Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Holiday Flicks #5 – “Holiday”
The holiday season is winding down—or revving up, if you’re one of those who goes in for New Year’s Eve revelry. For myself, I seem to have reached the phase of life where I realize midnight is likely to pass whether I’m there to see it or not, & I generally bid the old year farewell in my dreams.
& speaking of dreams, our final Holiday Flick is a film about them; the dreams that give a life purpose, & the dreams that destroy a life; about how dreams can draw people together in a vital, creative way, & about how dreams can destroy a soul. It’s the movie Holiday from 1938 starring Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn, & directed by George Cukor. The film is based on a play by Phillip Barry—so as you fans of The Philadelphia Story will note, this is a precursor of sorts, combining the same stars, director & writer.
According to Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, Hepburn was the understudy for the role of Linda Seton during the 1928 theatrical production, & also lobbied for this role when the play was first filmed in 1930; Ann Harding was awarded the lead in the earlier movie version, however. Interestingly, again according to Osborne, Irene Dunne was originally slated for the role in Linda in the 1938 re-make, but Cukor insisted on casting Hepburn in the role.
When Eberle & I watched this film most recently, I found myself thinking a lot about how the role of Linda Seton might have changed with Dunne rather than Hepburn playing the character, & as much as I adore Irene Dunne, came to the conclusion that Katherine Hepburn was made for this part. She brings a passion to Linda Seton that animates the story, & her energy with Grant is palpable (of course, Irene Dunne & Cary Grant also were always great playing opposite each other).
The story of Holiday goes as follows: young, free-thinking businessman Johnny Case (Cary Grant) meets socialite Julia Seton (played by Doris Nolan) during a vacation in Lake Placid; they fall in love & plan on marriage—but Johnny doesn’t realize that Julia comes from such a wealthy blue-blood background. When he arrives at her palatial family mansion he uses the servant’s entrance, assuming she must be a secretary there, not the daughter of a millionaire businessman.
Of course, Case also meets Julia’s sister Linda there, & the sparks of attraction are set off immediately between Hepburn’s & Grant’s character. Linda recognizes that Johnny brings a new energy to a household where everyone is very much in service to Mammon & to social status. Case is self-made; he came from humble beginnings, worked his way thru Harvard, & is now a rising star in the business world, & on the verge of making a bundle of dough thru some creative deals. Once Julia’s father, played by Edward Kolker, can get used to Case’s distinctly plebian roots, he seems like a perfect match for Julia.
Johnny Case, however, isn’t a slave to money: he sees money as a means to an end, not the end itself. Once his fortune is made, he sees no need in accumulating further wealth; he wants to live while he’s young and—to use a term from a later era—“find himself.” He needs freedom to explore, freedom to live life in his exuberant fashion—summed up by his penchant for doing back flips (one can see that Grant had acrobatic training, as he pulls these off effortlessly). He also has befriended an older professor & his wife, played by veteran character actor Edward Everett Horton (who also played the role of Professor Nick Potter in the 1930 film) & Jean Dixon. The Potters typify the unconventional, fun-loving (in a deep, individualistic sense) ethos to which Johnny aspires—& the Potters immediately see Hepburn’s Linda, not the very conventional Julia, as Johnny’s true match.
Holiday moves at a brisk pace, & clocks in at 95 minutes. The first time we watched this film, both Eberle & I found almost excruciating suspense in the possible fates of the characters, but the film doesn’t diminish at all with repeated viewing. The cast is tremendous; besides Hepburn & Grant, who really sparkle, I’d also single out Lew Ayres as Ned Seton—Linda & Julia’s musician brother (some nice banjo scenes!) who’s been crushed by his father’s demands for him to be a businessman & to set aside his musical dreams; in fact, Ned is now a rather hopeless & bitter alcoholic, & Ayres does a remarkable job of portraying this character’s deep resentment & resignation.
The film’s title cuts in a few different directions: Johnny & Julia met on “holiday” in the British sense of the word; the film’s action takes place during the holiday season, moving from Christmas thru New Year’s—one of the story’s main scene takes place at a swank New Year’s Eve party thrown by Seton père, at which Julia’s engagement to Johnny is announced. Throughout much of the party, Linda banishes herself to the playroom, the one place where she can be herself (& where she has Ned’s instruments in safekeeping). The scene shifts between the ostentatious spectacle of the society party (where, as Professor Potter notes, there are “important persons”) & the unconstrained fun of the playroom. Finally, of course, there is Johnny Case’s dream of a holiday—now that he has money to live on securely for some time, he has the chance to live for life, & not live for work.
We often read how U.S. workers are clocking increasing amounts of hours over the past couple of decades. I recall in my own work for a “major U.S. corporation” how it became the norm for folks to work sick, to work weekends, for everyone possible either to become “management” (even if their job description didn’t fit legal standards for same)—“management” is, of course, not entitled to overtime pay—or “contract workers” (i.e., temps) because temps aren’t entitled to benefits, & often have to work overtime & weekends to make ends meet—been there, done that—worked every holiday but Christmas one year as a data entry drone in a big name San Francisco law firm. The technology that supposedly frees us (& I’m not against the technology per se) like laptops, cell phones, Blackberries etc., actually can make our existence into work “24/7” as the saying now goes. All of these are compelling reasons to watch Holiday & ponder its story; & considering the passion the marvelous cast brings to the story—especially Grant & Hepburn—you'll scarcely need another.