Movie Review: Holiday (1938)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

As might be gleaned from previous reviews, I’m a fan of the Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant team-up. But somehow I just never got around to seeing Holiday! Thankfully that’s been rectified, since this is a really great film. Grant stars as Johnny Case, an intelligent businessman who’s worked hard all his life to support himself and is very set in a life plan to eventually quit his job so he can explore the world and himself while he’s still young. He falls in love with Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), discovering after their engagement that she is super rich and very set herself on turning her soon-to-be husband into a respectable man of wealth. Johnny clashes with her father (Henry Kolker) but warms up to her wacky sister Linda (Hepburn) and drunken brother Ned (Lew Ayres), struggling to rationalize his own working-class worldview with Julia’s stubborn privilege, and realizing their love might not be enough. But her sister… well, that’s a different story.

As I grow older, wiser, and poorer simultaneously, I find my loathing of super-rich people growing stronger as well, because let’s face it: rich people suck. The original play was produced right before the stock market crash of 1929, but this version of the film came out in 1938, when out-of-work Americans could steal away to the movies for some escapism. A film that exposed both the decadent lifestyle of a blue-blood family and their haughty assholery- all through the eyes of an unassuming man who came from nothing- surely offered an interesting story for Depression-era viewers. I certainly got a lot out of it! Because… fuck rich people? YES. This mentality is why the side characters of Nick and Susan Potter (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) were my favorites. They’re down-to-earth intellectuals who can’t stand the image-obsessed world of the Seton family, preferring to hide during a fancy party and do a puppet show. They make hilarious jokes about class that those “above” them don’t get, and that just makes it better. They won best couple the instant I met them, plus I think it’s cool that Susan was a university lecturer before she got married, but it’s too bad she retired (I guess? They weren’t too clear on the point).

Ok enough about side characters, we’re all here for the stars, I know! Hepburn is effervescent and sly as the “black sheep” Linda Seton, a character who is moody and erratic and clinging to a childhood full of promise that developed into an adulthood destroyed by wealth and status. How could she help falling in love with the funny and ideologically defiant Johnny? The two perform acrobatic feats and joke about family members, it’s a perfect match! Most of their budding romance is unrealized since Julia is still in the mix, and it’s kind of sweeter to watch these two fall in love without even realizing it until the third act. Though I would bill this a romantic comedy, much of the film is more of a class satire, with hilarious and fast-paced dialogue and some serious digs at the Seton family, representative of the stuffy, old-money “type” in American society. I was most impressed with Ned, as played by Lew Ayres. He is a bitter alcoholic, with a baby face that rarely betrays his hardened core. Like Linda he spiritually rejects the life laid out for him by his overbearing father, but unlike her he isn’t strong enough to get out of it, and just sadly resigns himself to wasting away in the family business, giving into this shallow, hedonistic lifestyle because he sees nothing to lift him out of it. He’s like the template for a Sofia Coppola or a Wes Anderson movie.

MOSTLY THOUGH this is a comedy! And I loved it. It’s not quite up there with Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, but it’s close. Also now I want to know everything about big game hunter/super spy/socialite Gertrude Sanford Legendre, whom Hepburn’s character is based on.


Pair This Movie With: I kinda wanted more Edward Everett Horton being sarcastic around doofy rich people, so Top Hat seems like a good choice.

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