Twentieth Century

Twentieth Century, 1934, Columbia Pictures. Starring John Barrymore, Carole Lombard. Directed by Howard Hawks. B&W, 91 minutes.

Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore), renowned Broadway producer, has made a new discovery, a young woman barely passable as an actress, one MIldred Plotnik (Carole Lombard). He changes her name to the more exotic Lily Garland, and with intense work, transforms her into a star. Over the next three years, the pair churn out hit after hit.

They share a personal as well as professional relationship, and Lily is fighting the constraints of Oscar’s control . When he hires a private detective to track her every move, she reaches her limit and heads to Hollywood, where she promptly becomes a movie star.

But Oscar is determined to get Lily back. When the two find themselves coincidentally on the same train (the Twentieth Century), he plots to win her heart by offering her the role of “the world’s greatest courtesan,” Mary Magdalene, in his latest effort.

His success will depend on a little trickery, some flattery and a portion of good fortune.

Carole Lombard and John Barrymore in Twentieth Century

Twentieth Century became one of the definitive screwball comedies, along with another film released the same year, It Happened One NIght. The script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (with some uncredited work by Preston Sturges, among others) is sly, witty and fast paced. It was also the film that truly launched Lombard’s career as a comediene; both she and Barrymore shine in their performances in this pre-code movie.

The New York Times film critic said of Barrymore’s performance, “Mr. Barrymore acts with such imagination and zest that he never fails to keep the picture thoroughly alive.” His acting ability initially intimidated his co-star, who later said, “I’ll never forget my first day on the set…for years ever since I was a tiny kid, I had heard of the exploits of ‘Wild Jack’ Barrymore and of what he had done to people who had blown their lines or muffed their cues.”

Things went far better than she expected, however, and in a later interview she said, “Perhaps he isn’t now the great star he once was. But star or not, he knows more about acting than most of us will ever learn. He taught me more in the six short weeks it took to make the picture than I had learned in five years previous.”

Carole Lombard, John Barrymore star in Twentieth Century

Howard Hawks, the director, later spoke to the fast pace of Twentieth Century, which wasn’t achieved through editing, as was — and is — common practice. “It’s done by deliberately writing dialogue like real conversation — you’re liable to interupt me and I’m liable to interupt you — so you write in such a way that you can overlap the dialogue but not lose anything.” It’s a style that has often been imitated, with varying degrees of success.

This was Hawks’ first screwball comedy; he want on the make several more, including Bringing Up Baby and I Was a Male War Bride. He later listed it as one of the top three films he directed.

Twentieth Century may not be as well know as other films of its genre, but it is sharp in its comedy and performances. While Barrymore may have been in the throes of his decline, you can’t see that onscreen; he is as funny and fine in this role as any other. The movie also has the advantage of being pre-code, allowing certain subtleties in dialogue and performance. It is a film every classic movie fan should know.

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The Palm Beach Story

Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story

The Palm Beach Story, 1942, Paramount Pictures.  Starring Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor.  Directed by Preston Sturges.  B&W, 88 minutes.

Tom (Joel McCrea) and Gerry (Claudette Colbert) Jeffers have hit a stalemate in their marriage: they are seemingly better friends than lovers, his business is floundering and  she’s bored with the whole situation. He hasn’t given up, but she has, and one day she leaves for Palm Beach to get a divorce and find a wealthy man who not only can support her in the way she feels she deserves, but also provide the financing for Tom’s entrepreneurial project.

As fate would have it, on the train to Palm Beach, she meets just that man, John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee). In the meantime, thanks to a generous benefactor, Tom has flown to meet Gerry and stop her from divorcing him. Instead, he’s greeted by John, Gerry, and John’s flighty, oft-married sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor).

Rudy Vallee Claudette Colbert.png
Rudy Vallee, Claudette Colbert

This is a fun film, with a simple story line but one unexpected and delightful scene after another. It’s fast-paced, sassy, completely implausible yet acceptably unbelievable.

Writer and director Preston Sturges drew on his own experience with the wealthy to create the characters in the story. His former wife, Eleanor Hutton, was a socialite and introduced him to the world of high-society millionaires, a world he satirized in several of his films. Although Ms. Hutton had sued for annulment and their marriage ended after only two years, his humor is sharp and witty rather than mean-spirited, keeping the overall tone of the film one of good fun. Sturges later said the Palm Beach in the story was one he’d come to know as a houseguest of Eleanor’s, noting that “millionaires are funny.”

