Classic Film Guide

It Should Happen to You (1954) - full review!

Directed by George Cukor (My Fair Lady (1964)), with a story & screenplay by three time Oscar nominated writer Garson Kanin, this above average comedy stars the uniquely talented Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday (1950)), Peter Lawford, and Jack Lemmon in his screen debut (showing signs of his "outburst ability" for which he'd become famous)! It also earned Jean Louis (The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956)) one of his many Best (B&W) Costume Design Oscar nominations. In today's "celebrity culture", where it seems everyone is striving to find their (claim to &) "15 minutes of fame", this film's surprisingly up-to-date plot touches on the costs associated with achieving it. Because it's a comedy, not a drama, and because it was produced at a time when "feel good" Hollywood endings were the norm, if not a requirement, it's "cop out" ending is one of the film's few failings. Plus, I'm pretty sure this film would not have worked very well at all without Ms. Holliday and the "quirky, innocent, naive, seemingly dizzy yet fairly smart & proud" quality that she brought to her too few roles.

Gladys Glover (Holliday) has just lost her job when she meets documentary film-maker Pete Sheppard (Lemmon) in Central Park, New York City. She's from a small town in upstate New York and is feeling pretty down about her two year stint where she failed to make an impression on anyone. Sheppard, who's still not entirely comfortable with the environment either, even after living there 12 years, commiserates with Gladys and actually makes her feel better - he's said something that makes an impression with her. After they've gone their separate ways, Gladys sits and removes her shoes, which helps her to think, while she takes in her surroundings. Her eyes fall upon an empty billboard and she imagines her name, in various configurations, upon it. She makes note of the advertising agency who's renting the sign and the next thing you know she's bought a three month contract, spending $630 of her $1,000 nest egg, to have "Gladys Glover" in 6 foot letters on Columbus Circle. Vaughn Taylor plays the man who sells it to her.

Once the sign is correctly installed, Gladys sits and admires it before returning to her apartment and finding Pete sitting on the front steps. They're glad to see each other and apparently he's rented the apartment down the hall from hers. Connie Gilchrist plays their landlord. She tries to point out the sign to him, partially visible from her apartment window, but he doesn't see it. She urges him to go to the square where they'd first met and look around, and they make a date for later in the week. Meanwhile, Evan Adams III (Lawford) has discovered that his ad agency has already rented the sign on Columbus Circle, which is always used for his soap company's summer campaign. So, they call Gladys in assuming they can buy it back from her for the 2 ½ months remaining on her contract by reimbursing her and adding a $500 profit (the recognizable Whit Bissell plays one of the ad executives). They learn otherwise. Even though the rich, attractive Evan wines and dines Gladys, and takes her dancing at a fancy place where she sees half a dozen or more famous people, he is unable to make a deal for her sign until he offers to put her name on several other signs throughout the city.

Pete is upset with Gladys "celebrity obsession", which is exacerbated when they go shopping at Macy's (Frank Nelson & Cora Witherspoon, uncredited are salespersons), across from one of her new signs, and is mobbed by autograph seekers once they learn her name. Though they had been developing a relationship of sorts, Pete is getting fed up and lectures Gladys that her name should mean, or stand for something. However, the signs have attracted the attention of TV commentator Brod Clinton (Michael O'Shea), whose "on air" insults of her prompt a call by Gladys which leads to him working as her agent, for a percentage of course, in exploitation. What happens next has become commonplace today. She appears on a series of television shows including a "Dear Abby" like program with Constance Bennett, Ilka Chase, and Wendy Barrie appearing as themselves alongside Dr. Manning (Melville Cooper). Additionally, Evan's soap company promotes her as the American girl to sell their products.

*** SPOILERS ***

Eventually, Gladys tires of the whole affair and she comes to the realization that Pete's lecture was sage advice when a pseudo military outfit wants to name their airplane after her. Gladys returns to her apartment to find that Pete has moved out, of his apartment and her life, and has left a "goodbye" documentary for her to view. In it, Pete details the loss of her soul and his inability to compete for her affections with the likes of Evan (even though he doesn't know that she's spurned his advances). Inevitably, this leads Gladys out of her haze and she decides to "go back to" Pete, who accepts her back (all too) willingly, of course.

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