"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

August 14, 2011

"Holiday" (1938) by George Cukor and with Kathleen Hepburn and Cary Grant (Film review)

In this comedy helmed by George Cukor in 1938, the unconventional Johnny Case (Grant) unbelievably falls in love with perfect but cold-as-a-diamond millionaire's daughter Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) - he only realizes how filthy rich she is when he visits the palatial museum where she lives with her stern widowed tycoon-father (Henry Kolker), black-sheep sister Linda (Hepburn) and habitually tipsy brother Ned (Lew Ayres). The house is so grand that he mistakes the servants entrance for the front door.

When he enters the house, Johnny first meets Linda, who makes humorous conversation with him and very Eve-like throws him an apple in which he immediately sets his teeth. This determines the course of the story, for Linda and Johnny share their non-conformism, while the dutiful Julia wants Johnny to settle down in the fixed conventional track of the banking business. But Johnny rebels: although he is a successful financial wizard, earning money is not of first importance to him. He wants to retire at 30 and take a holiday with his friends and after that decide what he will do with the rest of his life. He doesn't need a whole heap of money. He'd rather build a life in which he is surrounded by people he loves and keep out those who could hurt him (Julia, for one, is characterized by brother Ned as: "If you were in her way, she'd ride you down like a rabbit"). Time is in a flux, in the late 1930s as today. What do you want to do with your life, and whom do you want to share it with?

The second great element of this witty film is the magical chemistry between the boyish Grant and the coltish Hepburn. As physical types they seem perfectly matched. The vulnerable Linda is almost mentally destroyed by her rich but cold family - she spends most of her time in the former children's playroom, dreaming of happier days. She enjoys talking nonsense or acting out childish, physical jokes with Johnny (it helped that Grant was a trained acrobat). But the film also generates real warmth in the intimate scenes between Linda and Johnny. When Hepburn gets emotional, her eyes blaze and even her famous cheekbones seem to flash.

Holiday flopped as did another Grant/Hepburn film, Bringing Up Baby in the same year. Unbelievable! (In the meantime, that last film has picked up quite some popularity, but Holiday still is a dark horse). Grant/Hepburn's first big success came in 1940 with The Philadelphia Story.