Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Films I Love #31: Holiday (George Cukor, 1938)
I've written about George Cukor's sublime Holiday here before, but any list of my favorite films would simply not be complete without it. The film is a moving, joyous parable about the importance of finding your own place in life, of not only marching to the beat of your own drummer, but of pounding out the beat with your own two hands. The film boasts one of Cary Grant's best performances, as a free-spirited self-made man who thinks he's in love with a stuffy society heiress (Doris Nolan) but seems more of a natural match for her fun-loving sister (Katharine Hepburn). Every second of screentime between Grant and Hepburn glows and sparkles with the pleasure of seeing two such vivacious performers enjoying one another's company. It's obvious from the moment they're introduced and shake hands with a playful nod, that they're the film's real couple, and Nolan is all but cast aside.
The film is a tribute to remaining youthful, and there's a childlike spirit to the way Grant and Hepburn play here: riding tricycles, doing somersaults, putting on Punch and Judy shows, not to mention the witty verbal banter and playacting of their conversations. The centerpiece of the film is a New Year's Eve party where Grant and Hepburn retreat to an upstairs room, away from the snooty society crowd, along with Grant's friends (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) and Hepburn's drunkard brother (Lew Ayres). This small, intimate party takes place in the only comfortable room in a palatial mansion, the only room with a normal sense of scale. Throughout the film, Cukor isolates Grant in long shots of rooms that seem to have been built for eight-foot tall giants, emphasizing his discomfort with the luxury and opulence that seems to await him if he marries into this family. It's only in the upstairs playroom, with its cozy fireplace and leftover childhood toys, that Grant and Hepburn can relax and be themselves.