I have always loved this movie, primarily because it is the third of four wonderful films that Cary Grant made with Katharine Hepburn. Three of them were directed by George Cukor: Sylvia Scarlet (1935), Holiday (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). The best of their four films to my mind is Bringing Up Baby (1938), directed by Howard Hawks.
This film, like The Philadelphia Story, was based on a play by Philip Barry. Holiday is a bit stiffer than Philadelphia Story, but it still has effective performances and a touching story.
And, of course, it has a wonderful group of character actors, who help make the film so enjoyable.
Johnny Case (Cary Grant) has fallen in love with Julia Seton, the younger daughter of a stuffy, rich banker. Johnny comes from a poor background but has started to succeed in business and after he makes enough money he plans to take an extended holiday to find the true point of working. He shares his plan with Julia’s older sister, Linda (Katharine Hepburn), whose free spirit has been stifled by her father. On New Year’s Eve, just as their engagement is to be announced, Johnny learns that he has made enough money for the holiday, but neither Julia nor her father accept the idea. Linda realizes that she loves Johnny, and when Julia finally rejects Johnny and admits that she doesn’t love him, Linda joins Johnny on the holiday.
The visual references to Christmas and New Year’s Eve are bare. The film starts on Christmas Day with a scene in church and the congregation singing well-known Christmas hymns as Julia Seton tells her father of her intended engagement. Later the formal engagement announcement is made at a New Year’s Eve party, and we hear “Auld Lang Syne” being sung, ostensibly from the street and the crowd at the Seton party. While there are several epiphanies in the film (Linda realizing she loves Johnny, Johnny realizing he loves Linda, and Linda realizing how her sister resents her), there isn’t any reversal/redemption that is a requisite Christmas theme.
Edward Everett Horton (Nick Potter) was previously seen in Lady on a Train (1945). Horton played the same role in the 1930 film version of this play by Philip Barry. He will next be seen in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961).
Jean Dixon (Susan Potter) played Molly the maid in My Man Godfrey (1936) and had a role in another lovely screwball comedy, Joy of Living (1938). She also had a long career on Broadway, starting in 1926 and continuing through 1960.
Lew Ayres (Ned Seton) had a long career with varied roles including All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Johnny Belinda (1948) and Dr. Kildare in a series of nine films from 1938 to 1942. He was married to Ginger Rogers from 1934 to 1941.
Henry Kolker (Edward Seton) also had a long film career beginning with silent pictures. He had roles in Imitation of Life (1934), as Friar Lawrence in Leslie Howard’s Romeo and Juliet (1936), which was also directed by George Cukor, and one of my favorite screwball comedies, Theodora Goes Wild (1936).
Binnie Barnes (Laura Cram) portrayed Lillian Russell in Diamond Jim (1935) and also had roles in Broadway Melody of 1938 and The Divorce of Lady X (1938).
Henry Daniell (Seton Cram) appeared with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story (1940). That same year he appeared with Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator. He also appeared in a number of historical pics, including The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), The Sea Hawk (1940) and Jane Eyre (1943). He appeared with Basil Rathbone in three Sherlock Holmes pictures: Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) and The Woman in Green (1945).
Ann Doran (kitchen maid) appeared previously as Mrs. Hansen in Meet John Doe (1940). She also had roles in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940).
Cyril Ring (churchgoer) was previously seen in Lady on a Train, Meet John Doe, The Cheaters and Holiday Inn.
Cyril Ring appeared with Astaire in Holiday Inn and Broadway Melody of 1940.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
The team of Hepburn, Grant and Cukor filming a play by Philip Barry and a script by Donald Ogden Stewart is always a delight, though this film is really just an appetizer for the far superior The Philadelphia Story.
Among the things I love about Holiday are Cary Grant’s acrobatic tumbles, which harken back to his show-business origins as a knock-about comic acrobat in England. His skill in pantomime and acrobatics served him well in the slapstick elements of screwball comedy, and he used it effectively to contrast with the suave, sophisticated image that he cultivated.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Turner Classic Movies will show Holiday on January 26 at 2:30 p.m. (ET).