We’re back now for another edition of “Original Vs. Remake” (and in some respects still staying “What’s Old Is A New Release Again,” since both the movies were released together) with the 1930 and 1938 versions of the movie Holiday!
After going on a holiday to Lake Placid, Johnny Case (Robert Ames in 30, Cary Grant in 38) comes home engaged to Julia Seton (Mary Astor in 30, Doris Nolan in 38). He is surprised to find out she is an heiress, the daughter of a rich banker. Her sister, Linda Seton (Ann Harding in 30, Katharine Hepburn in 38) takes to him, and blesses the marriage, with her brother Ned Seton (Monroe Owsley in 30, Lew Ayres in 38) being indifferent. However, her banker father Edward Seton (William Holden in 30, Henry Kolker in 38) is wary, and looks into Johnny’s prospects. Linda wants to give them a small party to celebrate their engagement on New Year’s Eve, but Edward decides to give a big party for all his society friends. Linda opts not to come to the party, instead staying in the playroom. There, she entertains Nick (Edward Everett Horton) and Susan Potter (Hedda Hopper in 30, Jean Dixon in 38), along with Johnny, who tells her of his dream to quit work and go on a holiday while he tries to figure life out and enjoy it before returning to work when his money runs out. When Edward and Julia come up, Johnny tells them his dream, except they are both disturbed by it, resulting in Johnny leaving. With Linda developing feelings for Johnny while still trying to support her sister, what will come of all this?
Obviously, being that both movies are based on the Philip Barry play, it’s altogether too easy to mention the similarities (including a rare instance of the same actor playing the same part in two different versions, since Edward Everett Horton plays Nick Potter in both films), so we can skip right on to the differences. Of course, sticking with Edward Everett Horton, we find one of the big changes between the movies. In the 30 version, his Nick Potter is one of the rich, although he is Linda’s friend. In a change reflective of how long the Depression had gone on, he became a professor at a university for the 38 film, as well as being Johnny’s friend (and making him much more a “man of the people”). Another point being some of the portrayal, as Horton hadn’t yet fully developed his screen persona at the time he did the 1930 movie, but by 1938, he had become more established as a character actor, and that was reflected in how he portrayed Nick Potter for that film.
Of course, there are different events that happen in the two movies. The 30 film starts off with both Johnny and Julia arriving at her mansion together, while the 38 version has Johnny stopping off at Nick and Susan’s place to leave his things before meeting Julia. One major difference between the two movies is how much Julia’s cousin Seton Cram (Hallam Cooley in 30, Henry Daniell in 38) and his wife Laura Cram (Elizabeth Forrester in 30, Binnie Barnes in 38) have to do with the story. In the 1930 movie, we meet them on the first day that Johnny meets Julia’s family, and Laura has as much to do with planning the New Year’s Eve party as does Edward Seton. We also see them at the wedding rehearsal (a scene that is in the 1930 film but not the 1938 one),, where Laura is as much trying to help plan the fashionable wedding, based somewhat off how THEY had gotten married. In the 1938 film, the two characters only really appeared at the party (still serving the same purpose there that they had at the party in the previous film). Of course, a lot of the events occurring at the party in the playroom changed, allowing for the different performers and their various screen personas.
As to how I feel about these two movies? I think my scores tell the tale:
My Rating for Holiday (1930): 6/10
My Rating for Holiday (1938): 10/10
For me, the acting is so much better overall in the 1938 film. Cary Grant embodies the role of Johnny Case so much better, and when you throw in his natural ability with screwball comedy plus giving him a chance to some of his tumbles and flips, it’s hard not to prefer his version of the character. As for Katharine Hepburn, I do find her way much better than Ann Harding. Both of them make references to the trapeze in the playroom, but, honestly, I find Katharine Hepburn’s version more believable as somebody who might have used it (and would now). Of course, it does help that the 1938 film does have her character doing at least one tumble with Cary Grant, even if Katharine may have had a stunt double do it (although I don’t truly know that for sure). Of course, my opinion of Edward Everett Horton is that he is great in both film versions. But at the same time, I also feel he draws out the weakness of the 1930 film. One line, uttered in both movies by Linda Seton (admittedly about Johnny Case but it applies to Edward Everett Horton here), is “Do you realize life walked into this house today?” Well, with the 1930 film, life walks in with him, and leaves when he does. I would guess his role is about equal in screen time between the two films, but it feels like less in the 1930 film because he isn’t backed up by the rest of the cast like he is in the 1938 film. As I have said, I’m not as fond of the acting by most of the cast in the 1930 film, so when he is on, it shows, versus the 1938 film where he is still good, but so is the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mary Astor in the 1930 film (and I think she is better in the role than Doris Nolan), but her character is more dramatic in a movie that *should* be a comedy. I will readily admit, I enjoy both films, but the 1938 film is far superior in my mind, and the version I would recommend.
Of course, they were both recently released together, with the 1938 film as the main feature and the 1930 film as a bonus, on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. Of course, one extra on that set, featuring a conversation between filmmaker/distributor Michael Schlesinger and film critic Michael Sragow wherein they talk about the original play, the 1930 film and the 1938 one (mostly about the 1938 film). Easily a wonderful release, and one I would highly recommend!
The winner: Holiday (1938)