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Adam’s Rib

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Adam's Rib (1949)

     No one could have better played a powerful career woman in a devoted marriage better than Katharine Hepburn, and no one could have better held his ground as the spouse opposite that star than Spencer Tracy. Audiences loved seeing Hepburn and Tracy on the screen together, and Adam’s Rib lended what might have been a variation on their true relationship. Although the stars were never married, they maintained a relationship that endured until the end of Tracy’s life. Both meanwhile held down the same career, although one much more artistic than that of their lawyer characters here.

     Tracy plays Assistant District Attorney Adam Bonner who is assigned to the case of a woman who has shot and wounded her cheating husband. The attorney is none too keen on being assigned the case as his wife Amanda (Hepburn)  has spent all morning fixated on the related newspaper story and how a man would be treated differently for attacking an unfaithful spouse. Amanda has meanwhile gone out of her way to hunt down this shooter, Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday), in order to represent her pro bono. Amanda sees the case as a great chance to level the playing field between men and women under the law.

     Adam is immediately unhappy with the circumstances, and the couple and case become hot material for the newspapers and editorial cartoonists. The case becomes increasingly contentious between the two parties and begins to affect their life at home where Adam is unable to forgive Amanda’s ruthless courtroom activity. On top of everything, Amanda is visiting with a flirtatious neighbor friend (David Wayne) when Adam storms in to find the two embracing and threatens to shoot the two under the same circumstances as the case. The couple near divorce but will find a way to reconcile.

     While watching Adam’s Rib I had a hard time determining whether this was a drama or a comedy. The story is very serious but it is not without moments of humor. Many of those come from Holliday as the sort-of-dumb shooter whose emotions take the form of hunger more than any other state. Her disheveled life makes a great contrast to the once-pristine marriage of the Bonners. Her husband, played by Tom Ewell is plenty despicable and Jean Hagen as his mistress is equally intolerable.

     Tracy and Hepburn meanwhile have probably never been better; although one could say that of a lot of their collaborations. Despite middle age, the two act like lovers 10 or 20 years younger who flirt under the courtroom table or stick their tongues out at each other. The duo are so comfortable on screen, which is to be expected given this was the sixth of their nine MGM pictures together. The morning bedroom scene in which Tracy refuses to waken look like it could be a reflection of actual at-home life for the couple.

  • Adam’s Rib is set for 2:45 p.m. ET April 12 and 6:15 p.m. ET May 12 on TCM.

Born Yesterday

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Born Yesterday (1950)

     When I learned Judy Holliday took home the Best Actress Oscar in 1951 over Bette Davis in All About Eve, I was naturally intrigued. For those who know Eve –and you should if you don’t– it was a veritable whirlwind of overwhelmingly grand performances, and given that Davis was a master of her craft, it is a bit stunning to find that the ditzy-seeming actress Holliday could out do her. I’ve never loved Holliday, and frankly it is difficult to with the grating, high-pitched voice of hers, but in Born Yesterday she is truly admirable.

     The story is a unique and fun one. Holliday as Billie is a former showgirl who has been the girlfriend of successful “junk” salesman Harry Brock, played by Broderick Crawford, for a number of years. The plot surrounds their extended stay in Washington D.C. where Brock is attempting to lobby/bribe congressmen to pass legislation in favor of his shady business dealings. Fearing his girl is too dumb, Brock hires freelance writer Paul Verrall (William Holden) to wise her up to a few things. In the process of educating Billie, however, Paul makes her all too aware of the unjust ways her boyfriend is gaming the system.

     Holliday seems born to play this role. Her naturally high-toned voice dumbs down the speaking of each word. The hotel floor the couple has occupied involves several suites over such a large space that the two can literally shout out their windows at each other. This proves particularly amusing as the strong-lunged Crawford bellows calls of “Billie” while Holliday responds with a “Whaaat!” that sounds more like a bird squawking than a human speaking. Holliday’s portrayal of naivety makes her unrelentingly sweet so that the audience has no choice but to love her.

     Born Yesterday takes a different approach to the romance in the plot. One would expect to be entreated to a drawn-out, rising tide of sexual tension between Billie and Paul, but the two put their feelings out the open early on. Upon their first meeting, Billie declares she got a yen for her tutor right off. When Paul returns later that night with a stack of books for his student, Billie speaks of her relative blindness. When the man suggests glasses, Billie laughs and makes fun then, realizing she’s speaking to a spectacle-wearing guy, places her hand on his chest to apologize. The contact seems sufficient to spark their attraction and the two mutually lean in for a kiss. Paul is not scared of Brock even though he probably should be. Nevertheless, he refuses to smooch on Billie any further for fear of complicating an already tricky relationship. No worries, the romance comes full circle in the end.

     I saw the stage performance of this show last fall at a college in central Ohio. The woman playing Billie did the same ditzy, raised voice, and I could tell all characters took some cues from the movie actors. In all honesty, the play was a bit subdued but the subject matter and drama really grabbed me. I would say the movie is much funnier and exciting.

     Holliday played Billie in the stage version, but Rita Hayworth was originally selected for the movie. When she dropped out for a marriage-induced respite from acting, Director George Cukor advocated for Holliday to take the spot. Good thing she did. I cannot imagine Hayworth being anywhere near as great in this role.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

It Should Happen to You


It Should Happen to You (1954)

      I have not necessarily been a fan of Judy Holliday, but she changed my mind in It Should Happen to You. She does a great job of playing a somewhat ditzy, vain, dreamer who seems to be oblivious to romance as she endeavors to “make a name for herself”.
      Holliday plays a non-native New Yorker Gladys Glover who just lost her job as a girdle model over a matter of “a quarter inch”. She runs into Jack Lemmon‘s Pete who is shooting documentary footage in Central Park. The two chat about how impossible it is to meet nice people in the city, completely ignoring that they have both proved an exception to the rule. Taking some vague assurance from Pete that she will make her dream of fame come true, Gladys opts to use the $1,000 she has saved to purchase three months of advertising space on Columbus Circle.
     Peter Lawford comes in as Evan, who works high up in his family’s soap company and who desperately wants the Columbus Circle spot Gladys purchased. The young woman is unwilling to budge, but ultimately scores six billboards throughout the city in exchange for her one. She also scores several dates with Evan, whose motives seem to be about getting the gal to bed. Meanwhile, Gladys’ friendship with Pete has blossomed as the man has moved into her building. He is utterly frustrated over his inability to share his romantic feelings for the woman, who is distracted by her new-found fame.
     I have to wonder how strange it must have been in 1954 for someone to become famous for doing nothing. Contemporary society is plagued by reality show stars and celebrities famed only for having a sex tape. Gladys’ popularity, however, is shrouded in mystery. The billboard merely feature her name, nothing more, so when giving her name to a department store clerk, she is first “recognized” and hounded by fans. When a TV show host speculates over who Ms. Glover is, the woman calls him up and ends up with an agent who books her TV show appearances.
     This was Jack Lemmon’s second film and his first leading role. He plays his usual quirky self, although one who is less nervous than in some of his more famous spots. I always find the man enjoyable to watch, and I do not think anyone else could have played the role in the same manner or in a way as appealing. For a moment toward the start of the movie, the viewer might be convinced this will be a story of the nice guy versus the rich, handsome guy in acquiring the girl’s affections, but It Should Happen to You is not like that in the least. Lawford’s character, although seeming to gain ground, never stands a chance against Gladys’ love for fame. Pete also suffers a position second to the attention Gladys has gained, but is able to provide a happy ending after smacking the protagonist back to reality.
  • It Should Happen to You is set for 6:30 p.m. ET Feb. 18 on TCM.
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