Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Born Yesterday (1950)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Born Yesterday (1950)

In George Cukor's comedy - one of the greatest of all-time, based upon Garson Kanin's 1946 play, and remade as Born Yesterday (1993) with Melanie Griffith, John Goodman, and Don Johnson:

  • in the opening sequence, all three of the major characters were introduced during an elaborate arrival scene at Washington DC's Hotel Statler:
    • corrupt, disreputable and uncouth, ignorant, and crooked millionaire junkyard (scrap-iron) tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford)
    • his unrefined, expensively-dressed (with multiple fur coats) "dumb blonde" ex-chorus girl mistress/fiancee (a 'kept woman' for seven years) from Brooklyn named Emma "Billie" Dawn (Judy Holliday, a Best Actress Oscar winner in a major upset)
    • and influential, DC political journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden)
  • Paul was stunned by their lengthy entourage and amount of luggage; Verrall was unsuccessful in speaking to Brock as he entered the hotel's private elevator; the group (with the over-accommodating leadership of the hotel's concierge (Grandon Rhodes)) was escorted to an upper-floor, reserved "entire wing" of three suites of rooms "usually reserved for foreign diplomats" - costing $400/day
  • the first instance of hearing Billie's screeching, shrill, unabashedly vulgar, stupid-sounding (Betty Boop-like) voice - occurred after loud-mouthed meat-head Brock shouted at her from one wing of the hotel to another - she responded with a thick-accented, brassy: "WHAT?!"
  • in one of the film's most famous scenes, Billie played a gin rummy game against Harry and always won ("Gin!")
  • in consultation with his Washington lawyer Jim Devery (Howard St. John), Brock was seriously contemplating setting up an educational tutor to refine Billie's harsh social graces, so that he wouldn't be embarrassed by her behavior in front of congressmen and other influential people
  • Brock hired Paul Verrall as Billie's tutor for $200/week - to refine Billie and make her more socially respectable and happy: ("Show her the ropes, sorta, and kinda explain things to her"), while he was working bribes and trying to influence politicians; Paul was particularly interested in trying to expose Brock's nefarious business dealings while working with Billie
  • (It was revealed during the story that Brock had unethically been using the unwitting Billie as an accomplice for his many business maneuverings and illegalities by having his empire of junkyards registered in her name - so he wouldn't be held responsible if prosecuted)
  • Paul explained his mission to Billie, who at first thought he was a gigolo until he specified: "He'd just like me to put you wise to a few things, show you the ropes, answer any questions"; she admitted, however, that she was mostly satisfied and happy ("He thinks I'm too stupid, huh?...He's right. I'm stupid, and I like it....I'm happy. I got everything I want. Two mink coats. Everything. There's somethin' I want, I ask. If he don't act friendly, I don't act friendly....So, as long as I know how to get what I want, that's all I wanna know" - but there was one thing she did request: "I'd like to learn how to talk good")
  • to illustrate her ignorance, Billie was unaware of the difference between a peninsula and penicillin, but with increased intelligence after her lessons with Paul about proper diction, she began to correct Brock - i.e., Harry Brock: "Shut up! You ain't gonna be tellin' nobody nothin' pretty soon!" Billie Dawn: "DOUBLE NEGATIVE! Right?" Paul: "Right!"
  • Paul provided civic-lessons to Billie through field trip/tours around Washington DC's monuments and public buildings, while they shared ice-cream bars and she stated: "It's interesting how many interesting things a person could learn if they read"; he became amused when she put on her glasses and admitted that she was "practically blind" (he had to correct her misplaced adverb: "I'm blind, practically"); after he summarized for her the meaning of his own obtuse article about American democracy: "The Yellowing Democratic Manifesto" in just a simple sentence, she exclaimed: "That's this?...Well, why didn't you say so?"; over time, Billie began to develop social consciousness and a true understanding of democracy, as well as an understanding of Brock's corruption, greed, power and personal arrogance
  • there was a burgeoning romance that slowly developed between Billie and bachelor Paul, after he kissed her in an elevator: (Billie: "What are ya doin'?" Paul: "If you don't know, I must be doing it wrong")
  • in the climactic scene, the newly-independent, free-thinking Billie realized that she needed to escape from Brock forever, when he was becoming more aggressively abusive, and repeatedly calling her 'dumb': "I feel like I wanna go away!...I just know I hate my life. There's a better cut. I know it. And if you'd read some of these books, you'd know it too. Maybe it's right what you say: I'm still dumb. But I know one thing I never knew before. There's a better kind of life than the one I got. Or you!...You eat terrible! You got no manners! Takin' your shoes off all the time, that's another thing, and pickin' your teeth. You're just not couth!...You don't own me. Nobody can own anybody. There's a law that says"; when he shouted at her to "Beat it!" and mercilessly slapped her - she called him a "Big Fascist!"
  • Billie retorted to Harry: "Would you do me a favor, Harry?...Drop dead!"
  • finally, she stood up to Brock, and laid down an ultimatum. She affirmed that she would no longer sign any of his business papers in his scheme to form a scrap-iron cartel, and she threatened to leave him: ("When you steal from the government, you steal from yourself, ya dumb ox!") - she decided to slowly relinquish his 126 different properties back to him that she legally owned (he had signed them over to her to hide them from the government), but only one by one: "In this whole thing, I guess you forgot about me - about how I'm a partner....So here's how it's gonna be. I don't want 'em. I don't want anything of yours or to do with you, so I'm gonna sign 'em over ...only not all at once. Just one at a time. One a year. Only you gotta behave! 'Cause if you don't, I could let go on everything! For what you've done, even since I've known you, I bet you could be put in jail for about 900 years. You'd be a pretty old man when you got out"
  • meanwhile, the two lovers Paul and Billie were married; the film's final lines were spoken to a motorcycle cop who asked for their license, but the officer was given their recent marriage license; he chuckled: "License please. No, not this license" - but then quickly forgave their crime: "Okay, forget it. My wedding present. But take it easy, or you'll never make it"; Billie spoke about her recent marriage to Paul: "Oh, don't worry, we'll make it. It's a clear case of predestination." Officer: "Pre--- what?" Billie: "Look it up!"

Opening Sequence:
Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday) Screeching - "What?!"

Billie to Brock: "Gin!"

Billie's Civic Lesson DC Tours with Paul

Paul and Billie Kissing in Elevator

Ultimatums to Brock: "Drop dead"

Billie to Motorcycle Cop:
"Look it up!"


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