Holiday (1938)

Have you noticed that the most popular of contemporary romantic comedies use popular songs constantly through out the movie to make a point? After the fourth or fifth song, I want to yell at the screen, “OK! I get it! Now how about some story?!”

And since you brought it up, why do some filmmakers feel the best way to show a parent bonding with their kids (especially if that parent has a terminal disease) is to have them performing karaoke to a golden oldie!?! Who told them this? How many people with a terminal disease even feel like suddenly bouncing up and singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine?”

Not to worry with Holiday. Nary a song stays with you after viewing this movie, for instead, dare I say it, dialogue is used to tell the story! And considering that this is billed as a romantic comedy, some of the dialogue gets very serious.

Cary Grant portrays Johnny Case, a man of humble origins, who hopes to land a big business deal so he can stop working, take a very long holiday, find out the meaning of life, and go back to work when he’s old. The movie starts with him engaged to a young woman who, unbeknownst to him, belongs to a wealthy family who, as her sister (Katherine Hepburn) says, has a “reverence for riches”. Again in reference to her family, Hepburn proclaims “Money is our God here”, although she says it with contempt in her heart. Alas, she doesn’t agree with her family’s outlook, and turns out to be the true kindred spirit to Grant, not her sister who he is engaged to.

I wonder what will happen?

We all know what happens, but this movie brings us there with twists and turns. It’s really a drama of the rich verses the happy-to-not-be-rich, all wrapped up in a delightful and sophisticated comedy.

A special nod to Lew Ayres, portraying Hepburn’s brother Ned, who also has contempt for his family’s materialism, but is too weak to break free from it. He manages to be both funny, heartbreakingly pitiful, and totally believable.

At one point, the patriarch of the family says, “There’s a strange new spirit at work in the world today, a spirit of revolt, I don’t understand it and I don’t like it!” Perhaps that’s one reason the film was not a success when released. The world was just at the end of the Great Depression, and couldn’t fathom a leading man who didn’t want to work and didn’t love money.

A strange spirit indeed.

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One thought on “Holiday (1938)

  1. I will definitely watch Holiday again and pay more attention this time. What a bold statement for the time. We need that in films today, but sadly, it’s materialism and the 20-something mentality that drives Hollywood. Keep up the great commentary.

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