The Best Film You Haven’t Seen For Too Long: Holiday

Katharine Hepburn Holiday giraffeI’m not even sure I can write about Holiday, the best movie Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn made together. Yes, I have indeed seen Bringing Up Baby, which always gives me a panic attack when everyone is imprisoned because all of a sudden it’s a Kafka novel. And yes, actually, I find The Philadelphia Story difficult to watch because Jimmy Stewart is too skinny to wear a double-breasted suit and he does not belong in the same movie as Grant and Hepburn. Why did no one ask Henry Fonda or Joel McCrea? Sigh.

But Holiday. Oh, Holiday. I can’t tell you what this film meant to me when I first saw it, languishing in a small town in Texas with an extended family who all stayed within 40 miles of their childhood homes. Cary Grant is a banker engaged to wealthy socialite Julia. He’s a bit of a weirdo, prone to doing acrobatics and with a dream of taking a year to travel the world and find himself. As this is both a wealthy family and the Great Depression, his fiancée and her father think his plan is absurd. Why take a year away from the wonderful world of rich Manhattanites? Why not surrender to the “Reverence for riches” that they all possess? More sympathetic are Grant’s future brother-in-law, a melancholy drunk, and his future sister-in-law Linda (Hepburn), who escapes from her family’s conformity by holing up in the attic playroom.

Gradually, Hepburn and Grant realize that they are simpatico in ways that he never will be with Linda’s sister, and both slowly come to the conclusion that Julia has already crossed over to the dark side and wants nothing more than a successful husband, large house, a fleet of servants, and boozy lunches and elaborate dinner parties. But can Linda turn her back on her family to grab at happiness? Will Grant follow his dreams or listen to wiser, wealthier, more powerful advisers?

You can see how I might identify. (Also, did you know that the trio of siblings were inspired by a real family? The real Linda ditched society to become a spy for the O.S.S. and was eventually imprisoned by the Germans!)

The point, of course, is not the plot. (Is the point ever the plot?) The point is what director George Cukor and Hepburn and Grant do between the lines. The rapid banter. The back flipflops. The disastrous New Year’s Eve/engagement party that Grant escapes in the playroom with Hepburn. Hepburn holding up a stuffed giraffe next to her own long neck. The electric chemistry that immediately informs Linda and Johnny that they have a connection that can’t be ignored without danger to themselves. Even the way Hepburn says “Johnny,” full of love and admiration and rue.

Rebellion is always more attractive when it’s accomplished with a modicum of elegance, and nothing could be more elegant than Holiday or that ecstatic final scene, in which everyone gets what they so richly deserve. Watch it this New Year’s, and think about all the lonely 11-year-olds in Hicksville who are watching it, too, and burning to get the hell out and find a life that’s their own.

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