Sturges had some trouble getting the all the sexual innuendo and the treatment of marriage and divorce past the censors. Oddly, while they felt six divorces were too many for Princess Centimillia, four or five were acceptable. In the end, they changed two of her five divorces to annulments to further appease those enforcing the Code.

This is a cast that shines with its effortless charm, particularly Colbert and McCrea, who are a contrast in her sophistication and his laid-back ease, yet a match in personal appeal. Surprisingly, Astor, whose performance is lively and engaging, reportedly didn’t get along with Sturges and as a result, didn’t enjoy making the film.

Mary Astor Claudette Colbert  Rudy Vallee
Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee

While the rest of the cast were well-established box-office draws, Rudy Vallee was still better known as a “crooner” at this time. He’d made film appearances before, but was finally gaining some recognition in movies, particularly comedies. Earlier performances had been unremarkable, but experience had taught him well and he became a respected character actor in the 40s and 50s.

You may recognize William Demarest in a small character role in the film as a member of the Ale and Quail Club. Demarest was one of Preston Sturges’ favorite character actors, appearing in eight of the films Sturges directed, and he later went on to play Uncle Charley in the television series My Three Sons.

The Palm Beach Story is a farcical, classic Preston Sturges film, a wonderful romantic screwball comedy and a timeless story of tired romance finding new fuel.

Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story
Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert
 

 


 

Going My Way

Bing Crosby in Going My Way

Going My Way, 1944, Paramount Pictures. Starring Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Risë Stevens. Directed by Leo McCarey. B&W, 126 minutes.

Father Fitzgibbons (Barry Fitzgerald), the aging priest of St. Dominic’s parish, is facing hard times. The church is five months behind on the mortgage, and the Father is out of touch with his parishioners.

Enter Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby), a young priest with unorthodox — yet effective — methods. He steps into his role as the new leader of the church with ease and grace. But Father Fitzgibbons is distressed. The two face their troubled parishioners, each in his own manner, and slowly the older man sees the wisdom of Father O’Malley’s ways.

Bing Crosby, The Robert Mitchell Boys' Choir in Going My Way
Bing Crosby, The Robert Mitchell Boys’ Choir

A film about a priest, with no romantic lead, no place for screwball comedy and a need for gentle handling, was a risk for director Leo McCarey, one of the top directors of the time, including The Awful Truth and Love Affair. It also was a challenge to present the practices and creeds of one denomination over another. Studios historically stayed away from the topic.

McCarey managed the topic well, deftly creating a Catholicism that fit the values and style of the country at the time. Father O’Malley is progressive, something the Catholic church was not known for, but not blasphemous. His methods are consistent with the beliefs of the church he represents.

The film was not originally seen as a musical, but when Crosby was signed for the lead role, Going My Way pulled in some top talent to complement his performances. They included Metopolitan Opera star Risë Stevens, who plays a childhood friend of Father O’Malley’s, and the Robert Mitchell Boys’ Choir, taking on the guise of delinquent youths in need of direction. (Stevens performs a number from Carmen, which was to become her most celebrated role.)

Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way
Bing Crosby, Frank McHugh, Barry Fitzgerald

In addition to the title song, Crosby introduced “Swinging On a Star,” which won an Oscar for Best Music, Song. The film won six other Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Actor (Crosby); Best Director; Best Supporting Actor (Fitzgerald); Best Writing, Screenplay; and Best Original Motion Picture Story.

It’s easy to see why Going My Way was so popular. It’s a good film, with an engaging cast, quality music and a sentimental plot line. Perhaps more importantly, however, was the film’s timing. Released during some of the most intense times of World War II, the world sought pure escape. There is never any doubt things will work out for the parish, nor are there gripping moments of drama. It is a simple tale of the best in human nature.

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Pride and Prejudice, 1940, Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Starring Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier. Co-starring Maureen O’Sullivan, Mary Boland. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. B&W, 117 minutes.

While busily shopping with her daughters Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and Elizabeth (Greer Garson), ever-vigiliant Mrs. Bennett (Mary Boland) notices the arrival of three strangers. With some sharp questionging, she soon learns they are Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester), his sister Caroline (Frieda Inescort) and Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier). What’s more, the handsome gentlemen are bachelors of some means. This is good news to the meddling Mrs. Bennett, who has five daughters of marriageable age.

During a downpour, she conspires to send Jane over the estate Mr. Bingley has leased. As she hoped, her daughter catches a cold and is forced to stay with the Bingleys until she recovers. Mr. Bingley and Jane fall for each other, and at the same time, tension develops between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy during her visits to her recuperating sister.

In the meantime, the Bennett’s cousin and heir to their estate, Mr. Collins, appears, and the pompous and somewhat effete man decides he wishes to marry Elizabeth. But her feelings for Mr. Darcy are not all antagonistic.

A convaluted series of events follows, leading all down the merry path of love and despair.

Greer Garson, Laurence OIivier in Pride and Prejudice
Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier

This smart and sassy version of Pride and Prejudice was based on the Broadway production, written by Helen Jerome, of Jane Austen’s classic book. Famed producer Irving Thalberg had purchased the rights to that script some years earlier as a vehicle for his wife, Norma Shearer. Eventually the script was adapted for the screen by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin (the latter had also worked on the screen adaptation of the the script for The Women).

Believing it would visually lend itself better to the comic side of the story, the decision was made to change the costumes from the Edwardian era in which the novel was originally set to the Victorian era, complete with bustles and voluminous petticoats. The humor wasn’t limited to the screen; those outfits proved cumbersome and awkward, making for some clumsy moves on the actresses’ part as they maneuvered on the set.

Pride and Prejudice received one Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Black and White.

Greer Garson Laurence OIivier in Pride and Prejudice
Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier

The film was shot during a time when American sentiment towards the British was sour because of their perceived part in the emerging war in Europe, and many of the cast (Both Garson and Olivier were from Great Britain, as were several others in the production) were feeling the pain of that prejudice. Cast members later recalled the strangeness and disconnect of that time: hearing the war news over the radio shortly before stepping into the period costumes of another era.

There have been several productions of Pride and Prejudice over the years, some very good, and this one stands out as one of the best. Just as with the novel, the biting and satiric nature of the story holds up today. This is a film worth the watch.

Shall We Dance (1937)

Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire fall in love in Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance, 1937, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton. Directed by Mark Sandrich. Music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin. B&W, 109 minutes.

Ballet dancer Petrov (Fred Astaire), aka Peter P. Peters, is an American dancer posing as a Russian and starring in a Russian ballet troupe. Secretly he longs to tap dance, and he dreams of partnering with dancer Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers). His feelings aren’t reciprocated, and he connives to spend time with her aboard an ocean liner headed from Paris to New York.

Linda is running away from an amorous dance partner, and has no desire to return to the stage. For his part, Peter is escaping a former love who wishes to be his partner in dance and life. To protect him, Peter’s manager Jeffrey Baird spreads the rumor that Peter is married to Linda. Once she catches on, it seems unlikely Peter has a chance to truly win her over.

But the romance is only beginning.

Ginger Rogers Fred Astaire roller skate and dance in Shall We Dance
Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire

Shall We Dance is filled with memorable numbers by George and Ira Gershwin, including “Slap That Bass,” in which Astaire performs with group of black musicians lead by Dudley Dickerson. Actually, he doesn’t directly dance with them at any time. It’s unclear whether that was because of racial distinctions or simply that Astaire was the star.

The music is among the last written by George Gershwin, who died of a brain tumor two months after the film was released. In addition to the dance numbers, there are a number of scored sequences, such as “Walk the Dog,” which are just as entertaining in their own way and contribute to the overall fun of the film.

Rogers later wrote in her autobiography that she, Astaire and Hermes Pan were batting around ideas for one of the dance numbers, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” when they hit upon the idea of using rollerskates as an “authentic” thing people do in Central Park. Astaire was initially hesitant, but eventually the pair found the number “a ball to do.”

