Thursday, January 14, 2010

Underrated Movie #13: Holiday

Title: Holiday
Year: 1938
Director: George Cukor (Adam’s Rib)
Writers: Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Phillip Barry
Stars: Katherine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby), Cary Grant (His Girl Friday), Doris Nolan, Edward Everett Horton (Lost Horizon)

The Story: A poor young stockbroker saves up enough money to take a holiday, where he hastily gets engaged to an incognito heiress. Now he has to impress the girl’s family even though he’s about to drop a bombshell: he’s not sure he wants to be rich.

How it Came to be Underrated: At the time, the movie was an unexpected flop and confirmed Hepburn’s temporary status as “box office poison”. Its reputation has risen over the years, but it sometimes disappoints film fans hoping for another “screwball” comedy. This movie is a little more wistful than Grant’s zanier output.

Why It’s Great:
  1. Nobody had more charm than Cary Grant. He was so good at bowling audiences over with his talent that he was reluctant to let his persona slip and show more vulnerability, but this is one of his most raw and heartfelt performances. We get to see him waver between rich and poor, lover and clown, the witty sophisticate Cary Grant and the cockney acrobat Archie Leach. Like his character, Grant is negotiating onscreen the bargain between who he was and who he wants to be.
  2. The central conflict of the movie—society pressures vs. bohemianism in a rich family—is not a big worry anymore. The stuffed shirts have been long since unstuffed themselves and nobody fashions themselves more “wild” and “independent” than the upper classes. These kids would all have piercings today and the parents wouldn’t mind a bit. But the underlying question still resonates: How do you get locked into a life you don’t want? That’s something you have to worry about even if you don’t drink champagne for breakfast.
  3. And it’s fascinating to see the hints here of more serious trouble on the horizon. Grant is quickly made aware of the opportunities for stock manipulation that his new connections can provide. He's told that he could make a million in two years, or even quicker “if we had the right kind of government.” Grant’s bohemian friend asks suspiciously: “Like which country?”, but the question goes unanswered. Within a few years everyone would try to forget the appeal that Hitler had to American elites, but this movie was still willing to ring that bell in 1938.
  4. I love that the gowns are by somebody simply named “Kalloch”, presumably after his plans to conquer America with a robot army were foiled.

Underrated Compared To: This is just as much of a must-see as Grant and Hepburn’s more-famous pairings Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story (which had the same writers and director as this).

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: those two movies, naturally. Also, in between this and Philadelphia Story, Cukor made The Women, which is delightful.

How Available Is It?: I got tricked-- It’s on dvd and it’s soon to be available to watch instantly on Netflix, but not yet. I was all set to watch it, so I used a gift card to buy it from iTunes. $10 and it took a while to download, but the quality was okay. Not anything I’d make a habit of, but a decent enough deal.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Oh Monkey Butler, Is There Anything You Can’t Do?


Dan McCoy said...

I'd argue that this is better than Bringing Up Baby which is a screwball comedy without a straight man. If everything's crazy, then nothing is. If there was a corresponding "overrated classics" blog, I'd nominate that film.

His Girl Friday on the other hand (and speaking of Grant-screwballs) is one of the funniest movies ever made.

Matt Bird said...

That would make it the mirror image to this movie, which is a screwball comedy without a screwball. But c'mon, who doesn't like Bringing Up Baby?

Unknown said...

Bring Up Baby has been my favourite film since I first saw it on television, Christmas Eve,1961. However Holiday runs it very close a delightful film, I saw it in Paris in one of those little cinemas that show nothing but B & W movies from the classic age, (saw Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be at the same time) Holiday is hard to get hold of here in the UK, as is To be Or Not To Be, which can though be bought on DVD in excellent quality from Amazon France under the title Jeux Dangereux

Dan McCoy said...

I don't like Bringing Up Baby. Or, at least, I think it's very overrated. Others who agree? Famed Overlooked Movie-Screener Elliott Kalan, for one. I know it's an unpopular position, though.

christofeles said...

A masterpiece. One of Cukor's best. Blends the whimsical and poignant with great sensitivity and CLASS. But hardly underrated.