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Getting London to pose in a state of emergency entailed special permission from a dozen sources, from the War Office to the man in the street. The police held up traffic innumerable times all over town; for a single high shot of an empty Piccadilly Circus, they sealed off eight confluent streets for two hours. Railroad officials cleared out several sections of Waterloo Station for days. "When we called for a string of cars or a locomotive," says Producer Roy Boulting, "they brought them up as quickly as if they were fetching a cup of tea." London's willing cooperation, and the Boultings' clear idea of just what they wanted, resulted in something more than an exciting thriller. In Manhattan last week, civil defense planners attended advance screenings of Seven Days to pick up some pointers on how to evacuate a metropolis under the threat of an atomic bomb.
Born Yesterday (Columbia), Garson Kanin's 1946 stage hit, ran for almost four years on Broadway. After paying $1,000,000 for the movie rights, Cinemogul Harry Cohn spent two years trying to cast it, wound up with the perfect choice for its dumb blonde heroine: Judy Holliday, who created the role on the stage. Thanks largely to Actress Holliday's hilarious performance, the movie deserves to repeat the play's success.
Straining Hollywood bounds to the limit, Scripter Albert Mannheimer sticks surprisingly close to Kanin's comic account of a gum-chewing doxy's political awakening and her rebellion against the tough junk tycoon (Broderick Crawford) who has come to Washington to buy a piece of the U.S. Congress. The script makes it plain that empty-headed Billie Dawn is not only Junkman Harry Brock's mistress but his chattel, and it savors the flavor of their relationship. The movie also preserves Playwright Kanin's message (that ordinary U.S. citizens cannot be pushed around).
In most other ways, the picture falls short of the play. It is too long and too sedentary. A rather arbitrary attempt to loosen up the camera by accompanying Heroine Holliday on her Washington sightseeing not only looks like a travelogue, but is scored to sound like one. Director George Cukor's timing permits some good lines to be swallowed up in audience laughter. Because the movie has filled the play's major time lapse with continuous action, it loses some contrast between the heroine's blissful innocence and her half-educated social consciousness. Worst of all, the shadings that Paul Douglas put into the character of the boorish tycoon on Broadway are absent in Actor Crawford's bellowing performance.
Fortunately, Actress Holliday's mincing strut, Minnie Mouselike voice and low-down genteelisms provide a delightful show of their own. William Holden is earnestly ingratiating as the writer who teaches her the facts of political life. For all its shortcomings, Born Yesterday boasts some merits that are hard to find on the screen, especially in combination. It has something to say, says it palatably on an adult level and with a keen sense of fun.