony for Rob Reiner and Carl Reiner, featuring guests Billy Crystal, Tom Bergeron, and Norman Lear alongside TCM network representatives Jennifer Dorian, Ben Mankiewicz, Coleman Breland, Genevieve McGillicuddy, and Charlie Tabesh.

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

At the opening night. Walter Mirisch, Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, Norman Jewison, and Lee Grant, with TCM network representatives Ben Mankiewicz, Jennifer Dorian, Charlie Tabesh, Genevieve McGillicuddy, and Coleman Breland.

 

 

Advertisements

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: The Subtle Messages of BORN YESTERDAY (1950)

Annex - Holliday, Judy (Born Yesterday)_01

A few days ago, as I spent a sick afternoon at home, I was pleased to discover the delightful Born Yesterday (1950) playing on TCM. This is a movie that has always fascinated me–Judy Holliday’s performance as the dim-witted Billie Dawn won her an Oscar for the Best Actress of 1950, in the face of Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson, both nominated for the roles of their careers. Holliday’s win has always been a bit of an enigma, so much so that in the process of trying to “figure her out,” I’ve developed a real fondness for Judy Holliday and her all-too-brief career. To me, she’s one of the most underappreciated and underutilized comediennes of the era, and her early death was a huge loss to the industry.

Holliday’s Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday stands out as her best-known role, a part she originated on the Broadway stage before signing on to reprise the role in the movie. On the surface, the movie is a fluffy comedy about a rather intellectually dull woman who studies with a tutor to expand her mind. It seems to be standard code-era fare. But upon a deeper examination of the plot, and of the character of Billie Dawn, one is hit with some powerful messages about women’s rights, and the political climate in which the movie was made.

Billie Dawn is a poorly-educated New Yorker, living with her gangster fiancé on a long-term business venture in Washington, D.C. Billie often embarrasses Harry with her ignorance, and in order to make a better impression on his business contacts, Harry engages a tutor, Paul (William Holden), to teach Billie the ways of the world. The two get on swimmingly. Billie loves learning, and Paul respects her mind and her autonomy in a way that Harry doesn’t. In interacting with Paul, and in learning more about the way the world works, Billie comes to the realization that Harry abuses and takes advantage of her, and she must leave him.

Advocating for a woman’s right to educate herself, and for her right to leave an abusive relationship, was forward-thinking in 1950. Despite women taking the jobs of overseas men during WWII and the resulting spike in women’s employment in the postwar years, the prevailing thought in 1940s and early 1950s American media continued to be that women should be subservient to their husbands, and that education for women was futile. Few movies challenged this view, with the perhaps singular exception of the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy comedy Woman of the Year, released 8 years prior. In Woman of the Year, we are presented with a mirror image of Billie Dawn, in Katharine Hepburn’s portrayal of the very educated, self-reliant Tess Harding, who becomes involved with Spencer Tracy’s meat-and-potatoes, sports-enthusiast Sam Craig. They fall in love, and at the end of the movie (spoiler alert), we see Tess trying to eschew her intellectual gifts for domestic life with Sam, trying (and failing) to make him breakfast in the final scene. Sam encourages her to simply be herself, and not change for him. Tess had fallen victim to the same views that plagued the majority of women of that era, and many were not as lucky as she was.

681508

Here, with Born Yesterday, we see a shift in the narrative. “It’s a new world, Harry,” says a business associate of Harry’s, late in the movie. “Force and reason are changing places. Knowledge is power.” When Billie returns to Harry, newly educated, she encounters his brute force as he beats and yells at her. With her newfound sense of confidence and power from her education, she sees him for what he is and leaves him for Paul. An empowering message for women of the early 1950s, often trapped in abusive or unfulfilling marriages.

