Holiday (1938)

“I’ve got all the faith in the world in Johnny.”

Holiday Poster

Synopsis:
When an heiress (Doris Nolan) brings home the man (Cary Grant) she intends to marry, her eccentric sister (Katharine Hepburn) is thrilled to learn that Grant possesses a rebellious, anti-materialist streak; but will their fiscally conservative father (Henry Kolker) approve of Grant as a future son-in-law, given Grant’s desire to retire as soon as possible and explore the world?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes in his brief review, “Philip Barry’s play… makes an excellent vehicle for Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn”, who would more famously co-star in an adaptation of another Barry play two years later — The Philadelphia Story (1940). Peary argues that while the “story is predictable” — we know from the beginning that Hepburn and Grant will fall for each other, and that Nolan will turn out to be a bad match for Grant — the “writing is first-rate”, the “stars, particularly Hepburn, [are] excellent”, and it’s “well directed by George Cukor”. The supporting actors are all excellent as well — most notably Edward Everett Horton as one of Grant’s lifelong friends (while still undeniably fey, he’s nonetheless quite convincing as a happily married professor), Jean Dixon as Horton’s wife, and Kolker as Hepburn and Nolan’s father.

While Holiday can certainly be enjoyed on a surface level as simply a smart romantic comedy, it possesses nuanced social and psychodynamic subtexts. As noted in Stephanie Zacharek’s touching homage-review (she considers it a personal favorite), “a mantle of sadness hangs over this most stylish of comedies”, which in its “ruthlessness” not only “makes a case for building a life in which you’re surrounded by people you love” but is “also unflinching about steeling yourself against people who can only hurt you, no matter who they are”. With that said, as DVD Savant points out, the play/screenplay, for better or for worse, “pussyfoots around its central issue without ever really addressing it”, given that we never really learn “what the blazes [Grant’s character is] babbling about, and how… a kid who supported himself from age ten and rose to become a Wall Street genius fit[s] into [the nebulous] philosophy” of “big, exciting new ideas coming into the world” (will he join the war in Spain?). Regardless, we’re clearly meant to see that nonconformist Grant and zany Hepburn (who, in Zacharek’s words, “is not just stifled by her upper-crust lifestyle but almost destroyed by it”) are a couple simply meant to be — and we take immense pleasure in watching how they will finally come to this realization themselves.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cary Grant as Johnny
    Holiday Grant
  • Katharine Hepburn as Linda (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Holiday Hepburn
  • Henry Kolker as the Seton patriarch
    Holiday Kolker
  • Edward Everett Horton (reprising his role from the 1930 version of the film) and Jean Dixon as Professor and Mrs. Horton
    Holiday Horton and Dixon
  • A fine screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman (based on Philip Barry’s play):

    “You know, most people, including Johnny and yourself, make a big mistake about Julia. They’re taken in by her looks. At bottom, she’s a very dull girl and the life she pictures for herself is the life she belongs in.”

Must See?
Yes, as an excellent, expertly directed romantic comedy, and for the fine performances.

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