Saturday, December 27, 2014

Stubs - Holiday (1938)

Holiday (1938) Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton Directed by George Cukor. Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman. Based on the play Holiday by Philip Barry (New York, November 26,1928). Produced by Everett Riskin. Run Time: 96 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Comedy

Christmas might be over, but the holiday season is not with New Year’s Eve and Day only a few days away. It is in this week in between that most of Holiday (1938) occurs, which makes it an appropriate title to review on the last Saturday of 2014. And like It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), this film also takes place in a mansion on 5th Avenue in New York City, further making it a suitable follow-up to the review of that film.

And finally, it certainly doesn’t feel like the holidays at Trophy Unlocked if we don’t include at least one Cary Grant film in the mix. With the exception of our Bruce Willis Christmas salute. Grant has shown up whenever we’ve reviewed classic Christmas films.

By the time of this movie, Grant was a major star, but unlike so many, he was an independent, meaning he could move from studio to studio, picture to picture, with a freedom most others in Hollywood would envy. You never hear stories of Grant fighting with his studio boss, the way Bette Davis and James Cagney did at Warners. If he liked a film, he was free to make it, even if the film was at, the then, lowly Columbia Pictures.
Holiday had been made into a movie only seven years before by Pathé Exchange, Inc., a forerunner to RKO. Holiday (1930), which starred Ann Harding and Mary Astor, was well received at the time, receiving Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Ann Harding) and Best Adapted Screenplay for Horace Jackson, since it was based on a play by Phillip Barry.

We complain now that Hollywood remakes too many movies, but the practice has been around for some time. Columbia Pictures became interested in the property when they purchased a group of scripts from rival RKO, for $80,000, with Holiday’s included. The original idea was to use the film as a vehicle to reunite the stars of a recent Columbia success, The Awful Truth (1937), Grant and Irene Dunne. But when George Cukor came on board to direct, he chose to work with Katharine Hepburn, an actress he had worked with before on such films as A Bill of Divorcement (1932); Little Women (1933); and Sylvia Scarlett (1935), which also starred Grant.

While Rita Hayworth tried out for the part of Julia, the role went to Doris Nolan, a 21-year-old actress best known for her previous work on Broadway. She would bounce between New York and Hollywood throughout the mid-thirties and early forties.

Edward Everett Horton, who had been featured in the 1930 Holiday film as "Nick Potter", was hired to play basically the same role in the remake. Production got underway on February 24, 1938, concluded on April 22nd and the film was released in theaters on June 15th, 1938.

On Christmas day, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) returns to New York City after a ten day vacation in Lake Placid. His first stop is to visit with his dear friends, Nick (Edward Everett Horton) and Susan Potter (Hedda Hopper). He informs them that he is in love and engaged to Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), a woman he met at the resort, but which he knows very little about.

He hurries off in a waiting cab to the address he has for her on Park Avenue, which turns out to be a large multi-storied mansion. Assuming she works there, Johnny goes around to the service door and asks for her. He is surprised to find out that she is the daughter of Edward Seton (Henry Kolker), a wealthy widowed banker.

Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is overwhelmed by the size of the Seton mansion.

The house is enormous and Johnny is shown to the elevator by the butler (Thomas Braidon). On the way, he sees, but is not introduced to, Ned (Lew Ayers), Seton’s son and an alcoholic, who is on his way to church to join their father. Julia meets Johnny in the living room on the second floor, but she, too, is going to church, hoping to break the news of their engagement to her father in a place where he can’t talk back.

Johnny doesn't know that his fiancee Julia (Doris Nolan) is rich.

Johnny is told to return at 1 o’clock for lunch, and to change his tie, which Julia doesn’t like. Escorting her out, Johnny is introduced to Linda (Katharine Hepburn), Julia’s older sister and the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family. Linda gives Johnny a look over and approves of the marriage.

Linda (Katharine Hepburn) walks in on Johnny and Linda kissing.

At church, while the choir sings O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Julia is repeatedly shushed by her father when she starts to tell him about meeting Johnny. The payoff is when Mr. Seton raises his own voice when she tells him about the engagement.

At church, Ned (Lew Ayers) passes the collection plate to his father
(Henry Kolker), who has just learned of Julia's engagement.

Anxious, Johnny arrives back at the mansion early. Julia is not back yet, but Linda has left word for Johnny to be sent to the playroom on the fourth floor. This room is different than the rest of the house and had been set up that way by their now deceased mother. Still large, with a really high ceiling, the room is cozier than the rest of the house. There are the remnants of childhood there: toys, musical instruments which Ned we learn can play, art supplies and even a low hanging trapeze. This is the room Linda thinks of as home.

Linda charms Johnny in the playroom while waiting for Julia to return from church.

Linda and Johnny talk about themselves. Linda is a lost soul of sorts, never having found herself. Unlike Ned, who had wanted to be a musician, Linda is not part of the family banking business and spends most of her time doing little outside the mansion.

