Friday, May 04, 2018

Holiday (1938) (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Holiday (1938). Lew Ayres, Katherine Hepburn, Henry Kolker, Binnie Barnes.

George Cukor, US 1938
Print source: UCLA Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 97 minutes
Viewed at The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2018

NPS: "About the print

This rare sepia-toned print shows some vertical and horizontal streaking on the image due to processing chemicals that have improperly dried on the film. It may have been a rejected print. Nevertheless, the image underneath the color is quite extraordinary and demonstrates that toning in the sound era was neither uncommon nor inadvisable. Shrinkage: 1%

About the film

“One of the finest of the year on every count; should make plenty. This is a splendid picture and deserves laurels on every count. Direction, acting and dialogue are of the best, with the production certain to be rated among the most important of the year. George Cukor has given it skillful, sympathetic direction and has injected several human touches.”
– Film Daily, May 20, 1938

“Philip Barry’s play, Holiday, which in film form was a smash hit eight years ago in the depression’s depth, rises to box office heights as a recession remake. George Cukor has given it an up-to-the-moment directorial treatment, and the starring team of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant provide attractive marquee persuasion. . . . Holiday is produced with so much spirit and spontaneity that the handicap of being a remake is unlikely to retard its popularity. It is handsomely mounted and stamped with fine technical work throughout. Possessing class and superlative entertainment qualities, it should move smoothly into the best first runs.”
– Variety, May 18, 1938

“Katharine Hepburn plays leading role of Linda Seton with the same emotional power that she displayed in Bill of Divorcement and Morning Glory. Her acting is of the highest order, and she combines with superb effect comedy and hysteria, depth of feeling and indifference. Cary Grant, who plays opposite the star once more, proves that he can portray a ‘straight’ role as competently and cleverly as his light comedy roles.”
– Daily Boston Globe, May 28, 1938" (NPS)

AA: George Cukor, the great star-maker, had launched Katharine Hepburn in her film debut in A Bill of Divorcement, casting her with John Barrymore who became her mentor. Cukor made her his Jo in Little Women. In Sylvia Scarlett Cukor revealed the chemistry between Hepburn and Cary Grant. That chemistry keeps growing in Holiday, a film in which Cukor is at his best.

Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman updated Philip Barry's stage comedy favourite of ten years ago. (Both screenwriters were later to be blacklisted by the HUAC). They also wrote The Philadelphia Story for Cukor, Hepburn and Grant, a brilliant sequel and reversal of Holiday, but in Holiday the zany spirit is fresher. The emotional power of Holiday is more compelling.

Holiday is an account of a dysfunctional family. They are rich and unhappy, the embodiment of which is the son Ned (Lew Ayres) whose spirit has been broken by his overpowering father. He has become a spineless alcoholic.

The counterforce to the millionaire family is the unconventional Potter couple (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon). They are Grant's true friends,

This holiday is serious business. The title of the play and the film adaptations mean holiday from work but not in the usual sense of leisure. It is about not losing oneself in routine, in a life defined, dictated and directed by others. The rebels refuse even mixing business with pleasure but demand "a clean break" to "make our own life".

Holiday is also a profound love story, true love meaning reinventing oneself and discovering the deepest layers of one's self in the company of the significant other.

Cukor directs a great ensemble here, not only in the main roles but including everyone in big setpieces such as the engagement party. Cukor kept growing as a master of the mise-en-scène. His great ensemble shots are dynamic and full of life.

Cary Grant's acrobatic skills are on display. During the engagement party Grant and Hepburn perform a tumbling trick. In the finale Grant is doing a back flip in the ship's hallway when he sees Hepburn in the middle of the handspring and falls flat on his tummy. Grant then pulls Hepburn down to the floor for the final kiss.

I had arrived from Helsinki to Rochester the night before. Jet lag due to the seven hour time difference hit me in the mid part of the screening which I partly missed due to fatigue. I have seen this marvellous film before and included it in my handbook of the 1100 greatest films of all times (MMM Elokuvaopas 1995, 2005), but there is much that I had forgotten.

The sepia toning was refined and elegant. Toning can be memorable in sound films as I know from our vintage first run prints of Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar. And of the beautiful UCLA restoration of One Hour with You directed by Ernst Lubitsch and the uncredited George Cukor.

The shimmering quality of the nitrate added to the elegance of this stylish and wonderful film. We had been warned about the streaking on the image, but it was easy to look beyond it and enjoy the original beauty of Franz Planer's cinematography.

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