Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Holiday (George Cukor, 1938)
Sylvia Scarlett (Cukor, 1935), is just, well, weird. The Philadelphia Story (Cukor, 1940) has maybe a touch too much MGM gloss for my tastes, and James Stewart has a better role than Grant does. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938) is a greater movie than Holiday and one of the funniest films ever made, but as a showcase for the talents and the chemistry of Grant and Hepburn it falls short because they're mostly called on for one note: zaniness. But Holiday allows them to show off almost everything they could do. It allows Grant to be suave and ardent and acrobatic and sexy. It lets Hepburn be intense and vulnerable and glamorous and noble. And it gives them one of the best supporting casts ever assembled to play off of. As films like his David Copperfield (1935) and The Women (1939) show, Cukor was a master at directing ensembles of colorful players. Here he directs the usually bland Lew Ayres in a heartbreaking performance as Ned Seton, the trapped, alcoholic younger brother of Linda (Hepburn) and Julia (Doris Nolan). He makes Nolan's Julia first a credible match for Grant's Johnny Case and then eases her transition into a chip off the old ice block: the die-hard capitalist tycoon paterfamilias played by Henry Kolker. Johnny's background is illuminated by his friendship with the witty, professorial Potters (Edward Everett Horton and the wonderful Jean Dixon) as that of the Setons is by the snide, snobbish Crams (Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes). Of course, all of these relationships are built into the film by its source, a play by Philip Barry adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman, but it's Cukor's skill at keeping them in balance that allows the film to stay away from sentimentality or getting bogged down in satire of the rich. There's a bit of the latter -- and of the leftist views that would later get Stewart blacklisted -- when Seton calls Johnny's desire to take time off from making money "un-American," to which Linda replies, "Well, then, he is, and he won't go to heaven when he dies, because apparently he can't believe that a life devoted to piling up money is all it's cracked up to be." Holiday has a little more satiric bite than the other Barry-Stewart-Cukor-Grant-Hepburn collaboration, The Philadelphia Story, but this is Depression-era political commentary with a light touch. Best of all, Holiday is one of the greatest members of a much-abused genre, the romantic comedy.