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Although this film is best known for its 1938 remake with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, this first talkie version is just as fine an adaptation of the classic comedy, but with the added distinction of the vibrant, natural and completely beguiling performance of Ann Harding as Linda (she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress). Sadly, the film exists only as an archive print in D.C.'s Library of Congress.
If you get the chance to see this version of "Holiday," take it! Ann Harding is fabulous in the part of Linda, a role later played by Katharine Hepburn in the better known 1938 version. But another pleasure of this version is Mary Astor's excellent portrayal of Julia. She takes a rather blah and unrewarding role and really makes something of it. Highly recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pathe acquired the screen rights to Philip Barry's sophisticated play
"Holiday" for Ina Claire, who had a nine month contract with the
studio, but the production of "The Awful Truth" took longer than
anticipated and Ann Harding was handed the plum role of Linda Seton.
"Holiday" was a huge hit and Ann received an Academy Award nomination
(she lost to Marie Dressler). It also cemented her image as a
shimmering, radiant beauty, always well bred but with distinctive views
of life and love. Mary Astor recalled that Ann "was one of the first
stars who disregarded her status on the set, she wore little or no make
up and would not put up with special treatment, special chairs etc".
She was a hard worker and not a phoney.
"Life walked into the house today" declares Linda Seton, when her sister, Julia (Mary Astor) introduces her fiancée Johnny Case (Robert Ames). The Setons are extremely wealthy (they have a lift that takes them to each floor in their mansion) and money is their God. Johnny is just a regular guy, who comes from humble beginnings and feels life is there to be lived. Linda agrees with his philosophy and wants Julia to grab her happiness. Their brother, Ned (Monroe Owsley) is a cynical alcoholic who has given up trying to assert his own personality and is now completely submerged by his father - almost. Even though on the surface, Julia is eager to fall in with Linda and Ned's plans, at heart she is like her father and secretly wants Johnny to buckle under and take a place at the family firm.
Linda wants to give Julia and Johnny a special party with just a few friends (Edward Everett Horton, Hedda Hopper), real people, not pretentious snobs, who will make it a fun evening. Next scene, a ball is in full swing and Linda is nowhere to be seen - she is defiantly throwing her small party in the nursery - the only room she has ever felt happy. By the movie's end Julia's grasping "small" nature is revealed - when Johnny rejects her father's offer of a job - Julia admits she doesn't love Johnny, his carefree attitude has turned her cold. It is up to Linda to rush to his side (he is sailing on the midnight boat) and give him the love and support he needs. She has a special message for Ned - "I'm going to return you to life" - and for the room in general - "If he (Johnny) wants to sell peanuts - oh how I'll believe in those peanuts"!!!
This is a wonderful, sparkling movie and Ann Harding is glorious in it. You forget how old the movie really is. Has Mary Astor ever given a bad performance - I think not and she is excellent as the unbending Julia. Monroe Owsley, whose forte was villains, the oilier the better gave a good performance as Ned. From the list of his movie credits big things were expected of Robert Ames, who played Johnny, but, unfortunately, he died of the D.Ts the following year.
The 1938 remake benefits from a more assured production and, of course, Cukor's direction. And the two are surprisingly close: Whole swatches of dialog from 1930 are lifted more or less bodily (the 1930 version, most likely, did the same with the stage dialog). And it's a rather stagy early talkie, trying, but not very hard, to move the action around and make it more cinematic. What the early version does have is Ann Harding. She's so lovely, and her playing has, I don't know, a stillness, a contemplation to it; she seems to think very hard about what to say before she says it. It lends a certain gravitas to what is already a fairly serious comedy dealing with rather large issues--how to live one's life, and how one's choices affect those around one. Mary Astor is also miles beyond Doris Nolan, creating a multifaceted, complicated character out of what could come across as just a selfish sister. Robert Ames hasn't Cary Grant's polished comedy playing or looks, but he's credible, and Edward Everett Horton is delightful in the same part he played in 1938. It's a mellow, thoughtful movie, marred but hardly ruined by the primitive movie-making. And we're very lucky to have Ann Harding's Oscar-nominated Linda Seton preserved.
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