Born Yesterday (1993): Poor Remake of Cukor’s Classic with Miscast Melanie Griffith

Disney’s remake of Garson Kanin’s famous 1946 play, Born Yesterday, adapted to an Oscar winning film in 1950, is a major disappointment.

Everything about George Cukor’s 1950 version is superior. That comedy provided Judy Holliday with her best-known role, for which she won a well-deserved Oscar in a year of tough competition (Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson were also nominated that year).

I am not a big fan of the original movie. Despite its status as a Hollywood classic, it is not one of Cukor’s best; Holiday and The Philadelphia Story are much better. More to the point, even in 1950 Kanin’s story was dated and his characters mechanical.

Will audiences in 1993 believe in this Pygmalion-like story: A Las Vegas bimbo getting education and telling off her billionaire lover–and everybody else–in Washington D.C.

Watching the new film, I was at least relieved that Melanie Griffith, the new Billie Dawn, was not attempting an imitation of Holliday. Griffith’s “funky little girl voice” was used effectively as a tease in Body Double, Something Wild, and especially Working Girl. But here, her monotonous delivery and semi-spunky routines are tiresome. Moreover, there is not much chemistry among the three leads, least of all between Griffith and John Goodman, as the tough and corrupt billionaire.

In the 1950 production, Broderick Crawford is tougher than Goodman, but when he punches Holliday in the face it is painful for both of them. In contrast, Goodman punches Griffith like a policeman and they don’t generate any erotic tension. Don Johnson is stuck with the thankless role that William Holden played: the sympathetic journalist who instructs Griffith–and falls in love with her.

Researching the movie for my biography of George Cukor, I learned that Columbia encountered insurmountable difficulties in passing the scrutiny of the Production Code. It’s hard to believe, but the censors found the following dialogue offensive: “You know what a senator is to me A guy who makes a hundred and fifty bucks a week.” Or, “who wants to see her in the daytime.”

The Cukor movie at least has a hilarious opening, if also talky middle, and propaganda-preaching finale, including a lesson in democracy. And it features long takes that are most impressive, particularly the long silent sequence of the gin rummy game, which is completely butchered in the Disney movie. Regrettably, the new version has the vices of the original and none of its virtues.