Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train, 1951, Warner Bros. Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. B&W, 101 minutes.

Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is on his way home when he meets a stranger on his train, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Bruno is eerily charming, and Guy quickly realizes he isn’t in his right mind. Despite his attempts to find another seat on the crowded train, Guy’s stuck talking to Bruno.

Bruno knows Guy is in an unhappy marriage, and he shares his own frustrations about his father. Then he moves on to discuss an idea that reveals him as the psychopath he is. Bruno will kill Guy’s wife, and in return, Guy will murder Bruno’s father. Criss cross, Bruno says.

Guy brushes him off and forgets the encounter. His mind is quickly occupied by his wife Miriam’s (Laura Elliott) refusal to grant him a divorce. Miriam coarsely tells him she won’t let any man dump her, especially for another woman, in this case Anne Morton. Anne’s father is an U.S. Senator, and Guy is looking to a career in politics.

But Bruno was serious about what he saw as an agreement, and Miriam is soon dead. Guy is left in a psychological trap by his nemesis, and events catapult to the climactic final scenes.

Robert Walker, Laura Elliot in Strangers on a Train
Robert Walker, Laura Elliott

Granger wrote in his autobiography that after Hitchcock offered him his role, he surprised the actor by suggesting Walker for the part of Bruno. Up to that time Walker had been best known for his boy-next-door roles and alcoholic decline.

After an initial night of binge drinking and the subsequent blurry morning after on the set, Walker proved to be a professional, turning out a phenomenol, career-making performance. Sadly, he died after self-medicating with alcohol and drugs for a panic attack a month or so after the film was released.

The film was based on the popular novel of the same name, and Hitchcock searched long and hard for a screenwriter for the project. He initially hired Raymond Chandler, but their personalities and writing styles clashed to a point where Hitchcock fired the famed writer. Eventually the bulk of the writing was done by Czenzi Ormonde and two other women, although Chandler still got the writing credit.

Robert Walker, Ruth Roman in Strangers on a Train
Robert Walker, Ruth Roman

Strangers on a Train was nominated for one Academy award, Best Cinematography. Hitchcock later was dismissive of the film, stating he was unhappy with the ending. Regardless, the movie remains popular with audiences and critics alike, and regularly inspires movies and television shows with the “criss-cross” theme, including the last episode of the television drama Law & Order to star Jerry Orbach.

Despite Hitchcock’s lack of regard for Strangers on a Train, it is a film with many of the elements that made him a master. The innocent or naïve leading character played against a creepy individual, the unexpected backdrop (in this case an amusement park) and the chilling finale.

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Pillow Talk

Doris Day, Rock Hudson share a party line in "Pillow Talk."

Pillow Talk, 1959, Universal International. Starring Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall. Directed by Michael Gordon. Technicolor, 102 minutes.

Jan Morrow (Doris Day), a proper and dignified interior designer, and Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), a womanizing songwriter, share both a telephone party line and and an antagonistic relationship. Both have frequent need of the phone line for their varying interests, and the two clash on a regular basis.

Jan complains to the phone company to no avail. Brad is fed up with her interference in his dalliances. Both take their grievances to the one person they unknowingly have in common, Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall). He’s in love with Jan and best friends with Brad, although the two have never met, save for their feisty phone conversations.

One night Brad realizes the woman seated at a nearby table is his nemesis Jan, who’s warding off a handsy college boy. He suavely comes to her rescue, but hides his real identity, pretending instead to be rancher Rex Stetson. Jan soon finds herself falling for the humble gentleman she in finds Rex, and at the same time, discussing her new flame with Brad.

Doris Day, Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk
Doris Day, Rock Hudson

This was the first pairing of Day and Hudson, who went on to make two more films together, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. Both of those also featured Tony Randall, who was an integral part of the success of the films.

Pillow Talk won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for four others, including Best Actress (Day) and Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter). It also received three Golden Globe nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor (Randall).

Rock Hudson, Tony Randall in Pillow Talk
Rock Hudson, Tony Randall

Day later said in her autobiography, “I particularly liked [the script] because the humor came from situation and characterization rather than from jokes [making it] very sophisticated comedy. She also noted her immediate rapport with Hudson, saying “we played our scenes together as if we had once lived them.”

