My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/08/2010

Best Actress 1950: Judy Holliday in "Born Yesterday"

Judy Holliday received her Best Actress Oscar for reprising her stage role as dumb blond Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday.

A ‘dumb blond’ is certainly not the kind of character one expects to find among the list of Best Actress winners since this type of role is usually reserved for the Supporting category where one can find nominees and winners like Jean Hagen, Mira Sorvino or Jennifer Tilly. This kind of role is also always better suited for a supporting part because as hilarious as Jean Hagen may be in Singin’ in the Rain – who would want to see a whole movie with her annoying Lina as the main character?

But Judy Holliday is the exception to the rule. The reason is that she was not only a comedic genius – she was also able to always make her characters incredibly deep and layered. She had the gift of a true comedian that she was able to bring a certain pathos to her parts and was able to switch between hilarious comedy and saddening moments in one second.

Actually, it is incorrect to say that Judy Holliday won for playing a dumb blond – because that’s not what Billie is. Billie is uneducated and ignorant – but she doesn’t mind it. In fact, she likes it because she knows that she doesn’t need to be smart for her role as the mistress of a rich tycoon. Her life is very simple and she knows how to handle it (“If he don’t act friendly…I don’t act friendly.”) Only when Paul opens her eyes for a different world, she realizes her own faults and tries to become a better person.

So, Billie is not a typical dumb blond and unlike a lot of other dumb blondes, she is also not a mean or unpleasant character. Instead, she is totally charming and loveable. One has no problem to have Billie as the central character because she is able to immediately captivate the audience and constantly show new sides of Billie. She shows that there is always a sadness behind her face. It’s obvious that she isn’t really satisfied with her life but she doesn’t realize that herself. She needs help to discover her own inner feelings.

Judy Holliday is able to show how Billie’s character, her thoughts and ideals begin to change but she also stays faithful to the character. Billie doesn’t become a genius but instead, she simply starts to think on her own and begins to see the world differently.

It’s an incredibly multidimensional and deep characterization that is done in the most subtle way because Judy Holliday never draws any attention to her performance itself. Instead, she understands how to maximize the comedy aspect while slowly creating a character that is so much more than visible on the first look.

Judy Holliday is able to make Billie very real, insecure, sad but also incredibly hilarious. She uses her voice to deliver even the most banal lines in the most unforgettable way – even things like “Yes, you.”, “Wait a minute.” or simply “Harry.” are so funny because Judy delivers them in the greatest way. She offers an expertly crafted performance that emphasizes the comedy in every possible situation but never comes across as over-rehearsed, mistimed or forced upon the audience. In this part, Judy Holliday had to walk a very thin line between being hilariously amazing or a complete disaster and she constantly succeeded.

Who can forget the scene when she is playing the radio and starts to sing-along while they are having guests or the scene when she is playing cards with Harry. In this one, Judy shows that Billie is an excellent player and underlines the fact that Billie can be good at something once she is taught about it.

Judy has such a natural talent for comedy that is always visible and makes her such a charming and joyful presence. Her best line delivery may be
Billie: "Could you do me a favor, Harry?"
Harry: "What?"
Billie: "Drop dead."

But not only does she do an amazing job concerning the comedy, she also handles the more serious aspects in the greatest way. When she talks about her father and her distance to him, she shows the viewer a very troubled side of Billie that would never have been expected.

The screenplay actually shows that Billie is a very suggestible character – she doesn’t become smarter herself but instead is formed by William Holden’s character who teaches her his own beliefs and thoughts. But Judy Holliday is still able to show that Billie always keeps control over everything that happens to her and that she is much more aware of the happenings around her than people may think. She may not know a lot of things, but she understands.

Judy Holliday delivered a comedic tour-de-force in Born Yesterday that carries this movie and turns it into one of the great comedies while never forgetting to show also more serious sides of the character. For this, she gets

7 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

This one seems to partially determined by how much someone likes the film.

Fritz said...

Mmh...Yes, I like the film but the reason I like the film is Judy Holliday. Without her performance, the movie wouldn't be 10% as good. She IS the film.
I don't automatically like a performance if I like the film, but I like a film if I like the main performance(s).

Fritz said...

Just for fun:
This is how I would rank the movies with the nominated ladies:

1. Sunset Boulevard
2. All about Eve
3. Born Yesterday
4. Caged

Louis Morgan said...

I do not automatically like a film or performance because I like one or the other either. But I think a bad film is a hindrance to a performance, just a bad performance is a hindrance to a film.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Glad you liked it, just recently watched Adam's Rib and I always remembered how Kate and George used her bit role in that to convince the studios to let her do this. So happy it worked out.

Fritz said...

@Louise: For me, the performances are the most important aspect of a movie. If I like the performances, it vastly improves the possiblity that I like the movie. I mean, "Sophie's Choice" or "Monster" are rather bad movies but Meryl Streep and Charlize Theron make it worth watching.

@Andrew: Yes, I'm happy to! There is a site called "The Judy Holliday ressource center", they have a lot of infos about how Judy had to fight for the part and how badly she was treated by the studio boss in the beginning.

joe burns said...

I thought she did a good job showing her character's transformation from dumb to smart, but I didn't find it funny at all. But I didn't think she was trying to be funny, so I don't think it was a failure. Overall, I thought she was okay, but the win was too much. And I agree with you about that performances make the film better, even though I liked both Sophie's Choice and Monster. Here's how I would rank the films:

1. All About Eve

2. Sunset Boulevard

3. Born Yesterday

I haven't seen Caged yet.