52 Before 62 — #9 Holiday (1938)

Holiday poster.jpgDirected by George Cukor

Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman, from the play of the same name by Phillip Barry

Starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Henry Kolker, Edward Everett Horton and Henry Daniell

Hollywood loves a remake.  Just last year we had A Star is Born, which remade a 1974 film, which itself remade a 1954 film, which itself remade a 1937 film, and which itself basically remade another film, What Price Hollywood? (1932).[1]  If there’s one thing we all know from Hollywood, it’s there’s no profitable idea they won’t try to wring a few more dollars out of if given half a chance.

What’s rare, though, is for Hollywood to remake films quickly.  Yes, there may be wholesale reboots of things in the Marvel universe every time we turn around – I think we’re on out third or fourth iteration of the Spiderman universe in the last 20 years – but flat-out remakes take some time.  After all, with A Star is Born, there were basically two decades before each new go round, a policy still sort-of followed today, with things like Judge Dredd and Robocop taking 20 or 30 years to come around again.[2]

What makes the original Star is Born unique is it basically remade a movie that was just five years old.  Or, this seems unique, until you realize that back in those days they made three different versions of The Maltese Falcon in 10 years, first with The Maltese Falcon (1931), then Satan Met A Lady (1936), and finally with The Maltese Falcon (1941).  And none of these were original ideas either, as all were adaptations of the same novel.

What does this have to do with Holiday?  Specifically, that Holiday takes its origins from a 1928 play of the same name, which itself was previously filmed in 1930.[3]  Which I suppose leads to my one, overarching point, which is in Hollywood, there are no original ideas.  And there probably never were.

What’s It About?

After a whirlwind romance in Lake Placid, Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) and Johnny Case (Cary Grant) are to be married.  Except, there is some worry that the freer-thinking Case won’t be accepted by Seton’s monied, and very traditional, father (Henry Koller).  But, because Case is a self-made man and doing well in business, papa Seton comes around on the boy.  Only, things go haywire when Case reveals he only wants to do well-enough in business to be able to quit and take a lifelong holiday, which quite conflicts with Julia and her father’s philosophy of making money for its own sake.  Of course, Case’s rejection of money as the point of life is right in line with the thinking of Julia’s sister, Linda (Katherine Hepburn), who falls in love with Case.  Late in the game, case realizes he loves her, too.

Image result for lew ayres holiday

(L-R) Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres

How Was It?

On the whole, Holiday is above average, but only just.  The direction is unfussy, and un-intrusive, which is a nice way of saying it was plain and added nothing.  The theme of the abrasion of modernity and tradition is stated outright on more than a few occasions, and there is no dispute as to what everybody’s agenda is.  In other words, it’s straightforward and has no interest in challenging the audience to find some deeper meaning.  What’s a bit unique about it, though, is the movie has practically no score.  This wasn’t overly-noticeable, or obtrusive, but when you see a lot of films, and a lot of films like to use music to transition from one place to another, or to underscore emotional moments, to have a movie eschew that tends to stand out.

Obviously, the draw here is to see another go round of Grant/Hepburn dynamic, which plays out as expected.  As always, they have a palpable chemistry, and a good rhythm, and it wouldn’t be hard to watch a movie which was just an hour or so of the two of them trading barbs without even the thinnest pretense of plot – they’re just that engaging.  Moreover, they seem like a couple that just likes to have fun together, the kind of couple that likes to poke fun at one another, but also likes to have fun poked at them, without either of them being precious about it.  In other words, they are believable in finding the joy in one another, even if that occasionally means being the butt of somebody’s joke.  Obviously, it helps when they have good dialog to work with – if you want to turn a phrase, you need a phrase to turn.  And good dialog in the mouth of somebody who knows how to speak it is a thing of beauty.

Cary Grant’s character, Johnny Case, was an interesting creation.  Unlike your typical movie free-spirit, who is constantly trying to live outside the bonds of normal society, Grant plays a man who is very much interested in working from the inside out.  Sure, he disdains business and the naked pursuit of money for money’s sake as being hollow, but he understands that in order to survive long-term you have to play the game a little while to get to your ultimate goal.  That was an unusual turn.

The other unusual facet to Grant’s character is, though he is charming and witty, there is a certain amount of confrontation to him.  Yes, it’s lacquered over with Grant’s charisma, but only just.  For instance, when one of the other characters in the movie is introduced to him, they offer the usual platitudes of, “We’ve heard such nice things about you.”  But rather than take it with a smile and accept these as the hollow words they truly are, Grant doubles down on and asks, “From who?”  It’s a small moment, and the way he leaves the others dumbfounded by his directness, is not exactly revolutionary.  But, in the type of film where glad-handing and back-slapping are the usual way of it, that he did something different, and has a different edge than we’re used to, was refreshing.

Lew Ayres is probably best known to people as the star of the Best Picture winner All Quiet on the Western Front, the classic anti-war film that ended with the iconic shot of a hand reaching out for a butterfly.  There he plays a young soldier, initially naively patriotic and ready to do his duty in the war, only to eventually be ground down into a cynical mess.  In Holiday, he plays supporting role as the third Seton child, Ned.  From the jump, Ned is a cynical young man, depressed at being forced to live a hollow life of endless pursuit of money.  But rather than resist it, he dulls the pain of it by remaining constantly drunk.  After seeing some unconvincing ‘drunk’ acting in the past year – Kenneth Brannagh in Peter’s Friends springs to mind – it was nice to see an actor give a performance where they actually seem to be drunk, rather than just playing drunk.  Better, Ayres carries many of the better comic moments often by doing nothing more than walking into, and trying to sneak out of, a conversation.

I’ve Seen You Somewhere Before

Of note in the cast are two actors who, when they popped into the film, made it just a touch more delightful.

Image result for edward everett horton holiday

Edward Everett Horton (l)

Readers of The Also-Ran’s Project will remember that towards the end of that I watched The Front Page, which had Edward Everett Horton in a small part as the reporter interested in a hamburger ‘sandwich’ on gluten bread.  He was also in Lost Horizon.  People who just listen to his voice might also know him as one of the narrators from The Rocky and Bullwinkle show.  In Holiday he plays an old friend of Johnny Case’s (Cary Grant) and while Horton seemed to do quite well in his career, perfecting the sort of effete stuffed shirts who are so ridiculous that  almost become a parody of themselves, here he plays a bit more of a free spirit and is quite delightful in a change-of-pace role.  Ironically, Horton was in the original 1930 film of this story, playing the exact same part there as he played here.

Image result for henry daniell

Henry Daniell

Also in the cast is Henry Daniell, an actor I didn’t know by name, but by face.  In a small role here he plays one of those effete, stuffed shirts Horton might normally play, but which Daniell takes an invests with a loathing superiority.  I recall him in a small part as one of the Van Gogh’s in Lust for Life.  More notably, he plays the unscrupulous Dr. Toddy MacFarlane to Boris Karlof’s body snatcher in the classic horror film, The Body Snatcher.

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[1] Also, this does not count the endless variations on the themes of A Star is Born that were built upon it over the last 80 years.

[2] Although, not totally followed for Hellboy and The Watchmen.

[3] Of note to readers of The Also-Ran’s Project is William Holden co-starred in the 1930 version of Holiday in the role of the brother, taken here by Lew Ayres.

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