Jan 21, 2012

It Should Happen To You (1954)

Director: George Cukor
Writer: Garson Kanin
Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Music: Frederick Hollander
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Columbia Pictures; 86 min; color

Judy Holliday (Gladys Glover), Peter Lawford (Evan Adams), Jack Lemmon (Pete Sheppard)

It is a surprise to view It Should Happen To You today, during the glut of so-called "reality TV", where everyone is famous for just being famous.  One doubts that Garson Kanin knew he was writing something so ahead of its time, but years before Warhol's epochal phrase "Everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes", this movie is scarily prescient of an age when someone can be a household name for no other reason than for warbling an off-key cover of "Pink Houses" or hoarding too many old pizza boxes.

Gladys Glover comes to New York with the star in her eyes, so much that she decides to blow a chunk of her savings to rent billboard space with nothing but her name on it. (Angelyne, whose real-life rise to dubious fame was also due to self-promotion on billboards, must have taken notes.)  Her celebrity status however arrives indirectly. An ad company, desiring the prime location where Gladys innocently promotes herself, attempts to buy the billboard back from her, and even has their salesman Evan Adams attempt to woo the star-struck gal. After all of these plans fail, she however agrees to let the company in turn buy her ad space on numerous, but smaller, billboards throughout the city. In a delightful moment (that echoes the 40s pictures of Preston Sturges in theme, and in how the frame of the single-take scene is cluttered with eccentric characters), Gladys nonchalantly shops in a department store, only to be asked for autographs by clerks and customers alike, merely because one of her eponymous billboards is across the street! This dubious rise to fame irks the noble filmmaker Pete Sheppard, who lives down the hall in her building. Because he makes documentaries (watch how everyone in a 1954 movie gets tongue-tied on that word), he represents "truth", and thereby sees the lies and exploitation behind what is perceived as showbiz glamour. 

It Should Happen To You also presages another interesting cousin: Budd Schulberg's script for A Face In The Crowd. In their separate ways, both films satirize one unlikely person's rise to fame in the media... merely for being themselves.  Crowd's antagonist, hayseed Lonesome Rhodes however becomes a sensation for telling it like it is, whereas Gladys Glover becomes a media darling precisely because, well, she's so darn human. Her unfortunate wooden delivery, echoing the wide-eyed vulnerability of a deer in view of headlights, and her ignorance of the real world, are precisely what endear her to the public. Whereas Rhodes exploits his fame and becomes a monster, in this film the monster is truly the fame that woos and unknowingly exploits Gladys.

Because this movie is a vehicle for Judy Holliday (in a role originally written with Danny Kaye in mind!), of course it couldn't be as bitter a satire as A Face In the Crowd.  In her fourth and final collaboration with Garson Kanin and George Cukor, the multi-talented actress is completely winning as Gladys Glover.  In the climactic scenes where Gladys appears on several television shows, Holliday masterfully plays her down, to expose all of the character's insecurities. Although Gladys is ignorant of the harsh realities behind the curtains of celebrity and advertising, Judy Holliday portrays her as anything but the stereotypical 50's "dumb blonde". Gladys Glover may be sweetly naive, and her ascension to fame is through a series of happy accidents, but she however still is tough enough to survive a world with lecherous males who attempt to seduce with their wallets. Kanin's screenplay is wise, and often has some genuine belly laughs, however still manages to be bubbly and light. George Cukor's direction is often in uncomplicated setups- gently allowing this film just to happen. This film is also noteworthy for the debut of Jack Lemmon- and he's already patented his fidgety patter. He makes Pete Sheppard the first of his many everyman roles who sees the truth that no one else wants to- and comes to rescue Gladys, even when she is at first unaware she needs salvation.

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