PYGMALION/’38 meets MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON in Garson Kanin’s winning play about an unlikely conscience awakening in politically corrupt D.C. Add in lead couple ‘Junk’ metal tycoon Broderick Crawford & chorine Judy Holliday (lifted from Wallace Beery & Jean Harlow in DINNER AT EIGHT/’33) and a square reporter/instructor hired to wise-up the floozy . . . only to do the job too well. 3½ years on B’way, originally with Judy Holliday playing against Paul Douglas & Gary Merrill. Opened up to reasonable effect, with Frank Capra notes of patriotic pride in some city tours, director George Cukor got Kanin to come in (no fee/no credit) to fix the adaptation. It’s all well thought out; tidy; swell; and yet the film, for all its pleasures, never delivers the character frisson that bumped the play up to classic status. Holliday, looking like Harpo Marx’s sister when things start, hits her marks too strongly at first, though soon warms up with miraculously funny vocal pointing. William Holden, in the Merrill spot, the complete team-player, smoothly charming & able to tame Kanin’s occasional speechifying. The real problem is Crawford, awarded the role fresh off his ALL THE KING’S MEN Oscar®, he’s too brusque & realistic, all menacing instead of half-bluster (and ultimately sad).* It works well anyway, but could have been wonderful.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Six years on, Kanin directed a tv version to give Paul Douglas his shot at the role.
DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, DINNER AT EIGHT, also directed by Cukor, with Harlow & Beery, prototypes for Holliday & Crawford. A BORN remake with Melanie Griffith & John Goodman (plus Don Johnson) went nowhere in 1993. But if you went just around the corner to the next theater, you might have seen much better casting in Holly Hunter & Gary Busey doing support in THE FIRM/’93. They're perfect! Of course, you have to watch THE FIRM to see it.