It Should Happen to You

It Should Happen to You, 1954, Columbia Pictures. Starring Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Peter Lawford. Directed by George Cukor. B&W, 86 minutes.

Young and broke, Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) dreams of a better life, better than “marrying the first man that comes along…or maybe the second.” She has been saving for the rather unusual goal of buying billboard space, where she plans to place her name and picture for all of New York City to see, believing fame will bring her what she wants.

She catches the attention of budding filmmaker Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) while walking through Central Park one afternoon in her stocking feet.  The two hit it off, and when Pete tells her she may end up in one of his documentaries, Gladys is thrilled at the idea of being in the movies.

jack-lemmon-and-judy-holliday-in-it-should-happen-to-you
Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday

Later that day, she acts on her dream of fame and fortune and buys 90 days of billboard space. With her name in letters that seem sky-high, Gladys is on her way to the happiness she desires. Or so it seems, until the Adams Soap Co., which traditionally has purchased that same billboard space each year for the same three months, steps in. With negotiations designed to intimidate, Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) works to get back what he sees as rightfully his.

In the meantime, Pete has moved into the same apartment building Gladys lives in, and the two begin a romance of sorts. Pete’s interest is obvious, while Gladys, although appreciative of his attentions, is more intent on seeing where the notoriety from the billboard can get her.

Judy Holliday portrays Gladys as a likable young woman who, despite her dreams of glory, is basically happy in life. Most importantly, she knows what she wants, although the path she believes will lead her there is perhaps ill-advised.

There are some wonderful lines in this film that reveal Gladys’ perceptive side and keep her from being merely a ditzy blonde. She is, in fact, more insightful than simple, and well-equipped to take care of herself in treacherous situations.  The script was written by Garson Kanin, who also wrote Born Yesterday and Adam’s Rib, two significant vehicles for Holliday’s career.

This was the first major film appearance for Jack Lemmon, who is at his best as the sincere, baffled man in love with a woman who is stubbornly pursuing a foolish goal. He stands in stark contrast to Lawford’s slick and sleazy character, a man who takes advantage of women as a matter of course.

Look for a delightful duet between Holliday and Lemmon, interspersed with conversation and casually confident piano-playing, one of the finest parts of the film.

judy-holliday-peter-lawford-in-it-should-happen-to-you
Judy Holliday, Peter Lawford

It Should Happen to You was nominated for one Academy Award, Best Costume Design (Black & White). It was well-received by both critics and audiences, and its popularity for classic film fans has grown in recent years with the onslaught of reality shows making the film’s mockery of being famous for being famous seem both prescient and insightful.

This is a movie with all the elements for a great comedy, and it delivers. The script is original and sharp, the performances by Holliday and Lemmon endearing, and the direction by George Cukor once again showing he knows how to bring out the best in both actors and a script. The better scenes are perhaps in the early parts of the film, but it remains charming until the heartfelt end.

8 thoughts on “It Should Happen to You”

  1. This is one of my favorite films. You described it in a simple but informative manner which I admire. It is interesting that this film, which was Jack Lemmon’s first credited film appearance, was one of the last films regulated by Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration. You can read more about the code at my column: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/. Keep writing about these great Code films!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! As much as I recognize how frustrating the Code restrictions were, they also brought out the best in some writers/directors (such as Billy Wilder and Garson), who used wit and intellect rather than crudeness to communicate risque ideas. And I know the studio system was often unfair to those under contract…but you gotta love the results!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Belinda,
        I agree that the studio system was often unfair, although it existed during the best time for movie making. You made an excellent point about Billy Wilder. I am always shocked to see the difference between the brilliant Code films he directed “The Emperor’s Waltz” and “Sabrina” and the extremely risque and controversial post-Code films he made like “Some Like It Hot” and “Irma La Douce.” Perhaps you like these two films. I admire some of the acting and directing in it, but I think that Mr. Wilder and his writer, I. A. L. Diamond were most interested in being shocking and – yes, I will say it – obscene than in making a high quality film. I think the Code kept very creative but evil-minded directors under control. What do you think?

        Tiffany Brannan

        Liked by 1 person

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