It’s time for another installment of The Katharine Hepburn Project! I expected to watch Bringing up Baby next, but as it turns out, iTunes only has that film available to buy–there’s no rental option. I’ve already seen it several times and never really liked it, so I decided to skip it and jump straight to one of my favorite classic films: 1938’s Holiday.
Holiday is a film I loved and lost. I’d seen it on American Movie Classics or Turner Classic Movies and enjoyed the heck out of it, but I never caught the title (or I did and forgot it because Holiday is such a weird and generic title for this film). Anyway, I saw it a few more times, and the name never stuck. I just thought of it as “that Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn movie I liked a lot”. Imagine my delight when I discovered this movie, Holiday, is the one I loved so much way back when! I was so excited I bought the thing on iTunes so I can rewatch to my heart’s content.
At the start of the film, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) has just come back from a holiday where he got engaged to the love of his life, Julia (Doris Nolan). They don’t know much about each other yet, and that becomes a problem fast. Julia wants him to go into the banking business with her father. Johnny wants to quit working as soon as possible so he can travel and “find himself”. Meanwhile, Johnny gets along with Julia’s sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn) like a house afire. Linda thinks Johnny’s plan is fantastic and that it would be wonderful for Julia. Julia disagrees—so much so she sends Johnny away without her in the end. Linda has (of course) fallen in love with Johnny, but she’s too devoted to Julia to do anything about it until she realizes Julia doesn’t really love Johnny after all—she’s relieved to get rid of him. So Linda packs up and heads for the boat to join Johnny and his friends as he sails away into happily-ever-after.
I remembered Holiday as a lighthearted comedy, but there’s a lot of darkness in this film. On the surface, it’s a screwball romantic comedy (light on the screwball, heavy on the romance–just the way I like ‘em), but you don’t have to dig far to find a depressingly and disturbingly dysfunctional family. Linda and brother Ned are artistic types, beaten down by the stuffy money-first lifestyle their father has enforced since the death of their mother. They both hate it, but they cope with it in different ways. Linda withdraws into the one comfortable room in the house, while Ned crawls into the bottle.
Every Ned scene tears my heart out. He’s clearly a musician by temperament, and his bitter asides about the family make me want to hug him…and then kick him. He’s far too comfortable with his riches (and too weak-willed) to strike out on his own and try something else, a fact that’s hammered home at the end of the film when Linda offers to take him with her. I love how she cheerfully declares she’ll be back for him. If anyone can make that happen, it’s Linda. I wish they’d made a sequel where she did just that. Lew Ayres is terrific as Ned, and I think a piece led by him along with Hepburn and Grant (or even just the brother-sister team of Hepburn and Ayres) would have been delightful.
In a way, Ned is the Greek chorus of this film. His observations are clearer than anyone else’s. Linda’s devotion to Julia blinds her to who Julia really is. Linda wants to think her sister is a free spirit like her, but Ned points out she’s rather a dull girl. Linda is the one with intelligence and drive. She should be out in the world, not hiding away and chafing at her life. And the scene where Ned explains what it’s like to be drunk…well, just…wow.
Hepburn gets a few heart-tearing scenes too. She’s crushed after her father and Julia sabotage her New Year’s Eve party, and she really lets him have it in that almost-over-the-top Kate way. But my favorite moments are the quieter ones, when she’s talking to Johnny and making light of her situation. She’s joking, but there’s such steel and sorrow underneath. It’s a great example of the depth one can find hidden in “light” movies of the 30s and 40s. That’s one of the things I love best about movies of this era. The emotion bites harder because it’s surrounded by so much laughter and fluff.
I have to give a special mention to Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as Nick and Susan Potter, Johnny’s good friends. Every scene they’re in is laugh-out-loud funny—mostly due to exquisite deadpan delivery of witty dialogue. Susan: “I have a terrible run in my stocking.” Nick: “We’re ruined.” And the way they take to Linda immediately is the true heart of this film. Watching her blossom in the face of kindred spirits is perhaps the most heartwarming element of the movie. The love story is fine and dandy, but seeing Linda “find herself” takes the cake.
I’m relieved and thrilled to have finally come across a Katharine Hepburn film I not only like, but love. I’ll admit it was Cary Grant who drew me to it in the first place, but I find it hard to picture anyone else doing Kate’s part as well as she. She’s lovely. And as I said, I bought the thing, so I can revisit it again and again. Don’t think I won’t.
About the Patron:
Erik Stadnik (@sjcaustenite on Twitter) is one of my favorite people in the world. I met him in person the same weekend I met my spouse, and I fell in love with both of them in different ways. In fact, Steven and I chose Erik to perform our wedding ceremony. He did it perfectly. He is also the intelligent, well-spoken co-host of three excellent podcasts, The Doctor Who Book Club, Doctor Who: The Writers’ Room, and The Classic Horror Cast. His always erudite and insightful blog can be found at erikandhispointlessblog.blogspot.com.