Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1954. Columbia Pictures Corporation. Story and Screenplay by Garson Kanin. Cinematography by Charles Lang. Produced by Fred Kohlmar. Music by Friedrich Hollaender. Production Design by John Meehan. Costume Design by Jean Louis. Film Editing by Charles Nelson. Academy Awards 1954.
Judy Holliday reunites with Born Yesterday writer Garson Kanin and director George Cukor for another look at an adorably daffy girl who experiences an awakening. This time she’s a young woman living in New York City and feeling like her dreams to make a name for herself are going nowhere. When she notices that a billboard in Columbus circle doesn’t have an ad on it, she goes to the Madison Avenue firm that owns it and rents the space for three months, splaying her name in giant letters. This causes confusion to the sweet photographer (Jack Lemmon in his film debut) who is falling in love with her, and enrages the handsome head of a soap company (Peter Lawford) who normally uses that billboard for his summer campaign. In the hopes of getting the billboard back into his own clutches, Lawford woos Holliday with both romance and promises of further fame, leading to her name being displayed everywhere in New York City and making a mysterious celebrity out of her. Given that the reality TV generation decades later would inspire the accusation that popular culture has been demeaned by a focus on fame over artistic accomplishment, it’s funny to see a movie from the 1950s that so accurately charts a personality that is looking for recognition without accomplishing anything. A scene where she is mobbed for her autograph merely because people think that other people have heard of her does a terrific job of skewering the public hysteria over famous people that rarely has anything to do with admiration or even joy. The drawback is that Kanin’s script is more didactic than entertaining, and unlike the Oscar-winning classic that allows Holliday to gain strength through the things she learns, here she is constantly acting on whimsy when making good decisions or bad. The cast is terrific and it is gorgeously shot, a lot of it seeming to be on location in the Big Apple, but the overall comedic tone is mild.