Two versions of “Holiday”

One of our favorite films, not just during Christmas but any time of the year, is Holiday – the 1938 version directed by George Cukor and starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. We found the 1930 version of the movie YouTube has the full 1930 film, and I was struck by how much I preferred the 1938 version. I tracked down a copy of the original stage play, which I had read over 25 years ago, and re-read it. The first film version is much closer to Philip Barry’s stage script. The 1938 version uses a screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, who made some notable changes in characters and settings.

YouTube has the full 1930 film.

The story, of course, remains essentially the same: Johnny Case, a young man who has risen by sheer grit and hard work from poverty to a secure position in a Wall Street firm, has fallen in love with Julia Seton, the younger daughter of a wealthy Fifth Avenue oligarch. Julia’s older sister, Linda, is a non-conformist, and the brother, Ned, works with his father but is an obvious alcoholic. At first, he father objects to the marriage until Johnny makes a sudden fortune. But just as he approves of the wedding, Johnny announces that he plans to quit business and take a “holiday” to discover a deeper purpose for his life. The father is offended, as is Julia, while Linda sides with Johnny. At first the engagement is broken off, but Johnny decides to compromise and marry Julia. In the play’s climactic scene, Johnny announces his intention to continue working on Wall Street and delay his “holiday” dream for a few years.

I was intrigued by the directorial and acting choices made in this final scene, where Johnny at first agrees to compromise but then returns to his original dream when he realizes how soul-deadening a life focused on money will be. The director of the 1930 version, Edward H. Griffith, blocks this scene as if it were being acted on stage, with the camera usually in a wide angle incorporating most of the actors. For the interjected wisecracks and reactions, he cuts to close-ups. George Cukor in the 1938 version blocks the scene in a more compact angle, that includes all of the actors and doesn’t require cutting to highlight off-side comments or reactions.

I have put the two scenes side by side in a short video on YouTube.

The Cukor version is much funnier but also more substantive. Notice, also, how Cukor’s blocking puts Linda and Ned together on the couch, highlighting how they are more sympathetic with each other, emphasizing a point made earlier in the film.