This movie is really a bit of a fudge as a Christmas/New Year’s themed one since the main emphasis of the film isn’t the holiday season. Instead, the film is set from right around Christmas until shortly after the new year begins. But, what the heck. Read through to the end for a short bonus review.
Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is a free thinking young man who meets, charms and becomes engaged to a young woman, Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), while they’re both on vacation at Lake Placid. But it’s only when he goes to meet the family that he realizes just how much money he’ll be marrying into. Julia is one of ‘The Setons’ of Fifth Avenue wealth and she expects Johnny to continue in the banking business after they’re married. But Johnny has the radical notion of making some money then quitting to enjoy himself and decide what he wants to do for the rest of his life while he’s still young enough to enjoy doing it. Julia’s older sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn) and younger, alcoholic, brother Ned (Lew Ayers) see Johnny and his lack of reverence for riches as a breath of fresh air while Mr. Seton (Henry Kolker) and cousin Seton Cram (Henry Daniell) and his wife Laura (Binnie Barnes) find it appalling.
Will Johnny, along with his friends Prof Nick Potter (Edward Everett Horton) and wife Susan (Jean Dixon), be able to get Julia to see things as Johnny does? Or is it really Julia whom Johnny should be with anyway?
Another thing to note about this movie is that it is not a screwball comedy. There are funny bits, as Johnny has a habit of doing somersaults and back flips, but it’s really more an exploration of what Johnny and Linda want from life and what they’re willing to do to get that. Can they be true to themselves or will Johnny be coerced into the Wall Street rat race while Linda silently dies inside as her family forces her into a straight jacket of Social Expectations? Johnny is a rebel from the work world while Linda yearns to escape her privileged life of enforced ease. With his charm, good looks and acrobatic skills Grant is wonderful in the roll of a man who’s pulled himself up from humble beginnings and who isn’t ashamed to admit how he got where he is now. Hepburn plays the woman who has the confidence of a moneyed upbringing but who will never be satisfied merely sitting back and watching as more filthy lucre pours into the family coffers. She and her two siblings are the third generation of the family with money and, based on real wealthy families, that is when things generally start to fall apart so it does make sense.
I like the pairing of Grant and Hepburn and as others have said, I wish they had done more pictures together. Nolan is cool and in control as Julia – more an ice maiden than a woman truly on fire with love, though she comes across as the eldest sister rather than younger. Ayes is good as the more a tragic figure in the family – a man of true musical talent who must resort to alcohol, and lots of it, to deaden the pain of the life his father has mapped out for him. But the two people I love the most in the film are Nick and Susan Potter who are Johnny’s down to earth friends. Watch for their arrival at the fancy party Mr. Seton insists on hosting to announce Julia and Johnny’s engagement. And then check out the other party that develops in the family’s almost forgotten playroom. Those who prefer the “childrens’ room” are far more intelligent about life and what is truly important. Though it shows how much she loves her sister and wants her to be happy, I do tire a bit of Linda insisting that Julia will change and how she keeps forcing Johnny and Julia together in the face of Julia’s growing nonchalance at Johnny’s plans for life. A woman who’d wear a ghastly gnome hat like Julia first does will never be the one for Johnny.
Holiday is a dramedy with some farcical elements but at heart its underlying message is that money isn’t everything and that we shouldn’t sell our souls for it. I wonder how this actually played out during the Depression. Even without the order of names in the opening credits, it’s easy to see who Johnny belongs with – the person who loves him as he is and who doesn’t feel the need to change him. Check it out to see Grant and Hepburn together and Grant in a role on his way to his ultimate persona of suave leading man. B
So, what’s the bonus? Did you know that there is an earlier version of this film done in 1930? I didn’t until I started reading up on the 1938 one. Edward Everett Horton actually reprises the same role and much of the dialog of the first 2/3 of it is word for word that of the later film. Ann Harding, whom I’d never heard of, plays Linda with more desperation than Hepburn conveys while Mary Astor of Maltese Falcon fame, is Julia. Robert Ames is a charming Johnny without the acrobatics and I was saddened to learn he died shortly after the film was released. The main differences between the two pictures begin during the fancy ball, continue through a very different playroom scene and include a scene of cousin Seton and his obnoxious wife attempting to take over the wedding rehearsal. I do prefer the 1938 ending as it feels like it has more closure.
It didn’t take me that long to find a DVD of this version though I can see why the film has been so forgotten since the print is in bad condition. It also suffers from a lack of background/incidental music which makes scenes feel more static and allows the hiss and pops of the soundtrack to be heard. Still the acting and staging is more natural than I would have expected this close to the silent film era and it’s a movie that I wish could be brushed up a touch to bring it to modern audiences. As it is, it’s probably not worth putting a great deal of money and effort into it to track it down since the 1938 one is so easily found and just as enjoyable.