When I heard that Crystal is hosting “The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon,” I knew I had to join for three reasons. Firstly, I love Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Secondly, Crystal has been so sweet and supportive of me. Thirdly, it would be a swell opportunity to write about some marvelous films which I have been wanting to review. I agreed to write about Holiday from 1938 and Woman of the Year from 1942. I undoubtedly would have agreed to write about a movie with just Spencer Tracy as well if Crystal’s blogathon hadn’t begun the day my “Great Breening Blogathon” ended. Today I will review Holiday, and tomorrow I will write about Woman of the Year.
Today is October 17, and it is also the first anniversary of the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. In that one year, we have posted 86 articles, not counting this one, entertained 1,014 visitors, received 65 followers, and had 2,927 total views. Plus, we have participated in 17 blogathons and have hosted one of our one. We have learned a lot about the Code, and we have shared this information with a lot of people. We have not reached our goal of bringing the Code back to Hollywood yet, but we are a lot closer than we were a year ago.
What created this desire to bring back the Code? How did we create PEPS? How did we even find out about the Code? Well, that story began about a year and a half ago. It was a late winter evening in 2016. It probably was in March, but I couldn’t be sure now. Our mother had gotten out several movies which were at the back of our collection; there were four or five of them, and my sister and I didn’t remember ever seeing any of them before. Our mother told us to choose one to watch with dinner that night. Among them was a DVD of Holiday. I liked the cast of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Edward Everett Horton, since I didn’t recognize any other names on the cover. The story of the young dreamer who has to choose between the two wealthy sisters sounded intriguing, so I voted for that one, and everyone agreed. I was charmed by the story, impressed by the acting, fascinated by the age, and intrigued by Lew Ayres. I had never seen him before this. In fact, I had seen comparatively few movies from the 1930s; those I had seen seemed awfully old. After watching this movie, I was interested in seeing more of the 1930s and that actor who played Ned, since I didn’t know his name yet. During the next couple months, we watched Holiday a few more times, and I grew to love it more each time. I tried to memorize Lew Ayres’s name, but I always forgot it before I could do some research. Eventually, I decided to just look up the cast list of Holiday. I quickly learned that one of his movies, Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case from 1940, was free on Amazon Prime. On Memorial Day, we watched it, and I was very impressed by his portrayal of the sensitive young doctor. After seeing that, I knew he was one of my favorite actors.
It was not long before we saw more of Lew Ayres’s movies, and he soon became the uncontested favorite actor of Rebekah as well as myself. We only watched his pre-War movies, which were in the 1930s and the 1940s up to ’42. Thus, we both began to grow rather fond of the 1930s. As we did, I recalled the Motion Picture Production Code, which I had encountered about a year before. When you are exploring films from the 1930s, the 1934 line of separation becomes important, so I did more research on the Code and its enforcement. That summer, Rebekah had several papers to write for an English course, and I helped her think of topics which she would enjoy. She had movies on her mind, so I suggested a lot of movie-themed topics. These included paragraphs about various movies, the Code, and the 1930s in general. It culminated in a major paper that year which we wrote together. It was all about the way the Code changed the 1930s for the better. We wrote it some time in September. On October 17, we published it as the first article on our new WordPress website. You can read it here. We had contemplated an organization which would try to reform opera and ballet for years; I had had the title Pure Entertainment Preservation Society and the acronym PEPS in my mind for quite some time before we did anything about it. Knowing about the Code gave us the final piece of information we needed to finish the history jig saw puzzle. The Code made everything in the 20th century make sense. Having identified the problem, we began on October 17, 2016, to try to fix it.
