Holiday (1938)

Know Jette for any length of time, and you will eventually learn about Holiday, a 1938 movie starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

Until recently, Holiday was unavailable in the United States in any home video format. An annual summer film series at the Paramount would often schedule a screening of the film, and it would appear on Turner Movie Classics from time to time.

Then in February 2006, Columbia Pictures released The Cary Grant Collection, a DVD boxed set which includes Holiday. Jette was very happy.

I don’t know if anyone has ever gotten curious about Cocco after I’ve written about her a million times on my various sites, but namedrop something enough times, someone just might investigate it.

And so I was at the video store renting Loggerheads when I saw Holiday on the shelf. I figured I’d check it out.

Jette is right — Holiday is a really good film.

And I can see the appeal. The two main characters of the story are both quick-witted and forward-thinking.

Grant plays Johnny Case, your typical Horatio Alger hero who’s worked hard for his success. Although not a wealthy man, he’s educated and principled, the kind of man who takes working-class jobs just to understand people.

The film starts when he returns from a skiing trip to Lake Placid, his first vacation ever. He drops his bags off at the home of Professor Nick Potter (Edward Everett Horton) and his wife Susan (Jean Dixon). Nick and Susan corner Johnny to tell them details of his trip, but he’s anxious to make an appointment.

After some strong-arming, Johnny announces he’s getting married and goes in great detail about fiancee’s charms. That’s the appointment he needs to keep — he’s going to meet the fiancee’s family.

Johnny heads to the address left to him by his fiancee. When the cab pulls up to a mansion, he assume she works there. He heads to the service entrance and asks for Julia Seton (Jean Dixon). The servants, astonished by the visitor’s arrival at the wrong entrance, take him to her.

As it turns out, Julia’s family is loaded. (“Those Setons?” Johnny realizes when he meets up with her again.) And one-by-one, Johnny meets his would-be in-laws — Ned (Lew Ayers), the not-so-happy drunk brother, and Linda (Hepburn), the self-styled black sheep sister.

Julia goes to church, where she drops the news of her engagement to her father Edward (Henry Kolker) during service. She tells Johnny to return at 1 p.m. for lunch, when he’ll be introduced.

Johnny comes back slightly early, and he’s entertained by Linda in the mansion’s old play room, a place Linda’s mother intended to feel homely. Johnny impresses Linda with his fun-loving, non-conformist views. His skepticism of wealth makes him the proto-hippie.

Julia takes Linda aside to ask what she thinks of Johnny, and Linda is so taken by him, she becomes an advocate for her sister’s engagement. So much so, she wants to plan an intimate party announcing the engagement.

When it comes time for Johnny to meet Edward, his impassioned pitch about his character leads the conversation to the engagement, which Edward had no intention of addressing. Unimpressed, Edward declines to make a decision about giving his blessing.

Later, Julia sweet talks her father into giving his blessing, but they also conspire to make sure Linda’s party plans are quashed.

The day of the party comes, and Linda is nowhere to be found. Her conspicuous absence is bad for the family’s image, but she refuses to leave the play room. When Nick and Susan show up to the party, they end up in the play room, where Linda recognizes Susan as one of her former teachers.

Ned wanders in, and the four of them make a party of their own. Johnny, sent to bring Linda down to the party, gets caught up in the party upstairs. Eventually, the battle between the two parties is where cracks in the family’s veneer begin to show.

Johnny starts to realize his engagement to Julia has gotten him caught up in the allure of wealth. Johnny wants to stick with his principles, but Julia, seeing his potential to be as successful as her grandfather, wants to redirect those principles.

It doesn’t help that Linda finds herself drawn to Johnny.

So Johnny has to choose — compromise on his identity to be with Julia? Or lose Julia to stick to his ideals?

The most striking thing about Holiday are its forceful lead characters. Johnny really does sound like a hippie, wanting to retire by 30 so he can spend time exploring the world and finding who he is. Linda, on the other hand, displays a strength of will that would be labeled feminist four decades later.

Ned’s constant state of inebriation looks like comic relief on the surface, but it’s a dark sort of comedy. If he were a character on Law & Order, he would be the recovering addict in a society family, and he’d end up in an interrogation room with Det. Robert Goren, where he reveals he’s gay.

The dialogue is quick, sharp and smart, a style writers for the TV show Gilmore Girls emulate. It’s easy to see the influence of such films as Holiday in any dialogue between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.

I’m curious to know just how radical Johnny’s and Linda’s characters seemed back in 1938. Today, their attitudes about conforming to society — and their refusal to do so — sounds every bit as relevant today. Did he sound fruity for wanting to “find himself”? Or was that era — when Germany invaded Europe — conducive for thinking that’s taken granted today?

“Finding yourself” is such a new age concept, I doubt Grant’s Johnny would recognize it if he could gaze into a crystal ball to today.

All that to say Holiday doesn’t feel dated. There’s such a statement of will behind the each character — a confidence in each of their perspectives — it feels, well, timeless.

Now, do I love the movie as much as Jette does? No. I like it, but not enough to recite the dialogue, like I can with Amadeus.

But the next time Jette strongly encourages you to watch Holiday, do it. At the very least, it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half on a weekend afternoon.