Fred Astaire in Shall We Dance
Fred Astaire

Another of the Gershwin’s songs, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” was later said to be a favorite of both Astaire and Rogers. It was also the only song Astaire sung in two separate films; the pair used it again in their final film, The Barkleys of Broadway. The number also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

Shall We Dance is a tremendous amount of fun with fantastic music and a typical, yet appealing, story line for this famous pair. While not as popular today as Swing Time or Top Hat, and perhaps with good reason, it is still a treasure.

Blithe Spirit

Margaret Rutherford, Kay Hammond, Rex Harrison in Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit, 1945, Two Cities Films. Starring Rex Harrison, Kay Hammond, Constance Cummings. Directed by David Lean. Technicolor, 96 minutes.

Novelist Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) and his wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) hold a seance one evening as part of his research for a new book about a homicidal medium. Inadvertently, the woman they hired, an elderly bike-riding character whose credibility is suspect, calls up his late wife Elvira’s (Kay Hammond) spirit.

Elvira isn’t sure what she’s doing back in the world of the living, but she plans on making good use of the opportunity to win her husband back. She’s only visible to Charles, although she handily proves her existence to Ruth. They turn to the woman originally responsible for bringing forth the spirit of Elvira, Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford), who maintains an offbeat enthusiasm for all things spiritual.

Soon this odd love triangle takes a turn, and Charles is further entrenched in a seemingly impossible situation.

Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Rex Harrison in Blithe Spirit
Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Rex Harrison

Based on the popular play of the same name by Noël Coward, this film was one of the few comedies for acclaimed director David Lean. Coward, who reportedly was initially very pleased to have Lean direct the film (this was the third of four of Coward’s stories he directed), is said to have been disappointed in the result. Harrison was no more complimentary, saying it was a “flat, a filmed stage play.” Still, the movie holds up today, and is now often included in retrospectives of Lean’s work.

That is perhaps in part because it was such a departure for Lean. He openly acknowledged he had no use for high-society, upper-crust stories, and sophisticated comedy was not his choice. Coward had encouraged him to step out of the box, however, something both perhaps came to regret.

Part of the problem was Coward’s insistence that the film basically be the play brought to the screen, without taking advantage of the opportunities film brought to the story. In one scene, Elvira is a driving a car with Charles as a passenger — only she isn’t visible to anyone but Charles. That’s something that could only be done on screen, yet it’s one of the few scenes “outside” of the play.

Margaret Rutherford, Rex Harrison in Blithe Spirit
Margaret Rutherford, Rex Harrison

The movie won one Academy Award, for Best Visual Effects. It was well-received critically, but audiences on both sides of the Atlantic failed to respond in the same way. People found it hard to accept a movie about death so soon after the end of the war, and in America, the overt sexual way in which the film was publicized led to disappointment in the distinctly understated British humor. Over the years it’s gained a much better reputation, however, and remains a classic worth watching today.

The Hard Way (1943)

Joan Leslie, Ida Lupino in The Hard Way

The Hard Way, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Ida Lupino, Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie, Jack Carson. Directed by Vincent Sherman. B&W, 109 minutes.

In the industrial city of Green Hills, Katie Blaine (Joan Leslie) dreams of wearing an eight-dollar white dress to her high school graduation. Her sister — and guardian — Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) can’t afford it. Seeing the pain on Katie’s face, Helen promises a bright future, one that she will do anything to obtain for her little sister.

Helen is shrewd and calculating. When she realizes Albert Runkel (Jack Carson), a song-and-dance man passing through town, is in love with Katie, she works the situation to her — and Katie’s — favor. Soon Albert and Katie are married.

Albert’s musical partner, Paul Collins (Dennis Morgan) is the more cynical of the two, and he sees through Helen’s ploys. There’s a risk she’ll come between the two men, but as it turns out, the partnership she nearly destroys is her sister and brother-in-law’s marriage. With guile and cunning she works hard on Katie’s behalf, propelling her sister into stardom.

But fame has its price, something all four learn the hard way.

Ida Lupino, Jack Carson, Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie in The Hard Way
Ida Lupino, Jack Carson, Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie

Lupino was superb in this role, hitting every note as the single-minded stage “mother” focused solely on her sister’s success as a performer. She threw herself into the part, intent on proving herself to Warner Bros. executives. For two years she had struggled at the studio, ultimately resulting in hospitalization for exhaustion. Despite her clear success, however, she was said to be unhappy with the role, as well as director Vincent Sherman.