Johnny, who has been working since he was ten, wants to take a holiday, by which he means retire at 30 and learn what it’s all about, since there has to be more to life than making money to pay bills. He wants to knock off for awhile, while he’s still young and figure things out that you can’t while sitting behind a desk. When Linda asks if Julia knows, Johnny confesses that he hasn’t shared his plans with Julia.

Ned arrives back from church, and goes to the playroom looking for a bottle of scotch missing from his bedroom. He hasn’t been in the playroom for years, he says. Julia arrives back from church and is disappointed that Johnny hasn’t changed his tie. The children try to prepare Johnny for meeting their father and his expected disapproval. Johnny is about to show them his patented backflip when their father arrives downstairs. Julia and Linda go off to talk to their father while Ned hides Johnny until 1 o’clock, when he’s supposed to arrive for lunch.

On the way down, Linda makes Julia promise to let her throw them a party to celebrate their engagement. She wants to plan a small party in the playroom with just their close family and friends.

When the time is right, Johnny reappears, now wearing one of Mr. Seton’s own ties. The conversation is somewhat strained, but Johnny holds his own under interrogation by Mr. Seton. By the time they’re called for lunch, Mr. Seton’s opinion is changing and after learning from Johnny’s employer about a deal he had put together, Mr. Seton agrees to the marriage. He plans to throw a party on New Year’s Eve to announce the nuptials. Even though Julia had agreed to Linda’s party idea, she willingly bows to her father’s idea.

Wearing the right tie, Johnny finally meets Mr. Seton.

On New Year’s Eve, Linda goes through with her plans and refuses to attend the big party downstairs. The Potters arrive and immediately feel out of place. They are directed to take the elevator and end up on the floor with the playroom. Linda, who has been sulking by herself, welcomes the two and they hit it off. Even Ned shows up. The Potters, who are natural hams, start to put on a puppet show for Linda and Ned.

The Potters (Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton) arrive for the engagement party.

Embarrassed by Linda’s refusal to come down to the party, Julia sends Johnny up to the playroom. Johnny, who has apparently been changed in the last few days, agrees to bring Linda down. But when he finds out the Potters are there, Johnny reverts back to his fun-loving ways.

Julia and Linda’s snobbish cousin Seton Cram (Henry Daniell) and his wife Laura (Binnie Barnes) come into the playroom, interrupting the play and are greeted with Nazi salutes. But Seton is aware of the deal Johnny has put together and has bought into it, sealing its success and Johnny’s holiday plans.

To celebrate, Linda and Johnny demonstrate to everyone in the room a tumbling trick they have perfected. Johnny, who uses tumbling to relieve tension, has, off camera, apparently worked out a trick with Linda, in which she stands on his shoulders and they both tumble to the ground. They have just completed it, when Julia and Mr. Seton come into the playroom and insist Linda appear at the party.

Johnny and Linda entertain everyone in the playroom with their antics.

Mr. Seton offers Johnny a desk at the bank after the honeymoon, which forces Johnny to reveal his “early retirement” plan to both Julia and her father. To say the least, neither is thrilled with the plan.

Johnny looks to Julia for understanding, but she doesn't.

Rather than going down to the party, a dejected Johnny stays behind with Linda and sees the New Years in with her before going downstairs. Soon after Mr. Seton announces the coming wedding to everyone, Johnny leaves.

Days pass and Linda goes to the Potters searching for Johnny, hoping to reunite the lovers. Turns out Johnny has returned to Lake Placid. He plans to go with the Potters, who are going to Europe that night on an ocean liner. While she’s there, a telegram arrives from Johnny, saying that Julia has turned him down.

Johnny chooses to ring in the New Year with Linda rather than Julia.

Linda goes home to admonish Julia for turning Johnny down. But Mr. Seton takes Julia's side, even going so far as to call Johnny “un-American” for his views. Julia, for her part, is certain that Johnny will return to her and sure enough, he shows up at the mansion. He tells Mr. Seton that he’s reconsidered his offer of employment at the bank and is anxious to get started. He’s willing to try it Julia’s way for a couple of years.

Mr. Seton plans out the couple’s honeymoon, an itinerary which includes meeting several high powered friends of his and when they return, they’ll move into a house Mr. Seton owns. When Julia asks her father to help find them servants, Johnny snaps. He’s willing to try it Julia’s way for a couple of years, but knows if they get bogged down with too many material things, there is no way he can retire. He loves Julia, but he loves his freedom more and leaves for the docks.

Julia seems to be relieved by Johnny’s departure and admits that she no longer loves him. Linda uses Johnny’s leaving as a chance to declare her own independence. She tries to get Ned to come with her, but he feels trapped in his life, working for their father. Promising to come back for him, Linda hurries off.

