HOLIDAY is a charmer. Donald Ogden Stewart & Sidney Buchman adapted from the play by Philip Barry. George Cukor directed this 1938 comedy starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn: I’ll take it over the director & star duo’s more successful, better-known and feted The Philadelphia Story.
Energetic ‘Johnny Case’ (Grant) is engaged to ‘Julia Seton’ (Doris Nolan), unaware that she is one of ‘The Setons’, Wall Street wealthy and hard-R conservatives. Though the stuffy patriarch and other snide relatives are dubious of the brash regular guy from the lower rungs, ‘Linda’, the younger, nonconformist daughter (Hepburn) sees his quality and is overjoyed he’ll be in the family. Genial, airily alcoholic brother ‘Ned’ (Lew Ayres) sides with Linda. Both have been patronized and ignored by the demi-Fascist majority of the Seton clan and crowd.
“You see Case, the trouble with me is that I never could decide whether I wanted to be Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, or John L. Lewis.”
Grant’s sublime gift for looking and acting svelte, debonair and charming while doing goofy physical comedy was being unleashed at this time. He’d just aced The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby (with Hepburn) and here he gets to play with some zany handsprings along with the zinging verbals. He’s a great match for Hepburn (he called her “the most completely honest woman I’ve ever met’), who plays it with winning understatement here. She’s at her most attractive, and gives the rebellious Linda shades of poignancy and dignity to go with the perceptive smarts and joie de vivre. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to quickly figure out who Johnny’s going to ultimately choose, and of course it’s a given to accept the movie-world-only logic that says a guy without money, no matter how nice, clever, attractive and smart he is, has the proverbial snowball-meet-Hell chance of landing a beautiful, witty and…uh, rich gal. Ayres is in great form as the defeated-by-Dad brother, not wrecking the drunk bit by doing it foolishly, making the guarded but gallant Ned’s plight a subtle interplay of wit and despair. *
Johnny’s down-to-earth friends, a professor and his wife, are played by Edward Everett Horton (less fussy than usual) and Jean Dixon; Henry Kolker plays the domineering father, Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes are the viperish cousins, the ‘Crams’, good candidates for a post-Revolution firing squad.
The goad-the-plutocrats sentiments of the Depression dovetail with today’s to-a-boil outrage over the grotesque arrogance of the new infestation of entitled and indifferent mandarins who vampire off the rest of us, a class without any.
“I want to save part of my life for myself. There’s a catch to it though, it’s gotta be part of the young part. You know, retire young, work old, come back and work when I know what I’m working for, does that make any sense?” Yes, it does. Oscar-nominated for the classy Art Direction, it came in #64 that year, grossing $3,100,000. 95 minutes.
* Hepburn’s first movie, 1931s A Bill Of Divorcement, was directed by Cukor. The collaboration saw Little Women, Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper Of The Flame, Adam’s Rib, Pat And Mike and the TV movies Love Among The Ruins and The Corn Is Green. She was 31 in Holiday, and enduring the stain of being “box-office poison” after a slew of films that were unpopular with the public.
Ayres gets to play the banjo at one point: before acting he was a Big Band musician who favored both tenor and long-necked banjos as well as guitar. 29 here, he was married to Ginger Rogers at the time and that same year landed Young Dr. Kildare, which provided him with eight sequels. Nice quote from Lew (1908-1996): “I’ve always tried to make characters real and vulnerable. How I do this I’d be hard-pressed to say, but when you do achieve it, when you are totally credible, the audience can forget itself and live through you on the screen. An audience needs to forget itself, if only for a little while.”