“The whole reason I came to New York in the first place was to make a name for myself.”
Hoping to “rise above the crowd” in New York, a young woman named Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) rents a billboard for three months and places her name on it, much to the consternation of her new boyfriend (Jack Lemmon). When a businessman (Peter Lawford) hoping to rent the space himself offers Gladys six other billboards in exchange, a “Gladys Glover” phenomenon soon sweeps the city.
Judy Holliday’s third collaboration with director George Cukor and screenwriter Garson Kanin — after Born Yesterday (1950) and The Marrying Kind (1952) — was this modestly enjoyable satire about the follies of instant fame. The premise is years ahead of its time, and won’t feel foreign to a current generation of viewers raised on “reality T.V.”; yet Kanin’s script fails to exploit the situation to its full potential, with gullible public citizens depicted as far too naive, and Holliday’s publicist (Michael O’Shea) presented as simply a money-grubbing shyster. Another concern is that Holliday’s protagonist isn’t particularly likable: while her naive desire to “be somebody” is cute at first, we (like Lemmon) quickly grow weary of her inability to recognize the emptiness of her quest. Speaking of Lemmon, his infatuation with Holliday is equally suspect. Sure, this is a romantic comedy, and we shouldn’t spend too much time analyzing the logic of desire; but Lemmon’s initial inflammatory criticism of Holliday’s actions comes across so strong that we wonder why in the world he remains attracted and committed to her (despite her charms). Meanwhile, Lemmon’s occupation as a documentary filmmaker feels simply like a convenient plot device, one that brings him together with Holliday during their “meet cute” in Central Park, and nicely wraps things up at the end; but how he actually makes a living at this craft is left unexplained. On a more positive note, Cukor effectively utilizes authentic New York locations, and Holliday’s comedic performance is as stellar as always — making this a one-time must-see title.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Judy Holliday as Gladys Glover (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
- Jack Lemmon (in his film debut) as Pete
- Nice use of authentic New York settings
- A clever premise
Yes, simply for Holliday’s iconic performance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.