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Theatre / Born Yesterday

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"A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in."
Paul Verral

A 1946 play by Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday is best known for its 1950 film version directed by George Cukor. The play and film starred Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar as Best Actress for the film version. Her big screen co-stars were Broderick Crawford and William Holden. Another film version was made in 1993, starring Melanie Griffith, John Goodman and Don Johnson; it was not well-received.

The story concerns Harry Brock, an unscrupulous tycoon who wants even more money. He decides to buy the favors of a few congressmen to help further his schemes. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Billie is completely lacking in social skills; to remedy this, he hires journalist Paul Verral to give her an education. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't count on her realizing just what kind of man he is.

This work features examples of:

  • Adaptational Name Change: The 1993 film changes Jim Devery's name to Ed Devery.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the original play and 1950 film, Harry is noted to be a ruthless gangster who's gone as far as having people killed in order to get his way. In the 1993 film, he's merely a very scrupulous businessman who engages in extensive bribery to get what he wants. There's no mention of him ever ordering someone's death; the worst he threatens is to ruin Paul's career as a journalist. But once it becomes clear he can't buy Paul's silence, he quickly realizes he's run out of defenses.
  • Amoral Attorney: Jim Devery, who serves as Harry's legal Dragon. Apparently he had the chance to be deputy Attorney General and describes Oliver Wendell Holmes as a personal god, and it becomes increasingly clear that he's regretting his choice.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Harry wants to make Billie smarter so that she doesn't embarrass him in Washington society. Turns out she learns fast.
  • Catchphrase: Harry frequently yells "Do what I'm tellin' ya!" whenever someone balks at his orders. Billie impersonates him to get his muscle to open the door after strongarming Harry into leaving her and Paul alone.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the 1993 film, Billie talks during a radio interview about how she was a thespian in Vegas, and demonstrates her ability to memorize key phrases in order. This comes in handy when Paul gives her a list of eight sentences that will make her a hit at parties in Washington, and is able to get her to use each of them by discreetly raising a number of fingers.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Harry.
  • Corrupt Politician: Congressman Hedges, the one Harry is there to buy off. Billie tries to get him back on the straight and narrow by reminding him of his obligations to his actual constituents, who number over 300,000.
  • Daddy's Girl: Billie used to be close to her hard-working single father until she got together with Harry. Her father wouldn't accept the monetary gifts she tried to give him and they stopped speaking for eight years, but she writes him again (and he writes back) after she begins her studies with Paul.
  • Domestic Abuse: Harry hits Billie after she starts questioning the ethics of his business deals and refuses to sign. Earlier in the film there are signs that this probably isn't the first time (mostly in her behavior when he's angry) and Harry isn't above shoving Jim around either.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Jim is usually drinking because he's sold his self-respect to work for a crook like Harry.
  • Dumb Blonde: What Billie is initially. It doesn't bother her at all until Paul shows up:
    "I'm stupid and I like it."
  • Gone Horribly Right: Jim's idea to have Billie take legal possession of Harry's assets to hide them from the government. In the end, she refuses to give them back and uses them as leverage so that he'll leave her and Paul alone.
  • Genius Ditz: She may never have read a newspaper, but no one beats Billie at gin rummy.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Inverted. Billie initially doesn't wear them because she doesn't think they look good, but she starts to when she begins to read avidly under Paul's tutelage.
  • Hidden Depths: Billie quickly takes to learning and proves to be very sharp once she's given the opportunity and motivation.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Harry finding Billie's behavior embarrassing, when he's hardly a model of intelligence and good manners.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Paul.
  • Karma Houdini: Harry is a ruthless gangster who's had people killed, but his only comeuppance is that Billie leaves him and he can't retaliate.
  • Malaproper: Both Billie and Harry at different points.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Billie starts to share her books with the maid and talks about them with her.
  • No Indoor Voice: Harry shouts practically all of his dialogue.
  • No Badass to His Valet: Jim is much smarter than Harry, which Billie points out late in the movie. It seems to flip a switch in him, and he barely lifts a finger to help his boss when Billie and Paul start to sabotage his deal.
  • Oh, Crap!: After Billie insists on reading over the contracts before signing, Harry walks into the room and doesn't say anything. This makes Billie extremely nervous, and rightly so.
  • Pretty in Mink: Billie commenting on how a mink coat was one of the few things she ever wanted.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Billie is rather crass but becomes more educated and cultured with Paul's help. Because of this she realizes that Harry is a terrible person and eventually gets with Paul.
  • Rags to Riches: Billie grew up poor, raised by a single dad with several brothers. But her dad refused to take her money because she got it by being Harry's moll.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Harry is the epitome of this.
  • Self-Made Man: Harry's view of himself. While it's true in that he worked hard, what he worked hard at was being a thug and a criminal.
  • Simpleton Voice: Judy Holliday, who possessed a genius-level IQ in Real Life, intentionally invoked this trope to play Billie Dawn.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Billie enters looking haughty and elegant, daintily following the attendant around until Harry asks her opinion from across the courtyard. And she replies "WHAAAAT?" in an amazingly loud, harsh, New York accent.