Now let me tell you what I love about Holiday. I love Johnny’s reckless, boyish attitude toward life. It is unusual but perfectly simple to me. He has no aversion to work; he has worked hard for twenty years. Now, at thirty, he has made some money, so he wants to take some time off to enjoy himself and find out what life really is. Then, he will come back and work when he knows why he is working. “Retire young, work old.” If you ask me, that’s brilliant! Linda understands what he means, and it makes a lot of sense to her. Unfortunately, Linda’s younger sister, Julia, Johnny’s fiancee, does not know about his grand holiday plans. She has some plans of her own for his future. Her father shares them. Many have reviewed this movie and said that it presents an uncapitalistic view of work and money, but I don’t think so. The American dream is to work hard, make your own living, and pursue happiness in whatever way you see fit. Johnny has worked hard and has made his own living; I think the American dream would allow him to now spend his money enjoying his life for a while.
Cary Grant is excellent in the role of Johnny Case. This is my favorite role of his. He is humorous yet serious, but he is also very tender and sympathetic. He loves to have a good time; there’s nothing he loves more than doing a good back flip-flop. However, he knows the meaning of unselfish love. He allows Julia to make his appearance very refined, and he is even willing to try her way of living for a few years to make her happy. However, even though he is infatuated with Julia, he finds true companionship and compassion in Linda.
Katharine Hepburn is magnificent in the role of Linda. I like seeing her in a rare unemancipated role. She is so sweet and feminine as Linda. She is obviously greatly confined by “the marble pillars,” yet she doesn’t know how to escape until Johnny comes into her life. She takes to Johnny immediately. She likes his jovial, playful, informal manner. He’s so different from the men she usually sees. By the time she has had a private tete-a-tete with Johnny, she knows that she loves him, but she is completely sisterly. She loves Julia more than anything in the world, so she convinces herself that she loves Johnny just as a brother. Rather, she loves him for Julia. When Mr. Seton agrees to the betrothal, Linda is more excited than Julia is. Linda is the strongest Seton child; Julia agrees with her father, Ned is cowed by him, but she is a rebel. She is the only family member who has any sympathy for Ned. It soon becomes obvious that she and Johnny want the same things, while Julia loves the life of high society.
Julia is played very well by Doris Nolan. My only criticism has been that she doesn’t seem quite as beautiful to me as she is to everybody in the movie. She looks a little like Carole Lombard. After seeing the 1930 version of Holiday, however, I decided that she was just right for the role. In the beginning, she seems very close to Linda. She may be a little snobby, but she seems like a nice girl. The first time you see her true colors is in the scene when her father approves her marriage. She is pleased by his offer to arrange a party until she remembers that Linda wants to throw the engagement party on New Year’s Eve. She looks sarcastically at her father and says, “One of those ideas of hers.” He simply responds, “I think by now you and I know what to do about those ideas of Linda’s.” This is the first time we see Julia’s true nature. Up to this point, even Linda doesn’t know about Julia’s harsh personality. She loves her sister too much to see her cold, calculating device of saying what will please people and then getting her own way. It is in that scene that we understand why Linda is so unhappy here. Before that, we think that she is just bored and restless, and she does, too. It is only when we see her father and sister basically plotting behind her back to completely disregard plans which are very dear to her that we realize why she told Johnny, “Case, compared to the life I lead, the last man in a chain gang thoroughly enjoys himself.” It’s more than boredom. Linda can feel the coldness and indifference of her family members toward herself even though she hasn’t consciously acknowledged it yet.
Ned is brilliantly played by Lew Ayres. I wouldn’t say that this is definitely my favorite role of his, but I will always love it because it was the first movie I saw with him and because he is so swell in it. Although I love to see him as the star of a movie, there is something special about seeing him in a supporting role; I value every scene with him, since he is not in all of them. Ned is very pathetic, and I really pity him. He has so much talent and potential, but his father is killing that. He doesn’t have the strength to rebel like Linda does, but he doesn’t agree with his father like Julia does. He and Linda are like their mother, but Linda is stronger. Of course, it is easier for Linda, since, as a girl, she doesn’t have to join the family business. She could be a musician if she wanted to, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do. Ned does, but he is the only son and the heir to the Seton fortune. With that comes responsibility. It is his duty to work at the family bank even though it makes him miserable. The only way he can endure it is by drinking heavily. Everyone knows that he is a drunk, but he doesn’t care. Mr. Seton and Julia are embarrassed by his sottishness, but Johnny and Linda are really concerned for his well-being. He isn’t brave or desperate enough to commit suicide, but he is slowly killing himself with alcohol. Lew Ayres had a real penchant for doing drunk scenes; he was extremely serious in doing them. Each portrayal of drunkenness is extremely convincing, but no two are alike. As Ned, he is sullen, depressed, and a little sarcastic. I also love the fact that he got to show his musical talents in this film. He plays the piano, the banjo, the drums, and the penny-whistle. He probably didn’t really play the penny-whistle, but he played the other instruments very well. This aspect gave the Ned in this version more depth than the first Ned, who was not a musician but just a bored, tippling idler.
