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It Should Happen to You

It Should Happen to You
Columbia TriStar
1954 / B&W / 1:85 enhanced for 16:9 & flat full frame / 86 min. / Street Date January 13, 2003 / 24.96
Starring Judy Holliday, Peter Lawford, Jack Lemmon, Michael O'Shea, Vaughn Taylor
Cinematography Charles Lang
Art Direction John Meehan
Film Editor Charles Nelson
Original Music Frederick Hollander
Written by Garson Kanin
Produced by Fred Kohlmar
Directed by George Cukor

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

It Should Happen to You is a fairly sweet Judy Holliday vehicle about a woman who wants fame and buys it by putting her name up on billboards. Faster than you can say 'Angelyne' she gets her wish, and then has to live with its consequences. This lightweight comedy is given a naturalistic feeling by George Cukor, who was still experimenting with (for him) neo-realist themes; a lot of the film is shot on New York locations, and Ms. Holliday is a convincing everyday Jane with a heart of gold.

The film also marks the screen debut of Jack Lemmon, one of the fastest-rising stars of the 50s.


Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) isn't getting anywhere with her dream of seeing her name in lights, so she blows her savings on a billboard with just her name on it over Columbus Circle. This balloons into a series of billboards across town and finally to an agent (Michael O'Shea) arranging public appearances. Gladys has achieved the dubious distinction of being famous without having done anything at all. Now she's being wooed by ad exec Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) for all the wrong reasons, while worthy boyfriend/filmmaker Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) disapproves from the sidelines.

Unpretentious is a good word for this picture - it seems to know its scale and mission and accomplishes it without too much preaching. But it's also somewhat prophetic, foreseeing that the 1950s Madison Avenue culture of hollow celebrity will create a growing hunger for fame in any form. Gladys Glover receives much more than her fifteen minutes' worth for doing absolutely nothing. In this new celebrity - mad society, the name in lights alone is sufficient evidence of success. This egotistical act actually comes from a woman who seems rather meek. She's just following the trends of the time, something screenwriter Garson Kanin seems to understand perfectly. For Gladys, working in the shoe factory back home is oblivion, but fame in the Big Apple is Nirvana.

Society and our culture have been absorbed by this idea so completely that further discussion is unnecessary - our young people all know that the instant gratification route to success is to first seek fame in any form ... the acting, dancing and singing lessons can follow as needed. The tale lets Gladys discover how this hollow 'fame' can be humiliating and meaningless.

The simple story places nice guy Lemmon in the picture to tell Gladys that being a person in the crowd isn't so bad, if one can find a good function in the crowd. Of course, Lemmon's Pete has a creative job that allows him to be the center of attention too. And his filmmaking skills come in handy when he needs to communicate to his starry-eyed girlfriend, who only seems to pay attention to things when they're displayed on a billboard or a movie screen. As a vague 16mm documentarian, Lemmon shows he's perfect movie actor material right from the start.

Slimy Peter Lawford has second billing but plays the comic heel, a sophisticated seducer for Judy's good-girl instincts to react against. Kanin writes material perfectly honed to Holliday's strengths and established persona. She's neither dense nor shrill here, a nice switch, and she's given a clever bit of business to illustrate her intuitive senses at work: She slips off her shoe and sees whether or not her toes curl. They do for Lemmon, but not for Lawford, even when he's got her pinned to the sofa in his bachelor pad.

(spoiler) Of course, nothing's perfect. Gladys rebels when she feels unworthy to represent anything serious like the Air Force, which dedicates an airplane to her. But she's really upset over her breakup with Pete, and we have to wonder if anything would be different if Gladys' boyfriend hadn't disapproved of her ambitions. This will make the wrap-up a bit pat for viewers wanting to pursue the issue further; a quick dissolve and the lovers are singing on their honeymoon, problem gone. The film shifts the 'blame' over to Gladys' agent, the honest promoter she leaves in the lurch. That's show biz.

The light romance features the song Let's Fall in Love; I have no idea if the film introduced it or not.  1 Just about the only commercial drawback one can find with the show is that it isn't in color - the B&W isn't put to any particular use.

Columbia TriStar's It Should Happen to You is given two transfers, with the widescreen 16:9 version looking far better for compositions. The narrow horizontal stripe of text blocks in the opening credits prove that by late 1954, 1:85 widescreen matting of films was already in place. The image looks sharp and is intact, with just some dirt and schmutz on the main title to remind us that no digital cleanup was done. The soundtrack is robust; there are no extras. The arresting cover art adds an exclamation point to the title.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, It Should Happen to You rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 21, 2004


1. A musical correction from 'Neal' 1.28.04: Dear Glenn, Let's Fall in Love was already a standard when it was featured in It Should Happen to You. It was written 20 years earlier as the title song for a minor Columbia musical featuring Ann Sothern and was recorded innumerable times in both ballad and up-tempo arrangements (Nat 'King' Cole's version with Nelson Riddle is particularly stunning.) The lyrics are by Ted Koehler; Harold Arlen wrote the music, and like a lot of Arlen's best work it does indeed sound decades younger and fresher than its copyright date would suggest. When I first became of aware of it in the mid-60s I assumed it was a fairly recent hit. Hope you find this helpful. I really enjoy your column. Best regards, Neal

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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