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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.
Turner Classic Movies often shows the marvelous old film Holiday--
starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Doris Nolan. It's among the
best films either of them made and it's certainly among my favorites.
However, I recently learned that the movie is NOT the first version of
the Philip Barry play. Back in 1930, the original movie was made which
stars Ann Harding, Robert Ames and Mary Astor.
The plots of the two versions are pretty much the same. Julia brings her new fiancé, Johnny, home to meet her family. He's shocked to find out she's loaded...and I mean loaded! Her family has millions and is very prominent socially. This is a far cry from Johnny and his working class roots. However, they are in love and both plan on getting married quite soon regardless of their differences. Through the course of the film, it becomes obvious that Julia has plans to control and mold Johnny---plans which are very different from his plans. Johnny is a bit of a dreamer. He would like to make enough money so that he can then go on an extended break--to see the world, experience life and only then settle down into a routine. Julia, however, sees him working as a banker or financier--stable, dependable and dull. There is absolutely no way both can have their way. One, or both, must bend.
In this same wealthy family are Linda and Ned. Ned is a cynical sort who spends an inordinate amount of time drinking. He knows full well the sort of dreary life he has set before him and spends much of his time intoxicated in order to deal with it. As for Linda, she's much more of a dreamer--a free spirit living within a gilded cage. In so many ways, she seems more compatible with Johnny--though she's too decent a sort to try to come between him and her sister. So what's to happen? Will Johnny allow himself to be emasculated and lose all his dreams or will he and Julia end up living in some bohemian apartment while he 'finds himself'...or is there some other alternative?
As I mentioned above, the plots are virtually the same. What is NOT the same is the entire feel for the two films. The 1930 version is rather stagy and lacks the energy of the 1938 film. Much of it is because back in 1930, they were just learning how to make sound films and often they looked more like plays being recorded on film than a movie as we know of it today. Holiday (1930) definitely is much more stagy. The worst of it is probably with Linda. In the earlier film, Ann Harding (a very popular actress in her day but a mostly forgotten actress today) played EXACTLY like she was standing on a stage addressing the crowd. Her diction and delivery were anything but realistic. In contrast, Katharine Hepburn's Linda was vivacious and exciting. As for the rest, in the 1930 film the performances were generally better than Harding's but still lacked the freshness and quality of the later film. Overall, I'd clearly give the nod to the 1938 production. But, this is not to say the 1930 film is bad....it isn't at all. And, for film nuts like me (and I know there must be more of you out there), a chance to see both films is a real treat. If you are also a lover of old films, I have an exciting suggestion. See BOTH movies.
How can you see the original Holiday? There is a wonderful website called the Internet Archive (archive.org) where you can view or download public domain movies 100% legally and for free. When you go to the site, in the search bar, type HOLIDAY. It will then provide a link to the 1930 film and its download. It's available in a variety of formats and your computer probably will play at least one of them. As for me, I've long used Media Player Classic (not the program that comes with Windows--the free program from mpc- hc.org). I strongly recommend you download it if your video player on your computer doesn't allow you to play the films. Media Player Classic will play a wider variety of formats than the players that come with PCs and MACs. Then, you'll be able to watch just about anything from the Internet Archive--and there are many thousands of films as well as audio recordings and even old video games! All are free and some are amazingly good--too good to have just been abandoned to the public domain.
... given its subject matter. This is not a precode at all. Rather it
is the filmed version of a 1928 play that made perfect sense in the
roaring 20's. This film could not be made before 1930 because sound
films hadn't evolved to the point where dialogue and movement could be
shown as they are here. It could not be made after 1930 for several
years (It was filmed again in 1938) because depression era audiences
would simply be befuddled at a young woman (Ann Harding as Linda) who
is so unhappy and bored with her rich lifestyle while many in the
audience would just want to know when they are going to eat again.
The story revolves around a rich young woman, Julia Seton (Mary Astor), who is returning home with her fiancé (Robert Ames as Johnny Case), whom she has known for only ten days. The Setons are terribly rich - I mean how many homes have elevators in 1930? - and they are divided into two groups. The stodgy business centric part of the family that runs things headed by patriarch Edward Seton (William Holden - no not THAT William Holden), and the unhappy Setons who seemed trapped on a merry go round from which they cannot get off. These are Julia's two siblings, Ned (Monroe Owsley) who drinks heavily to deal with the fact that he has no say in his own life, and Linda (Ann Harding), free in spirit but not in deed.
Johnny has a strange idea of how to live his life. He has been buying some stocks and as soon as he gets enough money together, he wants to go on "holiday". He wants the retirement part of his life to be when he is young, not just to have fun but to make sure that what he does for the rest of his life is what he really wants to do. Linda thinks this idea is grand, but fiancée Julia just thinks this is a goofy notion from which she can eventually distract him.
You'll notice that from the moment they arrive, Johnny seems to spend all of his time conversing with Linda and that Julia spends most of her time conversing with her "bucks on the brain" Dad. Complications ensue.
Ann Harding does have some dialogue and over the top moments that only someone as regal as she could pull off. Lots of actresses would have looked silly going on and on about how the playroom was the only place in the family mansion in which she was ever happy. Plus, she is making a BIG leap of faith in her final decision in the film. It is easy to see why Katharine Hepburn was cast to play Linda in the 1938 remake - they have very similar acting styles.
Let me also compliment Mary Astor's acting here. As both Johnny's fiancée and her father's daughter you are never quite sure where she is coming from up to the very end.
Edward Everett Hornton and Hedda Hopper have a small but crucial role as a couple who are friends of Linda and have a sense of humor that most of the stodgy Setons do not appreciate, but are needed to show that Linda does at least have some allies in her life. Highly recommended.
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