Mr. Seton is a selfish old man who wants his own way in everything. He seems to resent extensive discussion of his deceased wife. Perhaps that is because she was restless and discontent with that life like Linda is. Julia is his favorite child, since she is just like him. She loves their life. I think that Mr. Seton knows that Johnny will cause problems long before Julia does. She imagines that she can mold him to be what she wants him to be, but her father knows that he is not reliable. However, he is reluctant to deny his favorite daughter anything that is in his power to give, so he agrees to her wishes, thinking that Johnny will adapt to their lifestyle. When he learns about Johnny’s peculiar desires for their future, however, he realizes that he was right about Johnny in the first place.
Nick and Susan Potter are Johnny’s best friends. They are a poor professor and his wife, but they know how to have a good time. The relationship between Johnny and the Potters is very sweet and tender. The middle-aged couple is both a comic relief and a sincere addition to the plot. When they and Linda meet, they immediately take to each other. After spending one evening with each other, Nick, Susan, and Linda know that they love and understand each other. Before she even acknowledges it herself, Susan implies to Linda that Julia really doesn’t love Johnny but that she does. Edward Everett Horton is humorous but sweet and tender. Interestingly, he played the same role in the 1930 version, but the characters hardly resemble each other. While the first Nick was a goofy, useless socialite, the second is a sincere, hard-working, sympathetic person. Jean Dixon is magnificent in her final screen performance; she brings warmth, depth, and understanding to the role of Susan. They are so sincere in these performances that I can’t help thinking that they are really these people; I would like to meet them myself. A funny recurring joke is the fact that several people call them Porter instead of Potter. There are many clever lines that occur because of this.
The final important characters are Seton and Laura Cram. Seton is a horrible cousin of the Seton children, and Laura is his obnoxious wife. Binnie Barnes is brilliantly irritating in this role; she plays the insincere, catty socialite with a positive genius. Henry Daniell is pale and sinister as Seton Cram; the dark eye makeup and powder on his sharp, menacing features make him look like a villain from a silent horror film at times. He gives me the creeps, but she is simply awful. She insults people behind their backs seconds before flattering them to their faces. This couple is a very clear contrast to the genuine kindness of the Potters.
I appreciate the lack of background music in this film. Once the actual movie has begun, there is only realistic background music, such as the orchestra and a music box playing Strauss waltzes on New Year’s Eve. This was a common feature of Columbia films. Also, George Cukor didn’t like to use too much background music, since it could spoil the realism and intimacy of some scenes. This movie is extremely realistic. Even though I have seen all the actors in other movies, I don’t think of them as actors when I watch this picture. They are and always will be their characters to me. Some movies create definite “places” in my mind which seem like they are real. This is one of them. Even though the movie is only an hour and a half long, I feel like there is so much more that happened but isn’t shown. I can just feel it. I hope that doesn’t sound too irrational.
