Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Holiday (1938, George Cukor)

Quest Status: 734 / 1000

TSPDT Rank #943

Continuing with an era that I've been focusing on a lot recently, I'm back in 1930s Hollywood today with George Cukor's Holiday. This film fits firmly in the screwball tradition of its era, with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the lead roles, spending the entire film unaware that they're in love with each other. However, it's not just stubborn ignorance that keeps them apart. He's an up-and-coming young businessman with a lust for life who does a back flip whenever he feels a worry coming. She's the black sheep of "one of America's sixty families" who spends her time hiding from members of the other 59 in the quaint play room of her family's mansion. They hit it off from the start... right from the moment he announces her engagement to her sister.

The situation is understandable enough. But Hepburn's sister Julia (Doris Nolan) is the film's true mystery. Despite being a proper society girl who dotes on her demanding father, Julia agrees to marry Grant's Johnny Case only 10 days after meeting him. The two have apparently had no discussion about their future together, and, as it turns out, have very different ideas about it. It's difficult to believe that a woman so concerned about financial security and social standing would marry a self-made man with no knowledge or reverence for high society. The film's moral would seem to be "only fools rush in," but Julia is no fool. Does she see Johnny as an exciting escape from the stiffness of her father's world while still being capable of achieving the financial success she desires? Does she assume that Johnny will just automatically adapt to high society with her help? It could also be that not much thought was given to her character during the writing process, but either way, she comes off as uptight and controlling in the film. It's no wonder that Nolan's Hollywood career failed to gain traction after this film, the biggest role she ever got.

One of the promotional posters for Holiday asked moviegoers the question, "If you had $1,000,000... which sister would you choose to spend it with?" Given the extreme disparity between the two sisters, Cukor makes this an easy question for the viewer to answer. But the question itself is interesting. Grant's character is already successful when we meet him - an enterprising young man on his way to making his first million. He finds out that his fiancee comes from a wealthy family only after he proposes - not before. He doesn't need her money, so her father's promises of a job at his bank are worthless to him. It's only a question of how close he will come to compromising his values. Because of this, there's not as much tension here as there is in some of the more famous screwball comedies like His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby. Still, Grant and Hepburn are at their most joyous and effervescent, conveying a life-loving spirit that has been absent from movies for adults for a long time.

---266 films remaining---

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