No matter how many times I see this movie, I am always taken aback by what wonderful performances Cary Grant and Jean Dixon give in it. So great are they (and Edward Everett Horton), that you don't mind Katharine Hepburn's occasional scenery chewing, or the fact that Doris Nolan's character, Julia, seems like a highly unlikely choice for hero Johnny Case (Grant).
Holiday was originally a play by Philip Barry (author of The Philadelphia Story, another play-to-film success for Grant, Hepburn, and director, George Cukor). It had been filmed already in 1930 with Robert Ames as Johnny, Ann Harding as Linda (the Hepburn role), and Mary Astor as Julia. Edward Everett Horton played Professor Potter in both films, with (get this) Hedda Hopper as his wife, Susan. No Jean Dixon, she.
I have never seen the 1930 version, an oversight that shall be corrected forthwith. I mean --the poster alone...
Holiday is the story of Johnny Case, a happy-go-lucky self-starter, who has worked his way up from humble beginnings to a place of some promise in the world of finance. He meets Julia Seton while on his first vacation ever in Lake Placid and after two weeks of apparently not talking at all about anything that matters to either of them, they fall in love and decide to get married.
Back in Manhattan, Johnny meets up with his pals, the Potters (Horton and Dixon), a homey, perfectly-matched, charming couple, tells them he's getting married, and runs over to his fiancee's house to meet the family and get the father's blessing. The house in question takes up a block of Fifth or Park Avenue or something, so he figures Julia must work there and goes by the servant's entrance. Turns out she lives there and a freaked out butler escorts a baffled Johnny to a marble-lined entry way the size of an airplane hangar. Johnny is asked, in the words of Firesign Theater, to sit in the waiting room or wait in the sitting room, and runs into an unsteady young man in a top hat and head plaster who turns out to be Julia's massively hungover brother, Ned (Lew Ayres). Julia finally shows up and explains that she has to go to church to break the news to her father there so that he can't raise his voice about it. Johnny asks her why she didn't mention she was one of THOSE Setons, but says it makes no difference; after all, it's like learning that she can play the piano or something. He is to come back at lunch time to meet Father (Henry Kolker). On the way out the door, they run into Linda, Julia's elder sister, who is NOT going to church, and takes an instant liking to Johnny's carriage and humor.
So we've met just about everyone we need to and we've learned the following: The Potters are awesome and love Johnny; Ned is a drunk who does everything he's told, which is why he's a drunk; Julia is beautiful and manipulative; Johnny is at ease in any situation; and Linda is the black sheep. And once we meet Father, the rest falls into place.
Old man Seton is a domineering martinet who dotes on Julia (who is very much like him, as we come to learn), barely tolerates Ned, and is continually exasperated with Linda (who is very much like his late wife). Johnny gets a chance to talk with Linda and Ned before meeting Mr. Seton. There is a special room in the house -- the children's old playroom -- where Linda spends most of her time. Johnny charms the bejeezus out the two of them and they are delighted that Julia made such a surprisingly good decision. We also find out that Johnny has a master plan: he wants to make a pile of money then retire to roam the world, see what it's All About, then come back and work when he knows what he should be working for. Who knows how long it will take, but he wants to do it while he's "young and feel(s) good all the time."
Linda thinks that's fantastic, but has he told Julia?
No. No, he hasn't, because I guess they hadn't covered that in the two weeks they hung out together on the ski slopes of Lake Placid. That, and her tremendous position of privilege and desire to keep it.
Anyway, Mr. Seton agrees to their marriage and proceeds to ride roughshod over their marital plans, which is just fine with Julia. At their New Year's engagement cotillion (Linda wanted to throw them a nice small party in the playroom, but father wouldn't hear of it) Johnny learns that a deal has gone through that earned him the necessary pile of dough to take his holiday. He finally tells both father and daughter about his life's ambition, and they are deeply horrified at the notion that there may just be "enough money." Johnny is stunned, but the engagement is still on. Maybe he should compromise. Maybe she'll come around.
Meanwhile, Linda, sulking up in the playroom, strikes up a friendship with the Potters, who have stumbled upon the room while trying to escape the sea of wealth and power of the party below. Their introduction to that event is one of the most delightful bits of writing and acting in the history of writing and acting.
I'm not telling you how it ends, but you can probably figure it out. You can get this picture streaming from various sources or on DVD. If you haven't seen it in a while, do yourself a favor. Then imagine how much better it would have been if Irene Dunne had been cast as Linda as originally planned. Don't get me wrong: I love Katharine Hepburn, but this isn't her best era. That begins with The Philadelphia Story.
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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