May 11, 2009
We watched “Holiday,” a wonderful 1938 film directed by George Cukor, based on a play by Philip Barry. This was the second film based on that play; the first one appeared in 1930. Both were Oscar nominees.
The cast of this version included Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton. In the guise of a romantic comedy, this is an attack on conformity, greed, materialism, and hypocrisy.
The premise is that a young and rising businessman, Johnny Case (Grant) falls in love with Julia Seton (played by a rather wooden Doris Nolan), the daughter of millionaire banker Edward Seton. Johnny and Julia plan to ask Edward Seton to give his blessing to their engagement, but Edward immediately tries to take control of everything from the timing of the engagement and marriage to the future of Johnny’s career. Johnny hasn’t told Julia, let alone Edward, that his own plan is to leave business and do nothing but travel for a few years while he sorts out the real purpose of earning money. He is encouraged in this mode of thinking by close friends, Nick and Susan Potter, played with biting humor by Horton and Dixon. When Johnny is introduced into the Seton household, he meets Julia’s brother Ned – played by the talented Lew Ayres – an alcoholic young man had been browbeaten by his father to give up childish ideas like composing music and attend to the family business.
Johnny also meets, and makes an immediate connection with, Julia’s sister Linda (Hepburn) who describes herself as the “black sheep” of the Seton family and makes no secret of her disdain for its values and social circle. In the museum-like Seton home, the only place Ned and Linda are comfortable is a “play room” outfitted by their late mother, a room to which Johnny and the Potters also eventually retreat – an effective reference to their rebellion against the established order “downstairs” and to the immaturity imputed to them by the stiff-necked patriarch and his pandering, two-faced satellites.
Eventually, Johnny has to decide on what terms – if at all – he is prepared to pursue his courtship of Julia and his potential career in the Seton empire.
This is a well written and well acted film (with the exception of Nolan). Its humor and sarcasm has stood the test of time. One has to get past the idea that Johnny Case would have been attracted to Julia Seton in the first place and that it would have taken as long as it did for their values to collide head-on. Over all, though, “Holiday” is an entertaining and uplifting experience.