Her unhappiness could have been the result of more than her own physical ailments. In addition she bore the burden of her father’s terminal illness, something he insisted she keep from her mother. Stanley Lupino died while The Hard Way was in production. Although filming was not complete, Ida took time off to deal with her father’s demise and her own poor health.

She began to express a desire to direct films during this time, something she ultimately achieved, the only woman in the studio system to move from actress to director.

Nestor Paiva, Ida Lupino in The Hard Way
Nestor Paiva, Ida Lupino

The script for The Hard Way was first offered to Ginger Rogers, who turned it down (the original story was rumored to have been based on her and her mother Lela), and was considered as a vehicle for Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which never panned out. Before production began Warner Bros. announced that Olivia de Havilland and John Garfield would star, but that, too, fell through. (Shortly after the time of filming, de Havilland was embroiled in a nasty lawsuit against Warner Bros.)

While The Hard Way was not nominated for any Oscars, Lupino did receive the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. This is a moving film with a fine cast, that despite its depressing tone manages to stay above the mire of its topic.


This post is my contribution to the Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films.

The Apartment

Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon in "The Apartment"

The Apartment, United Artists, 1960. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray. Directed by Billy Wilder. B&W, 125 minutes.

C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), better known as Bud, spends his days as one of a sea of accountants for a major insurance firm. Bud also rents out his apartment by the hour to randy executives from his company looking for a private getaway, often leaving him alone in the office after hours.

He has a crush on one of the elevator operators, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who’s on duty the day he’s called into the office of Jeff Sheldrake, the head of personnel. Sheldrake makes it clear Bud is up for a promotion, but not solely because of his work. The key to his apartment is part of the deal as well.

When Bud learns that Sheldrake’s date is none other than Miss Kubelik, the entire setup goes sour. He’s faced with several realities he doesn’t want to deal with.

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment
Fred MacMurray, Jack Lemmon

Billy Wilder later said he saw in Lemmon “a lovable loser,” the kind of man who would allow himself to be exploited to get ahead in life. The basic tale had boundless possibilities, he said, including “this character and this theme…a solitary man who comes home at night and finds his bed still warm from the lovers.”

Wilder had worked with Lemmon the year before in Some Like it Hot, and was eager to work with him again. MacLaine was also his first — and really, only — choice for the role of Fran Kubelik. The repoire between Lemmon and MacLaine inspired much of the script. She later said, “there were only twenty-nine pages of script, maybe thirty-nine, that was all we had when we started. And then Billy and Izzie observed me and Jack together, and as they observed us they wrote the screenplay, as we were shooting.”

MacLaine was warm and disarming, playing a character that fits no stereotype. In contrast to her heartfelt portrayal, MacMurray strayed from his standard comedic role to a character that oozed sleaze. This was the second reprehensible part he played in a Wilder film — the first was in Double Indemnity — and while he did an excellent job, audiences didn’t like it. Still, the overall popularity of the film didn’t suffer.

Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment
Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

The Apartment won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, the first two going to Billy Wilder and the third going to Wilder and his co-writer, I.A.L. Diamond. Lemmon, Maclaine and MacMurray were all nominated for Oscars.

This is an engaging film about a sordid subject, made charming by the its two stars. It’s a story that’s as topical today (in its own offbeat way) as it was when it was made, although the portrayal of male-female relationships is dated. Still, Lemmon and MacLaine are honest enough in their roles that they remain relevant, and The Apartment is a classic that has stood the test of time.

Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train, 1951, Warner Bros. Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. B&W, 101 minutes.

Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is on his way home when he meets a stranger on his train, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Bruno is eerily charming, and Guy quickly realizes he isn’t in his right mind. Despite his attempts to find another seat on the crowded train, Guy’s stuck talking to Bruno.

Bruno knows Guy is in an unhappy marriage, and he shares his own frustrations about his father. Then he moves on to discuss an idea that reveals him as the psychopath he is. Bruno will kill Guy’s wife, and in return, Guy will murder Bruno’s father. Criss cross, Bruno says.

