Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Holiday

The film Holiday--the famous 1938 version, directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant--is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It promises to be a comic romp, but turns down a dark alley before the happy ending. I saw the original play in the library and read it to compare.

It's by Philip Barry, a playwright best known for comedies about high society.  The movie follows his plot fairly closely, but it's always fun to see the same characters saying things in different ways.  It starts by introducing Julia Seton, a beautiful young woman from a rich New York family, and her fiancé Johnny Case, born poor but an up-and-comer. In most works you'd figure they're going to have some troubles but get through them, except if you know the lead is playing Julia's sister Linda (as you certainly do in the movie--Julia is Doris Nolan while Linda is Hepburn) you can figure how things will really end.

The play is about yearning for something more than money.  Some stock Johnny helped build up is about to make him a bundle (five figures at the time) and rather than work for decades more to become a millionaire, he wants to take some time off to enjoy life.  Julia can't understand it--she didn't need an idler for a husband--and neither can her father.  Linda, meanwhile, watches from the sidelines, but understands what he's looking for, and once she knows Julia doesn't want Johnny she snatches him up.  The main problem in the plot is how Julia and Johnny fell for each other to begin with.  They met not long ago in Lake Placid, and I guess it's an infatuation.  The trouble is the audience--and some of the characters--can easily see Linda's right for Johnny, but it takes a long time to get there.

I can understand why this plot had appeal to the theatre crowd in 1929, but movie audiences had a harder time buying it during the Depression when a good job was nothing to sneeze at. In addition, it's a little hard to buy Linda getting along with all the comforts she's used to, especially after we see her ordering the servants around whenever she needs something.  Maybe she'll be coming back to the bosom of her family before she knows it.

The biggest change in the movie, aside from how it's opened up (though not as much as it might--the movie is a bit stagebound), are Johnny's friends Nick and Susan Potter, who looks at things sideways.  In the play, they're high society people, but in the movie, trying to make them more relatable, they're of more common stock, if still eccentric.

Plays of the era can get pretty wordy. This may work on stage, but movies pare the talking down to the essentials, and with screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart preserving Barry's wit (as he'd also do in a couple years for The Philadelphia Story), the movie probably has better dialogue.  And as it worked out, Donald Ogden Stewart was featured in the original Broadway cast as Nick Potter, so he understood Barry.


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