by Allan Fish
(USA 1938 97m) DVD1/2
Aka. Unconventional Linda
Declaration of independence
p Everett Riskin d George Cukor w Donald Ogden Stewart, Sidney Buchman play Philip Barry ph Franz Planer ed Otto Meyer m Sidney Cutner art Stephen Goosson, Lionel Banks
Cary Grant (Johnny Case), Katharine Hepburn (Linda Seton), Doris Nolan (Julia Seton), Lew Ayres (Ned Seton), Edward Everett Horton (Prof. Nick Potter), Jean Dixon (Susan Potter), Henry Kolker (Edward Seton), Henry Daniell (Seton Cramm), Binnie Barnes (Laura Cramm),
Just imagine that as you are reading this you receive a knock on the door. You go to see who it is and see Don Knotts standing there. Entering he offers you the chance, as he did Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon in Pleasantville, to go into the environment of any movie you name. Just think of the choices open to you, as you ponder where to visit; the Kit Kat Club, the cantina at Mos Eisley, Le Amar Azul at Acapulco, the Korova Milkbar, the Gallows Oak in Sherwood, the Black Pussy Cat Café at Lompoc, the beast’s enchanted castle, Ballin Mundson’s Buenos Aires casino, Buggleskelly railway station, Fat Moe’s delicatessen in Brooklyn, or Dutchie’s joyous bar at Barranca, Venezuela. Though all, particularly the latter, would be attractive, there can be but one for me; the nursery on the 4th floor of the Seton residence, N.Y.C., circa 1938. And for all the plaudits I could give, I don’t think I could give a clearer demonstration of my affection for it than that.
Even so, Holiday was a film that it took me a while to warm to. When I first saw it a decade ago two of its stars were still alive (Hepburn and Ayres) and the film tingled with their mischievous spirits. Yet the real depth of the piece didn’t get through; I was amused, for sure, as one would always be amongst such company, but not moved. Maybe I was expecting another Philadelphia Story from the same director, writer and acting team, but that only goes to back up my lack of foresight. Though the surface may be the same, about rich people being shown to be sometimes not quite the snobs they seem, the hearts of the stories are fundamentally different.
Johnny Case returns from his first ever holiday at Lake Placid after meeting a young woman who he has proposed to. He goes to her address not realising that she is the youngest daughter of one of Wall Street’s most formidable and distinguished financeers. Undeterred, he tries to win them over to his way of thinking; namely that he wants to make enough money to take a sabbatical for a few years and learn about the excitements of life while he’s still young enough to enjoy them. His prospective sister- and brother-in-law are on his side, being kindred spirits, but he finds his intended is cut from the same stock as her staid father.
Though Philadelphia is undoubtedly probably the more technically accomplished film, as befits a product of MGM’s sugar coated factory, Holiday is at least its equal in wit and its superior in heart. Maybe now, not too different in age to our idealistic hero, I can appreciate what he is trying to do with his life more, whereas the younger self just watched for the wit. Maybe Hepburn’s performance at the time seemed too much like a 20th century variant on her Jo March (also for Cukor) in Little Women, whereas now her exaggerated histrionics ring truer, her disappointment with life all the more painful. And if Grant and Hepburn are both simply exceptional, and Horton (repeating his role from the 1930 version) and Dixon are excellent as the enjoyable Potters, it’s the wonderful Lew Ayres who steals the show, forming the centre of Horton’s self proclaimed ‘5th Avenue anti-stuffshirt and Flying Trapeze Club’. No, take your cantinas and iconic bars, Mr Knotts, let me go to that nursery and await Ayres, feeling the effects of his umpteenth highball, playing ‘Alla Hornpipe’ on the piccolo, acrobatics from Hepburn and Grant and an impromptu puppet show from Horton and Dixon. This is life as it should be.