Saturday, July 09, 2005

It Should Happen to You

Glover, Gladys Glover: Judy Holliday

Bogdanovich didn't disappoint. If anything he seems a little hemmed in by the format, keeping him from telling one story after another, each tidbit and personality quirk reminding him of another conversation he had with a classic filmmaker, who in this case was George Cukor. But it was a 1961 conversation with Jack Lemmon that proved most interesting. Lemmon believed that the studio ruined the box office for It Should Happen to You with its bland name. Originally titled A Name for Herself, Lemmon felt that had a unique ring - something to set it apart from the vague title it was ultimately awarded.

It's a shame that it didn't get wider recognition. A charming picture balanced with equal parts technical sophistication, intellectual heft (yes), and aw shucks screwball comedy, It Should Happen to You bears Cukor's upbeat style and his trademark escapism. If you're a dead-to-rights realist, you may as well forget this picture, but if you can appreciate the whimsical nature of certain Woody Allen films, namely The Purple Rose of Cairo combined with maybe Crimes and Misdemeanors, then this might be the picture for you.

There are some interesting elements that set it apart from other, more notable Cukor pictures and it's almost transparent why Bogdanovich selected it. It has a traditional, Horatio Alger in sensible shoes story arc but it has pleasant, sophisticated flourishes that keep adding depth to what seems like a facile story about a poor girl making good after being down on her luck.

Dealing with issues of individuality versus collectivity during the mid-fifties (the film was released in 1954) likely also raised some eyebrows, but as Gladys Glover strives for fame, her counterpart, the levelheaded Pete Sheppard, a documentary director who "discovers" Gladys wandering Central Park as she feeds the pigeons. As they walk together, Gladys notices an empty billboard and has a mind to rent it, publicizing herself like an urban Kilroy. Looking backward, Bogdanovich noted the Warholian and McLuhanesque implications of such a plot; as Gladys ascends and gains notoriety, she encounters unanticipated dangers, many of which would outlast, or more likely, ruin her fame.

Reading the film forward, the mention of Mark Twain during Gladys' first television appearance proves more interesting, particularly because Twain had such a keen imagination, spurred by his maturation during the great invention age of the late 19th C America. These sorts of insights into celebrity, combined with Lemmon as the humble filmmaker toiling in obscurity, focused on reality and truth (although he never says it aloud), make an interesting and underdeveloped subplot. As we see Gladys become an advertising agency icon, we catch snippets of Pete filming a film within a film, preparing a sort of debriefing for Gladys so she might reclaim her identity, and so that he might reveal his feelings for her.

A prismatic film about identity, celebrity and reality, It Should Happen to You prefigures insta-celebrity as delicately as possible, and is certainly more memorable than its title suggests.


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