Blu-ray Review: Born Yesterday (1950) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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It has already been more than 20 years since Garson Kanin’s stage play Born Yesterday was remade as a lackluster vehicle for Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. But go back another 40-plus years and you’ll find the George Cukor-directed original. Younger viewers with the increasingly common affliction of “older movie bias,” take note: the 1950 version hasn’t lost a bit of incisive edge. As an examination of male chauvinism and the empowering properties of improving one’s education, Born Yesterday remains a vital piece of work. It has arrived on Bu-ray via specialty label Twilight Time as a limited edition (only 3,000 total copies issued).

Judy Holliday famously won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the unknowingly intelligent, ever-repressed Billie Dawn. Forever engaged to the perpetually angry, domineering businessman Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), Billie believes herself to be completely content playing “dumb blonde” while enjoying the spoils of a luxurious, rich lifestyle. That is, until she meets the intellectually-probing journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden). Paul has been hired by Harry to “learn” Billie some etiquette. Harry has the nerve to be embarrassed by his fiancĂ©’s lack of sophistication, though he’s got nothing to be proud of in that department either. While Billie studies with Paul, Harry and his lawyer Jim Devery (Howard St. John) manage to unwittingly muck up their finances as they try to hide Harry’s dirty business dealings.

Born Yesterday cover (215x280).jpgThe political maneuvering that serves as a backdrop to the character study is at least as timely in 2014 as it was in 1950. Visiting Washington D.C. for business purposes, Harry wants to buy off congressmen and in turn influence voters for his own financial gain. But if the idea of a political-based comedy is enough to scare you off, rest easy. The relationships remain the focal point of Born Yesterday. In fact, though often referred to as a comedy, the film is far more serious-minded than that genre categorization would imply. Harry’s behavior is downright despicable, extending beyond psychological abuse into physical as well. Many male viewers, no matter how tempted they may be to simply laugh it off, may find themselves confronted by attitudes similar to their own. Harry’s abuse rings true over 60 years later, no matter how chaste we may believe Hollywood product from that era to generally be.

Joseph Walker’s black-and-white cinematography is done proud by this 1080p transfer. Granted, the film’s stagebound roots don’t allow for any exciting visuals. But the images are crisp and clear and the source print was obviously clean. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix is also generally unadventurous, an approach predetermined not only by the era in which the film was produced by also by the subject matter. There’s a lot of a dialogue in Born Yesterday, but it’s all rendered intelligibly and without distortion in this lossless presentation.

As for supplements, don’t expect much. A hallmark of Twilight Time’s Blu-ray releases, the score (by Frederick Hollander) is presented as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Another regular feature of TT titles, film historian Julie Kirgo contributes a new essay for the booklet. There’s also a pair of theatrical trailers. For ordering information, while supplies last, visit Screen Archives, the official distributor of Twilight Time.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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