Guy brushes him off and forgets the encounter. His mind is quickly occupied by his wife Miriam’s (Laura Elliott) refusal to grant him a divorce. Miriam coarsely tells him she won’t let any man dump her, especially for another woman, in this case Anne Morton. Anne’s father is an U.S. Senator, and Guy is looking to a career in politics.

But Bruno was serious about what he saw as an agreement, and Miriam is soon dead. Guy is left in a psychological trap by his nemesis, and events catapult to the climactic final scenes.

Robert Walker, Laura Elliot in Strangers on a Train
Robert Walker, Laura Elliott

Granger wrote in his autobiography that after Hitchcock offered him his role, he surprised the actor by suggesting Walker for the part of Bruno. Up to that time Walker had been best known for his boy-next-door roles and alcoholic decline.

After an initial night of binge drinking and the subsequent blurry morning after on the set, Walker proved to be a professional, turning out a phenomenol, career-making performance. Sadly, he died after self-medicating with alcohol and drugs for a panic attack a month or so after the film was released.

The film was based on the popular novel of the same name, and Hitchcock searched long and hard for a screenwriter for the project. He initially hired Raymond Chandler, but their personalities and writing styles clashed to a point where Hitchcock fired the famed writer. Eventually the bulk of the writing was done by Czenzi Ormonde and two other women, although Chandler still got the writing credit.

Robert Walker, Ruth Roman in Strangers on a Train
Robert Walker, Ruth Roman

Strangers on a Train was nominated for one Academy award, Best Cinematography. Hitchcock later was dismissive of the film, stating he was unhappy with the ending. Regardless, the movie remains popular with audiences and critics alike, and regularly inspires movies and television shows with the “criss-cross” theme, including the last episode of the television drama Law & Order to star Jerry Orbach.

Despite Hitchcock’s lack of regard for Strangers on a Train, it is a film with many of the elements that made him a master. The innocent or naïve leading character played against a creepy individual, the unexpected backdrop (in this case an amusement park) and the chilling finale.

Holiday (1938)

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn star in "Holiday."

Holiday, 1938, Columbia Pictures. Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn. Directed by George Cukor. B&W, 95 minutes.

Johnny Case (Cary Grant), a hard-working, successful man, is engaged after knowing Julia Seton (Julie Nolan) for ten days. The two met while on vacation in upstate New York, and now plan to announce the happy news to their family friends. Julia is anxious to be married as quickly as possible, and Johnny doesn’t object.

They seem to be genuinely in love, but there is one major obstacle: Johnny’s carefree approach to life. Julia is set on Johnny joining her father’s firm and following in that esteemed man’s footsteps, but that isn’t what Johnny wants. Backing him up are Julia’s siblings Linda (Katharine Hepburn) and Ned (Lew Ayres), who share his untroubled view of the world.

Add to the mix Johnny’s close friends, the professors Potter (Edward Everet Horton, Jean Dixion), whose irreverent attitude match his own. Their support rivals his love for Julia, but his decision is clear.

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn in Holiday
Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

Holiday was based on the play of the same name, in which Hepburn had been understudy for the role of Linda in 1930. Shortly after the film’s release, Philip Barry, author of the play, came to Hepburn with his latest work. That piece turned out to be The Philadelphia Story, one of Hepburn’s most iconic roles. The chemistry between Hepburn and Grant was also revisited in that movie.

Director Peter Bogdanovich later said that after the first time he saw Holiday, he left the theatre “feeling buoyant…positive about the vast possibilities of life.” He mused on the fact that this film, along with Bringing Up Baby, were not as popular at the time of their release as they have become: “As with clothes, quality lasts longer. We will be looking at [those films] a lot longer than numerous smash hits of that year.” Bogdanovich, who made films such as What’s Up, Doc in tribute to the comedies of the 30s and 40s, knows that of which he speaks.

Katharine Hepburn, Julie Nolan in Holiday
Katharine Hepburn, Julie Nolan

This is a charming film, with a young Grant and Hepburn. Grant had not yet established his nervous persona, and Hepburn is neither edgy nor scatterbrained, qualities that filmmakers seemed to depend on in their later work. Instead, they are fresh and refreshing in a comedy that pokes fun at the upper class and asks the question, “why not?” in relation to the pursuit of happiness.