I love the scenes in the playroom. The filmmakers were thinking of several different titles for this movie, but Rebekah says that they could have called it The Playroom, since so much happens in that room. It is the only room in the Seton’s house that has any warmth or life in it. Linda tells us that it was their mother’s idea; her mother found solace in it when she was alive, and Linda still does. Some of Ned’s happiest times are in the playroom. When he first enters it, he says that he hasn’t been there in years and that it gives him the creeps. After a while, though, he begins to like it there again. The playroom is full of the children’s toys and memorabilia. A fireplace is at the back of the room, and the random assortment of dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, books, a typewriter, and a flying trapeze make it look even more inviting, since it isn’t perfectly organized like the rest of the house. The playroom is a wonderful place which I would love to visit myself.
My favorite part of the movie is the New Year’s Eve sequence. First, there is the grand, formal engagement party downstairs. Even though it is troubling to see how completely Linda’s idea for an engagement party has been disregarded, I enjoy seeing the grand, glorious formality of the opulent party. Every man is wearing a full dress suit with a white tie and tails, and all the women are wearing furs as they enter. Then, the Potters go upstairs and find Linda, who is all alone in the playroom. They become fast friends, and they are soon joined by a very intoxicated Ned, who came to cheer her up. Linda, Ned, and the Potters have a grand time singing, playing, and laughing together. For the first time, Ned seems to be enjoying himself. Johnny comes up to bring them downstairs, but instead he joins their carefree party. They are having such a marvelous time together until Julia and Mr. Seton break up the club. The Potters and Ned soon exit, but Linda, Julia, Johnny, and Mr. Seton stay to discuss their differences. When Linda tells her father how she feels about this room and memories of her mother, she delivers an Academy Award-deserving performance. Eventually, Johnny and Linda are left alone in the playroom. They waltz together, and you can see the attraction between them. Linda loves being near Johnny, but she is a perfect sister, so she makes herself keep Johnny at the distance of a brother. After Johnny leaves her, Ned reenters with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. The lighting is quite dark, and Linda and Ned sit very close on the back of the couch, which has been turned over in an acrobatic routine. Linda asks Ned what it’s like to get drunk, and he dismally explains the whole experience. He soon realizes that she is in love with Johnny, and for the first time that night he becomes aware of her emotions. This scene is one of my favorites because Ned and Linda display such a realistic, believable sibling relationship. Their faces are so close in this scene as he whispers his dialogue to her that his hair brushes against hers at one point. I think that Katherine Hepburn was thinking of Ned as her brother Thomas, whose tragic self-hanging at the age of eighteen was extremely traumatic to her. I also love their other conversation alone together, which occurs in the last scene. I really can believe that they are brother and sister in this movie.
I think that this film should have been a candidate for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Cary Grant), Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Supporting Actor (Lew Ayres), Best Director (George Cukor), and Best Picture. It was not popular when it was released because the Great Depression was still plaguing America. Thus, people didn’t like to see a young man turn down a well-paying job at a bank. Now, it is a marvelous movie which can be appreciated for its realistic, magical, uplifting feeling. The only thing I wish is that Ned could have gone with Johnny, Linda, Nick, and Susan on the boat to France. He wants to go so badly, but his father completely destroys his hopes. I hope that he will try to go on the wagon and work on his concerto until Linda comes back for him. I would have loved to have seen him come around the corner as Linda and Johnny kiss on the boat, but it is more realistic that he would remain behind. I have imagined a sequel with the same cast called Ned’s Holiday. Perhaps that will be the subject of a future article.
In conclusion, Katharine Hepburn put her whole heart into this performance. I don’t mean to insult Ann Harding to anyone who admires her, but I think her performance in the original pales in comparison to Katharine’s, who makes Linda tender, sympathetic, impulsive, warm, loyal, and true to herself. She inspires Johnny to follow his own dreams. This is what I consider a masterpiece of the Code era. Be sure to watch it soon and appreciate Miss Hepburn’s truly amazing performance.
I would like to thank Crystal for her excellent management of this blogathon, for the kindness and support she has shone me, and for the brilliant blogathon topics she has formulated. I am honored to have been allowed to participate. Be sure to read all the other articles in this marvelous blogathon at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. May the great Kate Hepburn’s memory long be green!
Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!