Of the films I´ve been seeing recently that I loved as a child, Born Yesterday has been the most disappointing. It´s relative of course. The film is certainly interesting and entertaining; and the political satire, a relatively brave choice for a popular entertainment in the midst of the McCarthy era, seems more relevant than ever. The travelogue elements of how we´re shown Washington D.C. must have been a real attraction then and still work now. And surely playing writers chased by Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday in two of the hit films of that year — Sunset Boulevard was the other one — is what must have catapulted William Holden into being a proper box-office star? Still that said, the film is overly pat and a little preachy, Broderick Crawford´s performance is a bit coarse, and Holliday, whom I adore, seems overly rehearsed. She´s great — it´s her most celebrated performance — but not quite real, every line reading fuelled by a clearly visible intention for very particular effects. The revelation of the re-watching has been Holden: A subtle performance, really understated and yet bringing charm and liveliness to a completely thankless role.It makes me uneasy also that the villain is a working class self-made millionaire who´s worked since he was twelve. The faith in the system is touching, its mythification less so. There are reasons the Garson Kanin´s play isn´t much revived: everything´s a bit pat and mechanical, though Cukor´s direction is controlled, masterful really, and opens up the play in interesting ways.
The Arrow Academy transfer is lovely and Pam Hutchtinson´s introductory essay is excellent. But talking-head discussion, even by prominent academics, make for quite dull extras. A disappointment, if only in relation to my memory of it.