As innocent as the story is now, Pillow Talk was considered racy fare for films at that time. Some of the frisky behavior portrayed was offset by Jan’s chaste demeanor. Still, while audiences believed Day was playing a virgin, she did not think so. “I was a businesswoman. I don’t think I was a virgin. I went off to the country with him and I probably would have succumbed. Except I figured out he was a phony and ran away.”

Pillow Talk remains tremendously fun and charming, in part because of the script and perhaps more importantly because of Day’s and Hudson’s appealing performances. It is a film that has stood the test of time in hearty fashion.

 

Angel Face (1953)

Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons in Angel Face

Angel Face, 1953, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons. Directed by Otto Preminger. B&W, 91 minutes.

An emergency call late one night brings ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) to the Treymaine mansion, where the worst seems to be over for the lady of the home. On his way out of the home, Frank chances on young Diane Treymaine (Jean Simmons) solemnly playing the piano, her eyes distant.

Diane surprises Frank later by following him to a diner, where, despite his involvement with a co-worker, Mary (Mona Freeman), he agrees to take Diane out for the evening. The two enjoy dinner and dancing together, while Mary sits at home with the meal she prepared for herself and Frank.

Diane quickly entrenches herself in Frank’s life, hiring him as the family chauffeur and making moves for a romantic relationship. He’s wary, and attempts to stop both the job and the woman when Diane does what he suspected she was thinking of doing: kills her stepmother. What she didn’t know when she tampered with the car was her beloved father would catch a last-minute ride with his wife and die on the same rocky slope.

Diane and Frank are brought to trial for murder, and events are set in motion for Frank to make a full escape — or not.

Robert Mitchum in Angel Face
Robert Mitchum

A plot clearly inspired by — if not directly lifted from — The Postman Always Rings Twice, this movie still works. Mitchum is his usual laconic self, and whether or not his laid-back demeanor is a strength or fault in the story is up for debate. His acting is in stark contrast to the wildly dramatic story. It’s hard to believe any man wouldn’t be more shaken by events and more emotional in his response. However, that was Mitchum’s signature style, and it was what audiences wanted.

RKO Pictures was headed by Howard Hughes at that point, and his obsessive control wreaked havoc with the entire studio, Simmons, angry over Hughes’ insistence at deciding her hairstyles, cut her hair short, allegedy with a pair of shears. The studio quickly designed wigs replicating her luxuriously thick, dark locks.

That erratic, impulsive behavior was reflected, albeit more intensely, in the character of Diane Treymaine. Simmons played it at just the right level, clear enough for audiences to see her evil, yet making it evident why Frank Jessup was so taken by her.

Jean Simmons, Barbara O'Neil in Angel Face
Jean Simmons, Barbara O”Neil

The film received only lukewarm reviews at the time of its release, such as this from the critic at The New York Times:  “Angel Face, yesterday’s new melodrama at the Mayfair, is an exasperating blend of genuine talent, occasional perceptiveness and turgid psychological claptrap that enhances neither RKO, which should know better, nor the participants.”

Today it is more highly regarded by critics and audiences alike. Despite its similarity to earlier movies, it is a compelling story, expertly directed by Otto Preminger. The story may be familiar, but the movie still is fresh.

People Will Talk (1951)

People Will Talk, 1951, 20th Century Fox. Starring Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Hume Cronyn. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. B&W, 110 minutes.

A movie best enjoyed when you understand the politics of the time, People Will Talk is a meandering film with a fine cast. There are multiple story lines competing for attention, all with serious social implications.

Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) is a practicing physician who teaches at the local university. Held in high esteem by colleagues and students alike, his sometimes eccentric behavior has caught the attention of small-minded Professor Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn). Determined to strip Dr. Praetorius of his medical license, Elwell begins an investigation. Included on his list of concerns is the doctor’s odd and quiet friend, Mr. Shunderson (Finley Currie).

A visitor, Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain), joins the doctor’s class one day, ostensibly to observe why he’s so popular. Several minutes into his lecture, she faints, and Dr. Praetorius switches from professor to physician. Soon both learn she is pregnant, an unwelcome situation for Deborah. The father, she reveals in confidence, is a man she barely knew, and she certainly wasn’t married to him. In despair, she shoots herself, but suffers few injuries. Shortly thereafter she runs away from the hospital and returns home to her father, Arthur (Sidney Blackmer).

The doctor’s further attempts to help her change the course of their lives, while Professor Elwell continues to seek reason to end the career of his nemesis.

Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain in People Will Talk
Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain

People Will Talk takes on such issues as unwanted pregnancy, injustice in the legal system and most importantly, the McCarthy investigations of alleged communists. While these situations are all handily resolved for the characters in this film, the message is clear: many are judged harshly for their misfortune (not to call a baby a misfortune), and pay severe consequences for society’s narrow thinking.

Whether intended or not (and it appears it was not), today the movie most often provokes discussion of the boundaries between physician and patient. Should the doctor take such a personal concern in the fate of a young woman because he is sympathetic to her situation? Other moral issues arise when it is revealed he previously practiced medicine without letting his patients know he had a medical degree, because they were suspicious of modern medicine.

Cary Grant, Hume Cronyn in People Will Talk
Cary Grant, Hume Cronyn

This was Joseph Mankiewicz’ first film after the enormously successful All About Eve, which came close on the heels of A Letter to Three Wives. Those films were edgier, focusing on the relationships between women, particularly where men are involved. People Will Talk has a different feel to it. It is more somber and complex, requiring deeper insight in understanding the motivation of the characters.

The film received no Academy Award nominations, but it is not the splashy Hollywood production Mankiewicz’ previous films — or at least the two most recent — had been. Nor is it as compelling. Still, it raises important questions.

Cary Grant, Sidney Blackmer in People Will Talk
Cary Grant, Sidney Blackmer

Grant plays a somewhat different sort of character than what he is best known for, and he does it well. Crain is perfectly cast as the distraught young woman who grows into a change of station in her life. The supporting cast is strong, particularly the performance of Cronyn, who plays a most unlikeable character with panache.

If you enjoyed Mankeiwicz’ earlier films and are looking for the same from People Will Talk, you will be disappointed. If you expect a low-key film that shamelessly takes on a plethora of social ills, you’ll find this to be an enjoyable and thoughtful story.

Love in the Afternoon

Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon

Love in the Afternoon, 1957, Allied Artists Picture Corporation. Starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier. Directed by Billy Wilder. B&W, 130 minutes.

Ariane Chavasse (Audrey Hepburn), a young Parisian woman living with her private investigator father, Claude (Maurice Chevalier), overhears one of her father’s clients plan to kill the man who has been meeting his wife for afternoon liaisons. Pictures of the soon-to-be victim, Frank Flanagan (Gary Cooper), intrigue young Ariane, who sets out to rescue him.

She maneuvers her way through hotel rooms and balconies into Frank’s room, where, indeed, he is with the wife of Claude’s client. With some quick thinking and further deception, Ariane and Frank convince the gun-wielding husband his wife is not in the room (and at this point she is not). While doing so, they share a kiss, and sparks begin to fly.

But Flanagan is a known womanizer, and Ariane is an innocent. When Claude realizes what is happening, he is both alarmed and saddened by his daughter’s interest in the philandering Frank, and does what he can to stop them. The heart will have what it wants, however. Ariane proceeds with her plans to seduce Flanagan. For his part, Frank Flanagan is soon captivated by the young woman in a manner new to him, and despite her inexperience, Ariane plays her cards well.

Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn

When asked about the age difference between the stars (Cooper was 56, Hepburn was 27, and the nearly 30 years was noticeable — and notable), director Wilder said, “He’s Gary Cooper. He could get any woman he wanted.” As with many of his films, Wilder originally wanted Cary Grant, who declined the part. Grant was 53. Wilder then considered Yul Brenner, planning to model the character after Aly Khan, at the time the husband of Rita Hayworth.

The film was well received by critics, with The New York Times gushing, “The pedestal on which the reputation of Ernst Lubitsch has been sitting all these years will have to be relocated slightly to make room for another one. On this one we’ll set Billy Wilder. Reason: Love in the Afternoon.”

The critic goes on to point out the story has no moral, which is true enough. As romantic as the ending may be, it takes a great leap of faith to believe in it and not cry out after Hepburn, “don’t do it, you fool!” Some credibility comes from the way the story is told, rolling out in such a way to show Flanagan evolving away from his carefree attitude toward romance.

Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn

Love in the Afternoon was less appealing to audiences of the time, even in Europe, where several scenes were cut. In France, the name of the film was changed to Ariane, as the original title was considered too provocative. In an effort to placate audiences concerned about the morality of the story, there is a voice-over from Chevalier in the end assuring everyone the two are now happily married.

