Double trouble on Holiday

by Martin Hafer

On May 12 at 10:15am Eastern time, Turner Classic Movies will be showing 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 fiancĂ©, 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 stagey 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 (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’s a wonderful website called the Internet Archive 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.” Or, you can simply watch it below.

Holiday (1930)–B+

Holiday (1938)–A+