Holiday (1938) – Blu-Ray Review

Holiday is a screwball comedy from 1938—and its actually a remake of a 1930 film, which in turn was based on a Broadway play. That was a common trajectory at the time, with The Maltese Falcon being one of the most famous examples. It was one of first in the genre to star Cary Gran who is probably a male actor very much associated with the screwball comedy form. It’s where Grant really found his groove as he moved into these types of films from a background acting in more typical dramatic or romantic roles. He continued with a string of these films well into the 1940s, of which several were, like Holiday, also directed by George Cukor. Grant worked with Howard Hawks on a number of screwball comedies as well.

The plot doesn’t matter that much in these films, but here Grant plays Johnny, a self-made man who is a free-thinking type for the time. His fiancée Julia, played by Doris Nolan, comes from a very wealthy family. He wants her parents to like him, but you quickly notice that his fiancée’s older sister Linda, played by Katherine Hepburn, is very interested in him as well. Johnny doesn’t want to live off her father’s money, instead he plans to become financially sound from his own work and then go on a long holiday to figure out where he fits in the world. As soon as Hepburn shows up, you know that through some course of events the two of them will end up together.

It’s good, though not one of my favourites in this genre—by far the Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges are superior. The Hawks films still feel very modern, and for me that gives them an edge. Obviously, Grant and Hepburn worked great together—they did Bringing Up Baby together with Hawks the same year so they had their rhythm down (Bringing Up Baby was a flop when it came out, though, because it was ahead of its time.) Surprisingly, Hepburn’s films didn’t do very well at the time, as she was getting a lot of bad press. It wasn’t until The Philadelphia Story that she had a hit again. Her comeback came after Hepburn bought out her contract at RKO, something that was then unheard of, and bought the film rights to The Philadelphia Story to secure it as the vehicle that would restart her career.

Holiday is an enjoyable watch, and of course it has plenty of funny dialogue. It was not especially successful, perhaps because the audience were offended by the idea that Grant’s character wanted to give up working, as it was released during the Great Depression. It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in that period of filmmaking.

The disc includes a lot of extras. It includes the 1930 version, directed by Edward H. Griffiths, a conversation with filmmaker/distributor Michael Schlesinger and critic Michael Sragow, and excerpts from an AFI audio oral history segment with Cukor. In addition there is a costume gallery and an essay by critic Dana Stevens.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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