Last Holiday (1950)

Last Holiday (1950)

“How do you keep smiling with a stiff upper lip?”

When a salesman (Alec Guinness) is told by his doctor (Ronald Simpson) that he has a terminal disease, he decides to spend his last days and money at a posh hotel, where he unintentionally convinces everyone he’s actually a wealthy, well-bred traveler. He confides his true identity to the head housekeeper (Kay Walsh) while engaging in flirtation with the wife (Beatrice Campbell) of a young criminal (Brian Worth), and receiving countless offers for advice and work.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alec Guinness Films
  • Black Comedy
  • Character Arc
  • Class Relations
  • Death and Dying
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Vacation

After providing notable supporting performance in Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), Alec Guinness had a breakthrough (set of) roles as “the D’Ascoynes” in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), followed shortly by his leading work here as an unassuming man dealing with the shock of unexpected news. Much like in The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936), the film holds inherent interest given our curiosity in seeing how an “average” person reacts to life-altering information about his existence: what will he do now?

Scripted by the prolific British novelist, playwright, screenwriter, producer, broadcaster, and social commentator J.B. Priestley, the storyline goes in unexpected directions while effectively skewering class expectations, and demonstrating the almost inconceivable power that lies in simply knowing the “right” people and being in the “right” places. Though I’m not a fan of the film’s twist ending, that’s a minor quibble, and the movie overall remains very much worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ray Elton’s cinematography
  • A provocative storyline

Must See?
Yes, as an overall good show.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Last Holiday (1950)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, mainly for Guinness’ performance. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I always mean what I say.”

    ‘Last Holiday’ (1950): Overall, a delightful find! Feeling a bit buoyant after watching Alec Guinness in a film I hadn’t seen (‘Our Man in Havana’), I thought to check out another such film. A little research reveals that this film from early in his career (just after his multi-character performance in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’) appears to be well-regarded yet it’s among the Guinness films that are less-talked-about. ~ which, if true, is certainly a shame. He is typically in fine form as a man who leans that, due to a rare disease, he has little time to live. To relieve the shock, his doctor recommends that he spends the remainder of his days enjoying himself… by taking a holiday. ~ which he does. In doing so, his life transforms in ways he would never have imagined. …While watching, it seemed to me likely that writer Terence Rattigan might have seen the film – because, four years later, his play ‘Separate Tables’ was produced. The two works share a strong similarity in that they are both set in a hotel – but, obviously, more than that they both detail the various ways in which the hotel’s residents become closely engaged in each other’s lives. Rattigan’s work is largely more dour than the consistently surprising J.B. Priestley script for ‘Last Holiday’ (which Priestley also co-produced). But, of course, the largest takeaway is Guinness… again being wonderful to watch! (Ernest Thesiger – Dr. Pretorius in ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ – is terrific in a small but significant role, as Sir Trevor Lampington.)

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