The “knowledge is power” theme of Born Yesterday is especially meaningful when viewed through the political lens of the late 1940s and early 1950s. McCarthyism was at its peak, with many in Hollywood as its targets. Senator Joseph McCarthy took advantage of the raw, ignorant fears of the American populace regarding communism, while the defenders of the Hollywood Ten and other blacklisted individuals fought against the base ignorance of McCarthy’s followers. In its own subtle way, Born Yesterday takes sides, and fights against the core ideology of McCarthyism by asserting that “knowledge is power,” and that brute ignorance is destructive and harmful.

o-YnIO0uLgcPcRGFkP6B3g4lYxc

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall lead the Committee for the First Amendment, organized to support the Hollywood Ten.

In a side note, Judy Holliday was blacklisted herself in 1952. When testifying before the subcommittee, she took on the distinctive voice and persona of Billie Dawn, confounding those asking her questions and, possibly, saving her career. Despite being blacklisted from certain media for 10 years, she ultimately returned and everything got back to normal–she worked in films and on the stage until shortly before her death in 1965.

While today’s world has changed in its attitudes toward women and education, we are currently faced with an epidemic of anti-intellectualism in our politics, reminiscent of the McCarthy years in its prideful ignorance. It is significant that the movie takes place in Washington, D.C., and extols the virtues of knowledge and education in the very location where our government is centered. We might do well to remember the message of this movie in this day and age, when knowledge and expertise are all too disposable in our political system.

large-screenshot3

What Happened at the 23rd Academy Awards?

As the Academy Awards are broadcast from Hollywood, Gloria Swanson anxiously awaits the announcement of Best Actress.

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

On a whim yesterday, I removed my trusty VHS of Sunset Boulevard from its spot in my movie library (organized alphabetically, by year) and put it in for an  impromptu viewing. Sunset Boulevard is one of those movies with everything–flawless plot, perfect script, skillful directing, and tour-de-force acting by Gloria Swanson, whose portrayal of fictional fallen screen star Norma Desmond, whose life has unraveled to the point of insanity, is one for the ages. As a friend of mine puts it, “Gloria Swanson tore her heart out and bled that role.”

Rightly, she was remembered in the Best Actress Oscar nominations for 1950, along with Bette Davis (All About Eve), Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday), Anne Baxter (All About Eve), and Eleanor Parker (Caged).

All About Eve is similar to Sunset Boulevard in many ways. Both were directed by writer-directors (Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s script for All About Eve is a phenomenal triumph, and Billy Wilder’s script with Charles Brackett for Sunset Boulevard is famous for being the pair’s last collaboration) and both deal brutally with the issues of stardom as one ages. The main characters are stubborn and vulnerable larger-than-life personalities. We are led to realize the unfairness in life that has been dealt to them–where Norma Desmond’s fragile mental state leads those close to her (namely her strangely devoted butler Max) to treat her with kid gloves, no one takes Margo’s guff and it is assumed that she can take care of herself–when in reality she is in desperate need of protection.

Hollywood loved its own. It was going to be either Bette Davis or Gloria Swanson, no one else had much of a chance.

But when the announcement was read, there was an upset.

So what happened?

I think the nomination of two actresses portraying similarly themed characters, both giving the performance of their respective careers, was too much for that year. The votes were split down the for Davis and Swanson, relegating each of them to the minority allowing Judy Holliday to win with the “outlier” votes. Essentially, 1950 was so good, it backfired.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Judy Holliday was brilliant in Born Yesterday. It remains one of my favorite movies of 1950, and Judy Holliday was what made it. Check out this wonderful scene of her playing cards, and the subtle expressions and physical movements that drive the scene. I apologize for the poor quality, but it’s very much worth watching.

Had this been any other year, I would have applauded Holliday’s win, but it was an inappropriate result for a category that included Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and Bette Davis in All About Eve.

I would like to pose the question to you, readers–what are your opinions on the 23rd Academy Awards? Who do you think should have won? What do you think happened? Leave a comment in the comments section and let’s discuss it!

I look forward to reading your comments!