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Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Unrated | | Drama, Fantasy, Romance | 30 March 1934 (USA)
The Grim Reaper takes the form of a prince in an attempt to relate to humans and, along the way, also learns what it is to love.



(screenplay), (screenplay) | 2 more credits »

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Complete credited cast:
Duke Lambert (as Sir Guy Standing)
G.P. Huntley ...
Eric (as G.P. Huntley Jr.)
Fedele (as Otto Hoffmann)


Death decides to take a holiday from his usual business to see what it is like to be a mortal. Posing as Prince Sirki, he spends 3 days with Duke Lambert and his guests at his dukal estate. Several of the women are attracted to the mysterious prince, but shy away from him when they sense his true nature. But Grazia, the beautiful young woman whom the Duke thought was to marry his son, loves him even when she knows who he is. Written by John Oswalt <jao@jao.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

prince | guest | love | holiday | death | See All (49) »


No one can die - while he makes love! See more »


Drama | Fantasy | Romance


Unrated | See all certifications »





Release Date:

30 March 1934 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Strange Holiday  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Later adapted as the premise for "Meet Joe Black" (1998). See more »


In one of the opening scenes, Grazia is praying in a Catholic Church. She makes the Sign of the Cross and is meditating when Corrado joins her. When leaving, she fails to genuflect , something they both would have done in real life. See more »


Death: [as Prince Sirki] Do not worry, my friend. Your sacred privilege of blowing each other to bits is still safe.
See more »


Referenced in The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror X (1999) See more »


Etude in E Op.10 No.3
(1829-32) (uncredited)
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Played offscreen on piano
See more »

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User Reviews

Despite its melodramatic and dated elements, this is a fascinating film…
14 February 2008 | by See all my reviews

Under the atmospheric direction of Paramount Pictures contract director Mitchell Leisen (who also directed Olivia de Havilland in an Oscar-winning performance in 1946's TO EACH HIS OWN), DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY remains one of most unusual and unique films to come out of 1930s Hollywood. Although the film is quite dated due to its stage origins and the dialogue in Maxwell Anderson's adapted screenplay is quite melodramatic, the story of Death adopting a human form for three days and eventually falling in love with a mortal female is an intriguing one. Plus, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY clocks around at a brief 79 minutes and does not suffer the tedious three-hour length of its loose remake, MEET JOE BLACK (1998).

The cast is excellent. Although Fredric March hams it up sometimes as Death/Prince Sirki, he's a far more interesting presence than the bland Brad Pitt in the remake. One can feel Death's sense of despair and longing to explore the world of mortals in his first scene, whereas Brad Pitt displayed almost none of these qualities in his lifeless performance (pun intended). Evelyn Venable, who later provided the gentle voice of the Blue Fairy in Walt Disney's PINOCCHIO (1940), is a lovely love interest in this film. And Henry Travers, who played the angelic Clarence in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), is delightful as an old baron who believes that love, money, and war are the three things that make life meaningful.

The production values are lavish and film's atmosphere is eerie, strange, and deeply romantic. Even the opening credits are clever! The black-and-white cinematography is excellent under the hands of Charles Lang, who also provided the atmospheric cinematography for such fantasy films as PETER IBBETSON (1935), THE UNINVITED (1944), and THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947). I especially liked the scene in which Death, partly transparent and completely shrouded in a black veil, visits Duke Lambert (Guy Standing) in the middle of a foggy night with a choir vocalizing over the soundtrack.

What's even better about DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY is that Death really does take a holiday…throughout his three-day holiday there are worldwide reports of accidents and incidents in which the victims mysteriously survive unhurt. This element is absent in the remake and this film also contains the humor that the remake lacked. The film's conclusion, which was highly controversial at the time, had me think a little differently about death despite its melodramatic delivery.

Although this fascinating little film is nowhere near as famous as its lavish but bland remake, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY is well worth watching if you can tolerate the dated and melodramatic 1930s dialogue and acting styles.

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