26 June 2009

How About a Little Perspective - Or - The Subversive Message of Holiday

So Holiday is a comedy, right?
The 1938 film with Hepburn and Grant?
Yeah that's the one.
Well there are certainly comic elements in it....
It's a romance too.
So you’re saying it's a romantic comedy?
Of course, what else?
What else indeed. It's a movie with a very strong anti business, anti greed message.

In Holiday (1938) Cary Grant stars as Johnny Case a man of 30 who's worked his way from the bottom rung of society to the verge of greatness in the business world. However instead of pushing on and amassing a great fortune, Johnny wants to find himself.

He tells his future sister-in-law, Linda Seton (Kate Hepburn): "As soon as I get enough money I'm going to knock off for awhile. The world's changing there's a lot of new exciting ideas... I want to know where I stand, how I fit into the picture, what it's going to mean to me. I can't find that out sitting behind some desk in an office. (I'll) come back and work when I know what it is I'm working for."

Obviously impressed Linda replies, "you haven't been caught by it yet you haven't bit bitten by it.... The reverence for riches."

While on his first ever Holiday taken at Lake Placid, Johnny has just met Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) and they've fallen instantly in love an mean to marry. Unbeknownst to Johnny, Linda comes from an extremely wealthy family. Johnny's plans to to make some quick dough and go find himself will not sit well with Julia's father, the stuffy widower, Edward Seton. Nor for that matter will they meet with the unsuspecting Julia's approval. She tells Johnny, "there's no such thrill in the world as making money."

The free spirited Linda however is entranced by Johnny. Her besotted and philosophical brother, Ned (Lew Ayres) also takes to him.

Johnny and Julia's engagement is to be announced at the the Seton's New York mansion during a New Year's Eve party which will be attended by all the best people. That is, those of good breeding and huge bank accounts.

At the party we meet a cousin, Seton Cram (Harry Daniell) and his wife Laura (Binnie Barnes). They talk and walk as the very embodiment of cultured conservative society. Each word they utter sounds coated in brie. Since their cousin's intended is an unknown they hypothesize that he is "a common climber who nobody knows." And Seton scoffs that this Case fellow "doesn't even belong to the Harvard Club."

Also among the cast are two old friends of Johnny's, Professor Nick Potter (Edward Everett Horton) and his wife Susan Elliot Potter (Jean Dixon). We meet them at the beginning of the movie sitting in front of their fireplace reading. We find them to be convivial, intelligent fun loving sorts. The Potters represent the sort of intellectuals that conservatives abhor.

These same Potters are at the party and feeling quite out of place until they come across "the playroom" and meet Linda who wants nothing to do with the big shindig going on downstairs. Of course they form an instant bond and are later joined by Ned then Johnny, who's sent to coax Linda into joining the other revelers (though their form of revelry is as raucous as a spelling bee). The playrrom assemblage form "the 5th avenue anti stuffed shirt club and flying trapeze club." When Seton and Laura enter the room, our friends not so subtly give them the fascist salute.

Ignoring this, Seton congratulates Johnny on his business venture which he has just learned is going to bring instant riches. Johnny's delighted as it will mean he can follow his heart, quit business for awhile and go into the business of figuring out the world and his place in it.
There's a joke about making million at which point Seton says, "mark my words with the help of the right sort of people you'll make more than that within two years. It wouldn't take that long if we had the right kind of government."

"Like which country for example Mr. Cram?" asks Mrs. Potter.

Keep in mind that Holiday was released early in Franklin Roosevelt's second term. He had won re-election by a landslide but was still reviled by many of the wealthiest Americans who considered him a "traitor to his class." while he was helping millions out of the Depression, tens of Americans were whining about losing a few cents of their profits and having to lay off a chauffeur.

In the penultimate conversation with his prospective father-in-law who's anxious to set Johnny up in banking, our protagonist says, "I'm afraid I'm not quite as anxious as I might be for the things most people work towards. I don't want too much money."

"Too much money?" the shocked multi-millionaire responds.

"More than I need to live by. You see its always been my idea to make a few thousand early in the game and then quit for at long as it lasts and try to find out who I am and what goes on and what about it while I'm young and feel good all the time."


Meanwhile it has become increasingly obvious to us and to the Potters and Ned, that Linda and Johnny are a much better fit than Julia and Johnny.

How does it all end? Likely you've seen Holiday and know, but on the off chance you haven't I'll not spoil the ending -- just promise you'll rent it post haste.

Holiday was based on a Phillip Barry play and no, Barry was not a radical, he was in fact a member of the upper crust which made him all the more qualified to comment on them.

So as you can see Holiday may have some romance and a few yucks in it but it's clearly a film that carries a very strong message.
You know I never really noticed it but you're right.
I know the first few times I saw it I was more taken in by watching Grant and Hepburn.
And Lew Ayers, God he was terrific.
Yes George Cukor directed and he brought all the elements together.
But you're right it really is a powerful indictment of the monied class.
And a call to arms to explore the world before getting bogged down by possessions.
Great film. Thanks for helping me see it it in a whole new way.
You're welcome!

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