Directed by George Cukor
Written by David Ogden Stewart & Sidney Buchman (screenplay) from a play by Philip Barry
Starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon
Sometimes a movie is a victim of bad timing. Holiday was certain in that category: it flopped, even though it was a successful Broadway play and had been a success in the theaters. But a lot had changed by the time this remake came out, and the result was a vastly underappreciated film.
It’s the story of Johnny Case (Cary Grant) who is about to marry Julia Seaton (Doris Nolan). Meeting her parents for the first time, he discovers she is part of a rich banking family, a surprise for Johnny, who is successful, but not rich. He father Ned (Lew Ayres) is surprised, but accepts Johnny and wants him to join him in the bank. The family is conventional and conservative* to a fault.
Except for Julia’s a sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn), who is lively and a free spirit, an embarrassment to her stodgy family. Johnny takes a liking to her and confides that his plan was to stop working and try to see the world and figure out how to make his life meaningful. This doesn’t sit well with the family when the word gets out.
Katherine Hepburn fits the character perfectly – exactly the type of woman that understands Johnny and would love to go with him.** She’s so full of life and so natural that she is a delight in all her scenes.
Cary Grant is Cary Grant, of course, with his famous charm on full display. Also memorable are Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as a couple of Johnny’s friends who are far more interesting than anyone in the Seaton family.
Despite the direction of George Cukor and good critical notices, the film flopped. Most people thought that the theme of giving up a job didn’t resonate in the depths of the Depression, when jobs were so hard to come by.***
At the time, though, the reason was clear: it starred Katherine Hepburn. She had had a couple of flops that year, and she was labeled “box office poison.”**** She was dropped by RKO and was on her own.*****
Even though it was a flop, the movie seemed to have a lasting effect. Before the play came out, “Linda” was a rare name. It got a jump in popularity when the first film came out, and an even bigger one after Holiday.
Now the movie is considered one of many gems in the filmography of Grant and Hepburn and of director George Cukor.
*In the 1930s understanding of the term.
**It’s not a spoiler to know that they end up together at the end; everything in the movie points in that direction.
***The play was produced ten years earlier, before the Crash, and the movie came out in 1930, in the early days of the Depression when there were still people who believed that prosperity is just around the corner.
****The two films that seemed to bring on the epithet was this one and Bringing Up Baby, (now considered one of the best comedies of all time). It’s interesting that Cary Grant, her costar in both those movies, never was named poison himself.
*****Of course, Hepburn was not one to take this lying down. She went back to Broadway to perform a play by Phillip Barry, which was such a big success that Hollywood wanted to make a movie of it. But Hepburn was smart enough to buy the movie rights, and insisted she star as a condition. The Philadelphia Story was a hit and Hepburn never looked back.