If anything, it is the class and charm of the stars that make this movie worth watching, for the story itself leans to the déclassé and tawdry. Chevalier plays the loving and concerned father with grace and compassion, Cooper is, of course, Gary Cooper, and Hepburn is a young girl in love, naïve and hopeful.

The script, by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (their first of many collaborations), is inventive, playing on both the sexual nature of the story and the innocence of new romance. If the tale is considered in the way intended, it is a passably charming one, but there are credibility issues to overcome, and a greater suspension of disbelief to allow for in accepting a happy ending.

How to Marry a Millionaire

Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall star in How to Marry a Millionaire

How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953, 20th Century Fox. Starring Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, William Powell. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Color, 95 minutes.

Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), recently divorced, has joined with fellow models Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) and Pola DeBevoise (Marilyn Monroe) to lease a high-class apartment for a year. Schatze, perhaps more than the others, is determined to bait and catch a millionaire, not the “gas station jockies” she typically falls for.

The situation is looking bleak when J. D. Hanley (William Powell), a widower of indisputable wealth, begins courting Schatze. While she’s genuinely fond of the older gentleman, she’s also being pursued by charming Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) a man she’s quite certain is too poor to be considered.

In the meantime, good-natured Loco finds herself falling for a man she believes to be  well off, but in fact, is merely a park ranger. Pola, who can’t see a foot in front of herself without her glasses,  literally bumps into the man of her dreams, someone with an odd connection to all three women.

How the women resolve what they’re seeking with what they’re finding is as fun and classy as the film’s three stars.

Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall - How to Marry a Millionaire
Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall

 

This was the second to the last film Powell made before retiring from films in 1955. True to form, he plays the debonair millionaire with grace and ease, acknowledging through his character he is no longer the star he had been twenty years earlier.

Bacall later recalled Monroe’s reliance on others for reassurance and her somewhat annoying tendency to demand take after take when she was insecure about her performance. Still, Bacall said both she and Grable liked Monroe and sought to build her trust.

Filming began only a few months after Bacall gave birth to her second child, and the production schedule required her and husband Humphrey Bogart to be apart for the first time in their eight-year marriage. However, she recognized the importance of How to Marry a Millionaire to her career, and both accepted the distance between them during filming.

William Powell, Lauren Bacall in How to Marry a Millionaire
William Powell, Lauren Bacall

This was one of the first films shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process owned by 20th Century Fox. Bacall recalled that filming required a number of changes to the usual production routine, such as placing actors further apart on the set to fill up the screen and filming an additional five or six pages of script with each scene. She found the latter to be more like stage work, something she appreciated.

How to Marry a Millionaire is light fare done well, with three stars who share the screen — and their scenes together — in a compatible manner, none dominating the others. Monroe’s sexuality is downplayed but evident, Grable’s effervescence is contagious, and Bacall is pitch perfect as the take-charge Schatze who’s upended by her own desires.

Marilyn Monroe, David Wayne in How to Marry a Millionaire
Marilyn Monroe, David Wayne

The Marrying Kind

Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray in The Marrying Kind

The Marrying Kind, 1952, Columbia Pictures. Starring Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray. Directed by George Cukor. B&W, 92 minutes.

Down on their luck and ready to go their separate ways, Florence “Florrie” (Judy Holliday) and Chet (Aldo Ray) Keefer stand before a judge (Madge Kennedy), asking for a decree of divorce. The judge, however, hoping the couple can remember what first brought them together, asks them to recount the story of their marriage.

What follows is an account of both gentle comedy and deep tragedy as the two struggle through the telling of this tale.

Aldo Ray, Judy Holliday star in The Marrying Kind
Aldo Ray, Judy Holliday

Written by the husband and wife team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, the story is complex and at times confusing. It’s difficult to discern the message, if any, about the role of women in marriage; the film doesn’t entirely present a stereotypical 1950’s way of thinking, yet in the end seems to fall back on just that.

Kanin later said that writing with his wife was difficult, as the two rarely saw eye-to-eye in how the story should be told. While their collaboration was effective in previous ventures, such as Adam’s Rib, it perhaps was best they made this their final joint effort.

Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray star in The Marrying Kind
Judy Holliday, Aldo Ray

That’s not to say The Marrying Kind isn’t worth watching. It is. Judy Holliday plays a character distinctly different from her earlier roles in Born Yesterday and others, in which she perfected the not-so-dumb blonde character. Florrie is capable and opinionated, yet also subject to the demands of her husband, which she gives in to out of love, not fear.

Chet, for his part, shows signs of both ingenuity and complacency, a man who could do more yet is easily discouraged by setbacks big and small.

Judy Holliday in The Marrying Kind
Judy Holliday

The Marrying Kind was Aldo Ray’s film debut. Director Cukor later said of the actor, “He was a natural sort of actor with enormous individuality.” Ray went on to have moderate success in film and later television, although he never achieved what had been predicted for him at the start of his career.

While distinctly dated in some of its elements, there are timeless truths about marriage and family revealed between Florrie and Chet. Watch for a piercing question or two from their daughter, a character who makes a brief yet poignant appearance in the film.

The Marrying Kind is not a great film, but it is a good one, and worth the watch, particularly for those interested in the role of women in films of the era.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney in Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1950, 20th Century Fox. Starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney. Directed by Otto Preminger. B&W, 95 minutes.

A good cop with a bad temper, Detective Mark Dixon’s (Dana Andrews) habit of roughing up the questionable characters he encounters on the streets of New York City is wearing thin with his superiors. He’s just been demoted, and he’s not very happy when he encounters Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), a gangster and gambler, in the middle of a fight between two other men.

In the course of the investigation, Dixon finds one of the two men, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) nursing his wounds in his nearby apartment. In the resulting confrontation, Dixon accidentally kills Paine, who, it turns out, had a plate in his head that made him particularly vulnerable to the kind of blow that would only knock another man out for the moment.

In a panic, Dixon tries to pin the murder on Scalise, but his evidence points to another man instead, a cab driver named Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully). Taylor is the father of Paine’s wife, Morgan (Gene Tierney), and Dixon finds himself falling for her, making his deception that much more difficult to deal with.

Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews in Where the Sidewalk Ends
Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews

This was the fifth and final pairing of Andrews and Tierney in a film, the most successful being Laura, and this movie suffers a bit in comparison to that iconic story. It is, however, a strong story in its own right, with deft direction by Preminger and the moodiness and stark details that make up the best of film noir.

The role of Morgan was, perhaps, more suited to Gene Tierney’s talents than the lead in Laura. She is both strong and vulnerable here, without trying to be anything more than the woman Morgan is, one who wants a better man and a better life.

Andrews was an accomplished actor, yet even among his other notable roles this part stands out. Mark Dixon is complex and conflicted, sharp on the one hand, yet blind to at least some of his own shortcomings. Director Preminger later called him one of his favorite actors to work with.

Dana Andrews, Gary Merrill, Karl Malden in Where the Sidewalk Ends
Dana Andrews, Gary Merrill, Karl Malden

The film was shot entirely in New York City, with some location work in Times Square and other key areas around the city. Preminger’s attitude toward police officers, which he had expressed in an earlier interview, is clearly laid out in Where the Sidewalk Ends. “A cop is basically a criminal,” he told the reporter. “When they become cops, they satisfy an instinct for violence, only it’s legalized violence.” No doubt many would beg to differ, but that attitude colored the director’s work.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is how one imagines film noir should be, with edgy characters in a dark setting. The dialogue is sharp and to the point; the characters are neither all good nor all bad, and the photography and music contribute to the overall melodramatic feel of the story. Its opening sequence sets the mood, which is held to the very end, an ending with a glimmer of hope overshadowed by a stark reality.

A Place in the Sun

Montgomery Clift Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun, 1951, Paramount Pictures. Starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters. Directed by George Stevens. B&W, 122 minutes.

The poor relation of one of the town’s wealthiest families, George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) is put to work in his uncle’s factory with the strict admonition not to date any of his co-workers. Eastman is in the odd position of being a working class member of local society, while at the same time, the boss’s nephew.

With no regard for company rules, he takes up with one of the women from the factory, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Alice is naïve about men and the ways of high society, not believing it’s possible for George to be an Eastman without sharing in the privileges that come with the name.

During a brief visit with his uncle at the palatial Eastman estate, George meets the stunning and vivacious Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), and is drawn to this young woman from the upper echelons of society. Yet he knows his own humble standing forces him to stay virtually hidden from sight.

Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun
Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift

Months later, his work at the factory impresses his uncle, who, as a reward,  invites him to a prestigious party with the wealthy and stylish members of local society. There, George meets up with Angela once again, and this time, she takes charge and leads them into romance.

