Holiday: Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in a Comedy of Manners

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Holiday. Courtesy of Sony.

Holiday was one of two 1938 comedies that were released in theaters and starred both Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The other comedy starring the duo was Bringing Up Baby.

It’s hard to compare this film to the Howard Hawks comedy or even The Philadelphia Story, another George Cukor-directed comedy a few years later in which they were paired up again. While it’s not a bad film, this film just doesn’t come off as funny as some of their other pairings together. I’ve had the film on hand for quite some time now–after all, we’re talking about Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn! However, TCM is airing a spotlight on screwball comedies tonight. This what finally has me watching the Criterion Blu-ray and supplements.

The gist of the film is that Jonathan “Johnny” Case (Cary Grant) is a self-made man who worked his way to where he is when we first meet him. His lifestyle puts him in direct contrast to Julia Seton’s (Doris Nolan) family. She’s the youngest daughter of banker Edward Seton (Henry Kolker) and Johnny knows hardly anything about her. I’m sorry but how can the two of them marry this quickly?!? In any event, Johnny meets Julia’s older sister, Linda (Katharine Hepburn), and younger brother Ned Jr. (Lew Ayres). Edward reveals plans for an engagement party even though Linda was going to put on a smaller party for friends. He offers Johnny a job but Johnny plans to take a holiday from work.

As one thing leads to another, Linda starts falling for Johnny. Even if one is not familiar with the play, one could see this coming a mile away. Linda was always going to end up with Johnny! I mean, the two even have more things in common with each other. You’re not going to have Katharine Hepburn as the star and then not have her end up with the guy! Also, one of the script changes is making Linda the elder daughter. It is one of those rules going back to biblical times in which the youngest daughter does not marry prior to the eldest daughter. This film fits in line with tradition if you know what I mean.

If you know anything about Hepburn, chances are likely that you already know comments about her being box office poison in the late 1930s. While this film isn’t the hit that it was expected to be, the comedy has managed to withstand the test of time. Again, it is funny but not on the same level of comedy in her other pairings with Cary Grant. I’ve yet to see Sylvia Scarlett but this is their third best film together.

Behind the camera, George Cukor does a fine job. You know what sort of film you’re going to get from him when he’s the director. We might not talk about him in the same way as other signature filmmakers but he’s a reliable director especially when it comes to directing Katharine Hepburn. He directs the cast to some fine performances even though it’s the second adaptation of the Philip Barry play in under a decade. Screenwriters Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman modernize the screenplay to the film’s benefit. The film makes fun of the rich, which is something that plays to laughs at a late point during the Great Depression.

As a comedy of manners, Holiday is entertaining but it’s not Hepburn and Grant’s best work together. To each their own, of course.

DIRECTOR: George Cukor
SCREENWRITERS: Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman
CAST: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Norton, Henry Kolker, Binnie Barnes, Jean Dixon, Henry Daniell

Columbia released Holiday in theaters on June 15, 1938. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.