Monday, June 24, 2013

Holiday (1938)



Director: George Cukor

Becoming somewhat a comedy pairing of late Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant are teamed together for their third time in Columbia’s Holiday. Grant having found a great footing for his performances in the genre and Hepburn attempting to rekindle her once award winning career, Holiday is a remake of the 1930 Pathé film and would contain many links to its previous versions via returning players in various roles. For the smaller studio that was Columbia, Holiday was a way to see if something that worked before in the past had new life in it.

Holiday is a romantic comedy of a young man who meets his wealthy fiancée’s family and is torn between his possible future with her and his free-thinking way of life. A self made man, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) meets his fiancée, Julia’s (Doris Nolan) family, discovering that she is in fact from a wealthy lineage. His plans to spend his retirement years while he is still young goes against the ways of the old-money, big business father (Henry Kolker) of his lady love. However, Johnny finds empathy from Julia’s little sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn), an equally free-spirited individual jaded by a world of all work with little savoring of life. With the support of his long time friends and new ones found in Linda and her brother Ned (Lew Ayres), Johnny cannot go through with his planned union with Julia, istead discovering Linda to be the true soul mate in his adventures for life.

For audiences who remember Bringing Up Baby, this Gant/Hepburn picture is a bit different, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. Holiday is a bit more serious when compared to the absolute screwball comedy the two were featured in previously.  Both play free-thinking individuals with aspirations of living life while they are young, him a self made man, and her born into money. The pair are made out to discover each other and their love, unlike the thrown together mismatch seen in their previous picture. It feels far more romantic of how Cary Gant’s character, Johnny, falls in love in Holiday.  Gant’s character, who is head over heels in love with one woman in the beginning, an idea you very much believe with the play of events as the film begins, in fact does not have much in common with her. He discovers the traits of Hepburn’s Linda and in time they realize they are made for each other. It is a very touching picture about one being true to himself and finding that there is someone for him that he did not realize before.

For a small studio such as Columbia the idea of doing a picture like Holiday might have been a reach for trying to catch something special. Having purchased the rights to the story a few years prior in a grab of many scripts up for sale at the time, and putting long time veteran director George Cukor at the helm, they were looking to see what they could do to make a dent realm of Hollywood at the time when the major studios were pushing out huge picture after huge picture. Many connections can be with the past versions of Holiday including one of its actors returning from the 1930 version, as well as one of its stars and its screenwriter having worked in the original Broadway production. With that in mind, you might think Columbia might have had a success on its hands.

Katharine Hepburn was not what the studio had in mind when casting the role of Linda for Holiday, preferring the likes of Irene Dunne, who had worked with Grant in recent comedies, or the beauty and charm of Ginger Rogers. After much convincing Cukor got his way and casted Hepburn. She was actually on understudy on the original Broadway production of Holiday back in the late 1920s, but only performed to an audience once. Despite this fact, Hepburn used a section of her role form Holiday in her early casting calls to receive her earliest work in the movies.

By this time Cary Grant was becoming quite the recognizable leading comedy actor, a lovable man put in usually strange situations to the enjoyment of audiences. He seemed to play rather well across from the fast, sophisticated talking Katharine Hepburn, however timing of the pairing did not make for instant success. Hepburn at this time in her career was in a string of box office failures. Despite the long-term adoration of such classics as Bringing Up Baby or even Holiday audiences did not turn out for films featuring Katharine Hepburn during their initial releases, a fact that labeled her “box office poison” by Hollywood trades.  This was an idea that bother studio head Harry Cohn to the point he almost took out a full page ad in Variety, a major trade paper, asking why people did not give Hepburn a chance.

Perhaps it was because the general audiences really did not like her acting style or the just the person that was Hepburn that made audiences stay away.  It could also be that the ideals of the Cary Grant character did not sit well with audiences at the time either. Johnny was a self made man from humble beginnings, but the idea that he would quit working at such a young age would not have sat well with audiences in the middle of the depression who found work hard to come by at times. In any case Holiday would not make money despite praise from critics.

Edward Everett Horton returns in the very same role he played in the 1930’s Holiday as Nick Potter. Along with his wife played by Jean Dixon, the Potters are very lovable characters. Horton always seemed to be put in roles that were two dimensional and with characters that always seemed to be flabbergasted by something for some reason or another. Here Horton plays a character that encourages Cary Grant to remain true to himself and pokes fun at those that have everything without trying. It is truly a lovely role for an actor that does not get many great parts for himself to really shine in.

Lew Ayres, on loan from Paramount, plays the role of Julia and Linda’s brother Ned. The character, like Linda is very jaded by the world of his father where the wealth comes simply and the wealthy seems so fake to him. Unlike Linda Ned deals with his feelings with the aid of something else than self-expression, alcohol. Drunkenness usually is played over the top in the movies, but Ayres depiction of Ned as a nearly always buzzed, but intellectual gentleman is rather charming, in a sad way. Ned carries a sense of sadness with him that his drinking dulls the pain of, but never is he destructive physically or emotionally. He always remains well dressed and well behaved, despite his despise for certain things in his life. He too encourages Johnny to go after what he wants, because doing what is expected of him has made him what he is. This performance as Ned is marvelous in a composed sort of way, drawing attention to his good acting in a role that could be overlooked. Critically acclaimed for his part as Ned, Lew Ayres would garner himself a new contract with another studio, the biggest one in the business, MGM.

The cast- Nolan, Hepburn, Grant, and Ayres.
Holiday would be yet another Hepburn movie that failed at the box office that would find praise elsewhere, this time with critics during its initial release as well as long term accolades. This would not stop the pairing of Grant and Hepburn as they would star in their fourth feature together in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story. The picture may not have made money, but it is a quietly brilliant picture for a progressive audience wishing to get out from the monotony of life. For those not wanting an over the top screwball comedy, this Grant/Hepburn picture has heart, making audiences laugh as well as pull for the happy ending for two souls discovering happiness in each other.


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