Meanwhile, the Potters board the ship and are initially disappointed that Johnny isn’t coming. He surprises them by entering from the adjoining room. So overjoyed, Johnny does one of his patented happy tumbles when Linda arrives onboard the ship.

Johnny in mid-backflip. He'll be even happier when he sees Linda has arrived.

Despite the star-power of Grant and Hepburn, the film was not a financial success at the box office. This was just about the time Hepburn had been declared to be box office poison after a few duds. Further, Johnny’s concept that you can’t discover who you are unless you have money, no responsibilities and can travel probably didn’t sit well with a country still mired in the Great Depression, when any job was welcomed by many in the audience. Having not seen the 1930 version of the film, I don’t know if that film has the same issue or not.

While I don’t think this is Cary Grant’s best performance, he seems to be having a good time and even gets to do a little acrobatics. When Grant was still known as Archie Leach, his given name, he performed as a teenager in the Bob Pander Stage Troupe as a stilt walker back in England. It was this troupe’s tour of the U.S. in 1920 that brought the 16 year-old Leach to these shores. So acrobatics were in his blood and he appears to really enjoy the opportunity to show off this hidden talent.

My problem is not with the actor so much as the character. Johnny Case is a bit uneven, you might even say unstable. Hard-working, or at least we’re told, he enjoys his friends, the Potters, but he falls in love too quickly, too easily and too deeply with Julia. It seems odd that such a man who is such a free-spirit would not have shared his dreams with her. Their relationship doesn’t seem doomed from the start, but when Johnny confesses to Linda things he hasn’t yet shared with Julia, the writing is on the wall. Linda and Johnny seem to be kindred spirits, both are a little off, and a better match.

Linda has some issues of her own, perhaps even a mental breakdown in the recent past. The film doesn’t come out and say so, but there are hints and whispers that something had gone wrong with her. Linda’s passionate speech about the playroom being her only home adds to that perception. She comes off as a woman/child rather than a full-fledged adult with a child-like wonder of the world. The more I think about it, the better I like Hepburn’s performance.

I think Grant and Hepburn make a good onscreen pairing. They seem to be comfortable with each other and there must have been some real trust between them, since Hepburn does stand on Grant’s shoulders.

There was a lot of trust between Hepburn and Grant.

Julia, played by Doris Nolan, is a rich girl who likes being rich. The good-looking Johnny was a vacation fling that got too serious. The more she learns about him and his bohemian dreams, the less she loves him or even likes him. She’s a good actress with the thankless job of playing someone you’re not supposed to like.

Edward Everett Horton would, like Charles Ruggles from It Happened on 5th Avenue, go on to do voice work on the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV shows. You might remember him as the narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales. Before that he may best be remembered for his roles as Fred Astaire’s comedic sidekick in such films as The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935) and Shall We Dance (1937). Horton had actually played the Potter role in the 1930 version of the film. Perhaps that’s why he seems so at home with the role. The exact relationship between the Potters and Johnny may be somewhat vague but there is a real sense of love between them. Horton’s timing is perfect with some physical humor, but also with his witty comebacks and asides. This is an example where the writing and the actor match well together.

Horton and Dixon make a good pair in Holiday, with star Grant.

As good as he is, I must say I was also quite impressed by Jean Dixon, who played his wife. Too bad this would be her last film, as she soon retired from Hollywood after an eleven picture career, dating back to 1929’s The Lady Lies. She would, however, continue her career on Broadway until the 1959-60 season. She was a good compliment to Horton and fit in well with the controlled lunacy of their scenes together.

George Cukor is one of those directors that made films of many genres, including dramas, musicals and comedies. He directed such films as Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Camille (1936) prior to this film, which shows his versatility. Following this film he would start shooting Gone With The Wind (1939) before being fired from the production. He would also direct such classics as Little Women (1939), Gaslight (1944), Adams’ Rib (1949), Born Yesterday (1950), Pat and Mike (1952), A Star is Born (1954) and My Fair Lady (1964).

While I enjoyed this movie, I don’t think this is Cukor’s best as some reviews have suggested. The film is funny, but too much happens off screen. Sometime between his first meeting with Mr. Seton on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, Johnny finishes a major deal at work, becomes more serious about Julia, but also has time to teach Linda that acrobatic routine they demonstrate in the playroom. Quite a week and we see none of it.

Despite the story starting on the day, Holiday is not really a Christmas movie. (It might have fit in well with last year's drive-by Christmas salute.) In fact there is no mention of the holiday, save for a few wreaths up at the church, hymns sung in the background and some garland on the banister of the main staircase at the Seton mansion. There is no tree, no one says Merry Christmas and no gifts are exchanged. Perhaps the Setons have all they need, but the absence of the holiday just seems odd given the time frame of the film. 

If you're a fan of Hepburn and Grant, then you will want to watch this movie. If you're looking for a sentimental holiday movie, you might want to keep looking. But Holiday is worth watching, if not at Christmas, then at any other time of the year.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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