Monday, August 15, 2011
No Holiday from Holiday (1938)
Holiday (1938; Dir. George Cukor) is among my all-time favorite movies, but while watching it this morning I noticed the boom microphone shadow across Lew Ayres' face. Ayres' performance, along with the rest of the cast, is impressive. The fact that Holiday is one of the most overlooked films of the Golden Age of Hollywood still baffles me. Perhaps it's due to it coming among Katharine Hepburn's "Box Office Poison" period, during which she made such "failures" as Bringing Up Baby. But unlike that Howard Hawks masterwork, Cukor's Holiday hasn't garnered the overdue praise that befits a movie of its quality...visible boom notwithstanding.
I've written about Hepburn's excellent performance in this film before, but the things that draw me to Holiday time and again are the social commentary and class distinctions, all set during the powderkeg economic conditions of the 1930s.
The most famous--and amazingly prescient--line of dialogue is spoken by Cary Grant's Johnny Case character, a footloose and happy-go-lucky guy who's nonetheless seriously trying to "find himself" decades before baby boomers made that phrase commonplace. It's no surprise that Holiday enjoyed a small surge in popularity during the late sixties and early seventies, when another round of social upheaval was present:
"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite."
Oh, the irony.
The film also touches on the political instability of the era. The fascist states in Germany and Italy were reviving the economies shattered by the 1929 stock market crash. There was much speculation about Capitalism's viability in those dark times, so the idea of Fascism--and Communism--seemed like options worth considering to many people. However, Holiday doesn't embrace any of those totalitarian systems, but it does raise the questions on peoples' minds in 1938. The Setons' cousins, Seton and Laura Cram (Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes) areseen as cold, almost sinister beings and it's a more-than-subtle warning about those other systems. The liberals, Professor and Mrs. Potter (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) take exception to the beliefs of the Crams, as this exchange indicates:
Seton Cram: "It wouldn't take that long [to make more money] if we had the right kind of governement."
Susan Elliot Potter: "Like which country for example, Mr. Cram?"
It's these social commentaries that help make Holiday such an interesting movie. Yes, the romance between the leads is the main focus, but in these class distinctions it's fascinating to see how American society is portrayed here. Like all great works of art, Holiday holds something new for the viewer with each viewing. It's one of the great--if forgotten--films of the 1930s.