“What sort of work would I do?”
“It would be sort of general work — nothing specific, but you would be in charge of it.”
Although she had had a decent part in the 1944 film Winged Victory, it was not until 1950 that Judy Holliday made her mark in Hollywood. Having starred in the Broadway play “Born Yesterday” for three years, Columbia reluctantly starred her in the filmed version after their first choices (Rita Hayworth, Gloria Grahame, Evelyn Keyes, and others) failed to work out. Holliday promptly showed why the play had been such a success by walking away with 1950’s Oscar for Best Actress. Columbia then signed her to a seven year contract and she made five films there, all comedies, including The Marrying Kind, It Should Happen to You, Phffft!, Full of Life, and The Solid Gold Cadillac. The latter was a 1956 release that offered another of Holliday’s trademark shrewd dumb-blonde roles. It was one of Columbia’s more successful films of that year. Now Columbia has made it the third of Holliday’s films to appear on DVD.
The CEO of International Projects Ltd., Edward McIver, is resigning to take up a defense post in Washington and in his absence, the board plans to assume complete control and line their own pockets at the same time. Their first hurdle is Miss Laura Partridge, who owns ten shares in the company and attends the latest stockholders’ meeting, where she asks embarrassing questions about salaries and costs. As time passes and Laura continues to be a thorn in their sides, the board decides to offer her a job as the company’s Director of Shareholder Affairs — a position that has no real duties. She’s supposed to deal with any mail that arrives from the small shareholders, but of course none ever does. This approach begins to backfire when Laura starts to write to all the small shareholders herself and cultivate their favour. The board’s second hurdle is McIver himself, who seems completely unwilling to grant any government contracts to his old company.
In order to get Laura out of their hair and also deal with McIver, the board sends Laura to Washington to lobby McIver on the company’s behalf. Laura agrees, but only because she wants to convince McIver to return to the company and get rid of the corrupt board. This she manages to do, but the pair also fall in love and this looks likely to compromise their efforts to rid the company of corruption.
The Solid Gold Cadillac is one of those enchanting comedies that Hollywood used to be able to turn out without even trying — an amusing premise, endearing characters, sharp dialogue, brisk direction, and all wrapped up in less than an hour and three-quarters. Of course, it helped that there was a wealth of comedic acting talent around in those days to draw upon. In this instance, it was Judy Holliday who delivered the goods. Those of you who have seen Born Yesterday will know what to expect from Ms. Holliday, but those who haven’t might think of the Jean Hagen character in Singin’ in the Rain without the abrasiveness.
Judy Holliday had the seemingly dumb-blonde role down to a science in the 1950s, but it was the innate intelligence that her dumb-blonde characters possessed that made all the difference. Key also was the fact that they never played second fiddle to the male lead. Columbia ensured this by casting lesser stars in such roles. Thus we got the likes of Broderick Crawford (despite his Best Actor Oscar for All the King’s Men) in Born Yesterday and Paul Douglas in The Solid Gold Cadillac — both solid enough counterparts to Holliday’s characters, but never threats to steal her spotlight. Audiences seemed to identify with her characters, perhaps seeing a blend of their own strengths and weaknesses, and hopes and desires, in them. Miss Laura Partridge is someone we’d all like to think worked for a large company, someone looking after our interests first before those of faceless major stockholding entities.
Facing off against Judy Holliday’s Miss Partridge is a formidable group of Hollywood character actors playing the company’s chief officers. They are delightful in their corrupt sliminess while all the time we know they’ll ultimately be unsuccessful. How do we know? Well, we’ve seen them all so often cast in such roles and they’ve rarely been successful before, so why should they be now? The pleasure is in seeing how they’re brought down, not the fact that they are. The guilty group includes Fred Clark, John Williams, and Ray Collins, with Clark probably taking the prize for being the most weasel-like of the lot. Also contributing substantially is some wry narration by George Burns that punctuates the film at regular intervals.
What’s the significance of the title? Well, I won’t spoil it by saying, but make sure you don’t watch this one too late at night and end up nodding off just before the conclusion.
Columbia has delivered a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of the film that is generally a pleasure to watch. Lately, Columbia has been doing a nice job with their black and white classics on the whole (except of course when they shoot themselves in the foot by inexplicably giving us a full frame effort for what should be a widescreen film — such as for the forthcoming Ship of Fools). The Solid Gold Cadillac delivers a nicely detailed grayscale framed by solid blacks and clean whites. There are some speckles and the inevitable scratch or two, but the overall result is very positive, with virtually undetectable edge effects and excellent contrast. The mono sound is quite adequate for the dialogue-driven film. Supplements consist of the film’s theatrical trailer and three other trailers for Born Yesterday, Cactus Flower, and His Girl Friday.
The Solid Gold Cadillac is solid comedy entertainment, and for those who have never seen Judy Holliday in action, a pretty representative introduction to the sort of character she played and the level of enjoyment her films delivered. A fine effort on the disc transfer makes this film an easy one to recommend even though it’s a typically spartan Columbia package.
Thanks to Columbia’s belated realization that they have a total of six of Holliday’s films in their vaults, The Solid Gold Cadillac is now the third to be made available (the previous releases were Born Yesterday [an early DVD release] and The Marrying Kind [a very recent one]), with another forthcoming in January (It Should Happen to You). All are commended to you.