Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Favorite Holiday Movies: "Holiday"

"Holiday" (the 1938 film based on a Philip Barry play, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, not the more recent thing with Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law) is one of my favorite movies of all time. Maybe THE favorite.

I've been asked more than once why I like "Holiday" so well or why I like it better than "The Philadelphia Story" or "Bringing Up Baby," better-known Grant/Hepburn collaborations. The answer is partly grounded in the fact that I got attached to "Holiday" when I was ten or eleven, and you really don't know why you like things at that age. You just do. But there's more to it than that.

I like Cary Grant, of course. He's at his most fetching here, as Johnny Case, man of the people, who came from nothing and worked really hard at some vague financial job that has made him a nice amount of money, so now he wants nothing more than to take his money and take a holiday around the world. It's sort of an anti-capitalist philosophy. Or maybe "capitalism that knows when enough is enough and then wants to have some fun." I like that refreshing attitude. Cary is also not terribly serious in this movie; he does acrobatic tricks, he messes up his hair, and he lets himself get kicked in the bootie to show he hasn't turned stuffy or puffed-up. But he still looks really good in a tux.

And then there's Kate. The plot of "Holiday" treats her far better than "The Philadelphia Story," where everybody keeps telling her that she's too perfect, she's an ice queen, she's judgmental, she needs to change while the male philanderers (her father) and alcoholics (her ex) are just fine the way they are. That always struck me as sexist and unpleasant and not very nice. Here, she's trying to do the right thing and find her own way, stuck in a pretentious, wealthy family she doesn't like much and at the same time desperately attracted to the man her sister has brought home as a fiance. As Linda Seton, Ms. Hepburn is as lively and vivacious as ever, plus she's warm and funny and nobody is blaming her for anything.

I also like the supporting cast, with Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as an amusing pair of Johnny's friends who like Linda far better than her prissy sister and Lew Ayres as Linda's unhappy brother. Plus Binnie Barnes and Henry Daniell are hilarious as snooty relatives that Linda calls the Witch and Dopey.

There are serious issues here, and yet it's all treated lightly and sweetly, with enough romance ("Happy New Year, Johnny" and the almost kiss is my favorite) and funny stuff (with everybody doing gymnastic stunts and Punch and Judy in the old playroom) to keep the story moving. George Cukor's direction is dandy, with the emphasis on just how attractive Grant and Hepburn are. It's also really cool to see what the privileged set lived like in 1938. Special ties, special church, special parties... And that Manhattan mansion is pretty swell.

"Holiday" will be playing on TCM this afternoon, and it's also available as an Instant View on Netflix through January 1. I've got my own copy, part of a Cary Grant box set. I plan to watch it on New Year's Eve, since that's the holiday I like the best in the movie. I should also note that the title "Holiday" does not refer to Christmas or New Year's, but to Johnny's plan to take a long holiday, a vacation, now that he's made the money he wants.

When it's Cary Grant playing Johnny, it's hard not to support his holiday. It's hard not to try to book a cabin on that ship and go right along with him. As Linda says, "If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to come back and sell peanuts, oh, how I'll believe in those peanuts!"

Right there with you, sister.


  1. One of my all time if not my all time favorite movies....LOVE it...for the reasons you mention but also for the many mysterious ones you don't....I just plain love it......
    Not anonymous...Sara Risley

  2. A fave here, too. I came to it after Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby, and it's basically a 3-way tie somewhere near the top of my lifetime lists of faves.
    It reminds me of all those Regency romances, in which the worthy hero starts out with the Wrong Sister.

  3. I knew I had seen this at least once, but the peanuts line confirmed it. I would love to see this again!

    I just watched It's a Wonderful Life straight through from the beginning (for many years, I happened to join it at various moments in progress on tv, missing wonderful bits, and having some cut out by commercials and to fit time slots, etc.) and it was wonderful!

    But why is Cary Grant wearing lipstick in the poster?

  4. Thanks for the comments, Sara, Margaret and Kathleen. I guess I'm with Sara and the mysterious reasons (if I understand that properly) -- that it just appeals to something in me, something deep and hard to figure out, and I don't really care what those reasons are. I just love this movie. I just do.

    I don't know why Cary is wearing lipstick, but I have to say, that's a pretty disappointing poster all around. There are horses and water skiing for no apparent reason. And the tagline is "Heart-warming drama... Smiles... And the tears behind them..." Which... Sounds more like something dreary like "Penny Serenade" and not at all like this particular lively and lovely movie. IMDB tells me that there were two other taglines: "So daring -- so tender -- so human -- so true -- that everyone in love will want to see it!" and "If you had a million... which sister would you pick to spend it with?" Neither of those is any good, either. The promo department at Columbia needed serious help.

  5. This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you .........

  6. Two things:

    1) I LOVE "Penny Serenade"!! Partly for its sweet long scene bathing the baby.

    2) Last night I tried to watch "High Society" and a) fell asleep b) woke up to find the CD skipping, as evidently it was one of the CDs exposed to the rain in a recent garage disaster.

  7. Feel free to argue, movie pictures! Kathleen likes "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Penny Serenade" and I don't, so there's an argument right there. (Not really. But discussion is always welcome, anyway!)

    I find "High Society" a wan remake of "The Philadelphia Story." Bing is no CK Dexter Haven in my eyes. I suspect Bing-lover SMS might feel differently, however. Especially since he's opposite Grace Kelly.