Thursday, 25 June 2015

The "...And Scene!" Blogathon: The Gin Rummy Scene from "Born Yesterday" (1950)

George Cukor's Born Yesterday (1950) follows a newspaper reporter as he takes on the task of educating a crooked bussinessman's brassy girlfriend. The crooked businessman, Harry Brock, is played by Broderick Crawford, who received the Oscar for Best Actor for All the King's Men (1949) just before he started working on Born Yesterday. He is a crude, menacing, nefarious self-made man who goes to Washington D.C. looking to "influence" a politician or two. The brassy girlfriend, Billie Dawn, is played by Judy Holliday, reprising the role she originated on Broadway in the play written by Garson Kanin. After Billie's ignorance and lack of manners embarrass Harry during a meeting with a congressman, he hires Paul Verrall (William Holden) to be her tutor. She eventually learns not just about U.S. History and Literature, but also about self-respect and love. In the end, Billie turns out to be much smarter than anybody knew.

Billie prepares the drinks
Exactly 32 minutes into Born Yesterday, Harry and Billie start to get ready for a game of gin rummy. He deals the cards, while she walks over to the mini-bar to prepare drinks for the both of them. She returns to the table, puts out her cigarette, fixes up her hair, then her bracelets, tears a page from her little notebook, scrunches it into a ball, throws it into the ashtray, fixes her hair again, and then shuffles and reshuffles her cards before she is finally ready to play. Harry is obviously annoyed by all of this, but she pays absolutely no attention to him. They remain silent during this first game, with Billie rearranging her hand after each play. "Gin!" she calls after three plays. Harry counts his points. "41," he says. "41?" Billie asks. "41!" he exasperately confirms. Billie writes the points down in her little notebook, takes a sip of her drink and deals the cards for the next game, while Harry lights a cigarette, only to extinguish it a few seconds later. 

"You gotta learn to fit in."
The second game begins. "If you pay attention, that Verrall guy can do you some good," Harry advises. "All right," Billie says, concentrated on the game. "You're in the big league now, and I want you should watch your step," he goes on. "All right," she says, still focusing on the game. "You gotta learn to fit in. Can't have you around if you don't, and that's no bull. Have to be careful of what you do and what you say," Harry continues. "Three!" Billie suddenly calls. Harry, amazed that she won again, counts his points. "28," he says. "28?" she asks. "28!" he angrily confirms. Billie writes the number down in her book and adds the points, using her fingers to help her count. "You could use a little education yourself, if you ask me," she remarks, before taking another sip of her drink. "Who asked ya?" Harry questions. "Nobody," she says. "So shut up!" he harshly responds. Billie hisses at him and she is so exasperated that she has some difficulty dealing the cards for the next game.

"Gee, I like to see you lookin' swell, ba-a-by..."
"Can't I talk?" she whines, after dealing the cards. "Go on. Play your cards," he says. Billie looks hurt, but she quickly recovers. "It's a free country," she points out. "That's what you think," Harry says. As the game begins, Billie enthusiastically starts humming the song "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby," which makes Harry extremely annoyed. "DO YOU MIND?" he shouts. "Gin," she immediately calls, unaffected by his explosive behavior. Harry counts his points. "34," he says. "34?" she asks. "34!" he furiously confirms. "Schneider!" Billie happily says after adding up all the points. "Where do you get that Schneid?" Harry asks in disbelief, looking at her notebook. "Fifty-five dollars and sixty cents," she says with a big smile. "All right, that's enough," he says, getting up from the table. 

"Sore loser!"
"Pay me now!" she demands. "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" Harry says, while walking over the mini-bar to fix himself another drink. "Sore loser!" she teases. "Shut up!" he shouts. "Fifty-five dollars and sixty cents," Billie repeats, as she starts dealing a hand of solitaire. Harry walks towards her and slams the money on the table. "Thanks," she says, looking up at him, before turning back to her game. "You gonna play like that all night?" Harry asks. "What?" she inattentively responds, concentrated on her cards. Harry turns around to leave the room. "Hurt your eyes," he says, but she is so engrossed in the game that she pays no attention to him. He then walks up the stairs, leaving Billie alone in room playing solitaire and humming "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby."

...And scene!

I absolutely love this scene. No matter how many times I watch it and I must have watched hundreds of times by now it never ceases to amaze me. It is seven minutes and fifty seconds of pure cinematic gold. The greatest thing about it is that, even though Harry and Billie barely speak a word, the scene is the perfect way not only to describe their relationship, but also to show that she is not the ignorant showgirl everyone thinks she is. Columbia initally hired Rita Hayworth to play Billie Dawn, but I am so glad they ultimately chose Judy Holliday for the part. I don't think this scene (or the film) would have been half as good with Hayworth as Billie.

A fun bit of trivia: Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford extended their gin rummy scene in Born Yesterday to their off-screen relationship. Afraid of flying, Holliday insisted on taking the train to Washington D.C. for location shooting, while the rest of the cast went by plane. Columbia chief Harry Cohn did not want his leading lady to travel alone, so he ordered Broderick Crawford to join her. The last thing he wanted was to spend four days in a cramped train, but after a long discussion with Cohn, he finally agreed to do it. During the trip, Holliday and Crawford spend their time by talking and playing gin rummy for money. When they arrived in Washington, she had won $600 from him, along with his lifelong friendship.

This post is my contribution to The "...And Scene!" Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid. To view all entries, click HERE.

Judy Holliday by Will Holtzman (1982) | TCMDb (Articles)


  1. It is the most wonderful scene. I'll be humming "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" all day! Lovely to hear about the bonding of Judy and Brod.

  2. What a wonderful scene, and now I like it even more. Thank you! I love the idea of Holliday playing it on the train too. You're right. I like how perfectly it shows the character's intelligence, but also makes clear that she probably wouldn't think of this as smarts--to her, she's probably just good at the game. And his irritability (and her reaction to it) say so much about their history.

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  5. I have seen this scene. It's my one of the favourite scene,I like the way the potrayed that characters.actually I recall this scene yesterday while I was playing online rummy.

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