Alice is jealous, even though she doesn’t yet know the full truth about George and Angela. What’s more, she’s pregnant. While she expects George to marry her, he is reluctant. He is torn between his obligations to a young woman he is nominally interested in, and the passion he feels for another.

Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun.png
Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor

Based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, the story was inspired by the real-life 1906 trial of Chester Gillette, who was convicted of the murder of a co-worker, Grace Brown. The two had been sexually involved, but when Brown became pregnant, Gillette left her for a wealthy socialite.

Reviews at the time of the release of A Place in the Sun were effusive with their praise. Life magazine’s film critic wrote: “Directed by George Stevens for Paramount, it gives three young actors the chance to give the most natural performances of their careers. Montgomery Clift as the confused, likable, rather stupid social climber; Shelley Winters as the dowdy working girl; Elizabeth Taylor as the dazzling rich girl.”

During filming, Taylor, a mere 17 years old, was said to be infatuated with the then 30-year-old Clift. While romance was not in the cards for them (Clift was gay, although he did become involved with at least one woman), the two began a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Director Stevens played on their intense emotions, resulting in powerful scenes of smouldering sexuality.

Shelley Winters, Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun
Shelley Winters, Montgomery Clift

Shelley Winters worked hard for her role as Alice, changing her appearance from her signature “blonde bombshell” look to that of a dowdy, lonely girl. Her work in the film won her a nomination for Best Actress, which she lost to Vivien Leigh for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The film won six Academy Awards: Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black &White; Best Costume Design, Black & White; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score; and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Montgomery Clift, and, as mentioned above, Best Actress for Shelley Winters.

The late Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies and noted film historian, called A Place in the Sun “the quintessential drama,” one of the best films of the era. While some of the dramatic elements are weakened with time, the story holds up as a gripping tale of the power of greed, passion and perilous young love.

Born Yesterday

William Holden, Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday

Born Yesterday, 1950, Columbia Pictures. Starring Judy Holliday, William Holden, Broderick Crawford. Directed by George Cukor. B&W, 102 minutes.

Brassy Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday) is the girlfriend of boorish junk dealer Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), who has taken her with him to Washington, D.C., where he hopes to influence various Senators in a bid to strengthen his business. Brock is convinced Billie’s unrefined ways will harm his efforts, and he hires newsman Paul Verrall (William Holden) to teach her culture and improve her image.

Brock is ignoring his own shortcomings, however, while Billie becomes increasingly aware of them. His belittling manner toward her doesn’t go unnoticed by Verrall, who is falling for Billie. What Verrall doesn’t yet know is how important she is to Brock, not because of love so much as financial interest, for most of Brock’s holdings are in Billie’s name.

Larry Oliver, Barbara Brown, Broderick Crawford, Jim Devery, Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday
Larry Oliver, Barbara Brown, Broderick Crawford, Jim Devery, Judy Holliday

The film was based on the popular play by Garson Kanin, which also starred Holliday in its Broadway run. The film’s producers were reluctant to use her in their production, and first considered a number of other actresses. The turning point in their decision to cast Holliday apparently was her performance in Adam’s Rib, also co-written by Kanin. Katharine Hepburn, star of that film, made sure Holliday’s scenes were essentially a screen test for Born Yesterday.

Holliday won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. While she did a wonderful job with the role, it was not of the calibre of other nominees, in particular, Bette Davis for All About Eve. Davis was expected by many to win the award, but Anne Baxter, whose role in that film was a supporting, not lead, actress part, was also nominated for Best Actress. Many believe fans of the movie split their vote between the two actresses, costing Davis the award. Gloria Swanson was also nominated (for Sunset Boulevard), and while her performance was more award-worthy than Holliday’s, the dark nature of the film may have worked against her.

William Holden, Judy Holliday star in Born Yesterday
William Holden, Judy Holliday

In addition to Holliday’s award, the film was nominated for four other Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing — Screenplay, and Best Costume Design, Black & White. It lost all four to All About Eve.

It is difficult at times to watch Brock’s violent treatment of Billie, and it can be uncomfortable watching Billie awkwardly try to fit in when she clearly does not. Those latter scenes were played for comedy, but don’t always work as intended. What does make this movie worth watching are the scenes between Holliday and Holden; they are sweet and poignant, and pivotal to the change in Billie.

Born Yesterday is a good film, and one with a strong presence in popular culture. It, sadly, remains relevant today in its portrayal of an abused young woman, but her growing strength and awareness of her own worth makes it worth the watch.