After two years living and working in New York City, Gladys Glover has almost given up on her dream of making a name for herself. A chance encounter and conversation with documentary film maker Pete Sheppard however lights a spark in her. When she happens to see a billboard for rent, that spark bursts into flame.
Gladys wastes no time spending her savings just to see her name featured in a larger than life size on that billboard. Before you know it, one billboard turns into six and then into television and radio spots. But Pete, who is now her neighbor, doesn’t understand her driving desire for a famous name, particularly when her name doesn’t stand for anything in particular. He believes that a life and name can be meaningful without it being famous. He also sees Gladys’ newfound popularity as a stumbling block to his pursuit of a relationship with her. It doesn’t help that she is also being romanced by a wealthy playboy. But Gladys is having the time of her life, happy to be famous for no particular reason other than having her name plastered all over the city and unconcerned that others are profiting from her name or that they are laughing at her expense.
Will Gladys recognize the importance of having your name stand for something? Who will ultimately win the battle for her heart?
This is my second viewing of It Should Happen to You and I loved it even more than the first. It is full of quirky charm and a still pertinent message about the desire for fame.
Judy Holliday is adorable as the determined but ditzy Gladys. Although her Hollywood career was brief, partially thanks to her early death, there is a reason she is remembered with love and awe. She has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen on screen. She says more with the lift of an eyebrow, the fluttering of her eyelashes, the tic of her facial muscles than most actors say with full lines of dialogue. Just watch her in the scene where she first notices the billboard for rent. An entire inner monologue is written across her face. Or try the scene later in the film where she is watching the personal film message that Pete leaves for her. A wide array of emotions is expressed until she finally realizes how she truly feels about Pete.
She’s simply exceptional, not to mention cute, perplexing and lovable. My favorite thing about her portrayal of Gladys is the simple childlike joy she displays over having her name on a billboard. Her innocence and naivete is charming and yet she also refuses to be persuaded by corporate men who want the use of HER billboard.
It Should Happen to You is also Jack Lemmon’s debut. It is shocking how comfortable and talented he is in his first big screen outing. If you are only familiar with Lemmon’s more recent films in his elder years, then you are in for a nice surprise. In recent years, I have made an effort to see more of his earlier films.
What I’ve discovered is an actor who really deserves all and even more praise than he has received. His talent is so natural. He is equally at home in both comedy and drama. Lemmon has an air of vulnerability and at times awkwardness that comes through every character he plays. Pete Sheppard is no exception. And oh my goodness! He looks incredibly young in this film, but displays such age old wisdom. Although he doesn’t agree with or understand Gladys’ need for fame, he quietly supports and patiently waits for her all while trying to impress upon her that even an average life is full of meaning.
I honestly am not surprised by how much I enjoy It Should Happen to You. Screenwriter Garson Kanin and director George Cukor made many wonderful films together, including some great comedies. I’ve never met a Cukor film I didn’t like and this one is no exception. I also appreciated the underlying message about fame. This is even more applicable in today’s world where people are more concerned about being famous and less so about what they do with that fame.
It Should Happen to You is a film that everybody should watch and everyone can enjoy. It is funny without being corny, serious without being preachy and surprisingly prescient.
Where to watch: Available on DVD and streaming services Apple and Google Play. Occasionally airs on TCM.