Thursday, January 25, 2007

Every day’s a Holliday

Ah, Judy, Judy, Judy—how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  Better still, let me count the movie performances…sadly, there weren’t that many in a career tragically cut short by Holliday’s passing from breast cancer in 1965.  There is, of course, her Oscar-winning performance as “dumb blonde” Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday (1950); her “comeback” role (after being smeared by those HUAC weasels) as underdog Laura Partridge in The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956); her final silver screen turn in the 1960 Bells are Ringing (a part she had played on stage in 1957, winning a Tony).  I guesstimate that there are only a few Holliday movies I’ve yet to see; the major one being Full of Life (1956) but also the brief appearances in vehicles like Greenwich Village (1944), Something for the Boys (1944) and Winged Victory (1944).

Back in May of last year, Deep Discount DVD had a sale on some of their Columbia titles—which allowed me to score copies of Cadillac, It Should Happen to You (1954) and The Marrying Kind (1952) for $5.98 a pop.  This past weekend, I programmed Happen as part of my Midnight Movie Marathon and while the movie may not captivate me as it once did, it’s still fun, breezy entertainment.  In this one, Judy plays Gladys Glover, a model who’s just lost her job, whose chance meeting with aspiring documentary filmmaker (Jack Lemmon, in his first credited screen appearance) gives her an idea to rent a billboard with her name on it in New York City’s Columbus Circle..  A soap company is stymied by Gladys’ advertising coup (they had wanted the billboard to hawk their own product), and the son (Peter Lawford) of the company’s president tries to romance Gladys into giving up her space.  Gladys soon becomes a cause célèbre in the Big Apple; her moniker plastered on various billboards and her “career” handled by agent Brod Clinton (Michael O’Shea).

I like Happen because the subject matter still rings true today—how a person with absolutely no talent can still be a celebrity and public figure (the prime example being…well, their first name is a city in France and last a hotel chain) and how society feeds off the exploitation.  Holiday is great—the scene where she confronts the board members of the soap company (who clearly have their own agenda in mind) is sort of a blueprint for Solid Gold Cadillac—and her chemistry with Lemmon is first-rate (the two were paired again for another film released the same year, Phfft).  The film benefits from the input of Born Yesterday director George Cukor and scribe Garson Kanin, and there are lots of fun character actor cameos in this one as well: Jack Kruschen, Mort Mills, Cora Witherspoon and Frank Nelson (playing—what else?—a department store floorwalker).

Personally, I enjoyed the second Judy romp, The Marrying Kind, more: once again, it re-teamed Holliday, Cukor and Kanin (and wife Ruth Gordon) in a seriocomic tale about a married couple (Judy and newcomer Aldo Ray) seeking a divorce who, upon reflection, realize that their life together has had a lot of bumps along the old matrimonial road…but a lot of bright spots as well.  Kind is a real rarity in that it presents a warts-and-all view of marriage (it’s very similar to the later Two for the Road) and while there’s a lot of broad comedy in the film there are some real heartbreaking dramatic moments as well.  I’ve mentioned this before, but author-historian Danny Peary has argued in his book Alternate Oscars that Holliday’s performance in Kind is even better than that in Born Yesterday…and I have to say I agree with him; Judy’s role of Florence “Florrie” Keefer rises above the farcical aspects of Yesterday’s Billie Dawn and becomes a three-dimensional human being who you can’t help but root for.  Ray is able to keep up with Holliday despite the difficulties of his character (a man filled with too much stubborn pride to realize that money and financial standing shouldn’t dictate whether or not a marriage is working) and there are also nice turns from the supporting actors, including longtime TDOY fave Mickey Shaughnessy as Ray’s butcher brother-in-law (he has a great scene in his shop in which he lectures Ray on the realities of marriage).  Lots of familiar character and soon-to-be star faces populate this one, too:  Charles Bronson, Peggy Cass, Frank Ferguson, Nancy Kulp and an unmistakable voice cameo from Harry Von Zell.

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