A brilliant Judy Holliday performance is the main attraction in this witty, brisk adaptation of Garson Kanin's Broadway success. As a gangster's moll who gradually awakens to her civic responsibility, Holliday expands her dumb-broad persona from her previous film with Cukor, Adam's Rib, into a character who's sweet, memorable and surprisingly tough.
Born Yesterday is a suitable companion piece to Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, a much more self-consciously "important" film that imparts similar messages about political corruption and the responsibility of individuals to require ethical governance. The message is arguably more powerfully imparted here - filtered through the perspective of the selfish, spoiled and barely-literate Ms. Dawn - than in the film focused on Jimmy Stewart's eloquent (and intimidatingly ethical) Mr. Smith, an "everyman" who is vastly morally superior to most audience members.
William Holden is relaxed and charming as the Henry Higgins-ish newspaper man tasked with opening Billie's eyes and Broderick Crawford is suitably broad and menacingly raspy as her corrupt, vulgar boyfriend. However, the movie is all Holliday's from the opening scenes, which play on the audience's lack of familiarity with the actress by presenting her as a refined, statuesque beauty in an extended sequence until, at last, she squawks out her first lines in nearly impenetrable, helium-voiced Brooklynese to hilarious effect.
A richly deserved Best Actress Oscar for the newcomer Holliday, despite formidable competition from grande dames Bette Davis (All About Eve) and Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard).