Holiday (1938) – Two Girls with Hats

The worst thing you can do to a girl is saddle her with a sister early on in life. The sister is always going to be more beautiful or more intelligent or more virtuous or more cheerful or more obedient or wear better hats – none of which helps in the making of the confident, tough personality that one ought to be.

Because however rich or famous you become, one little bit of you always knows that your parents love your sister more than you do, which in my case, my mother pooh-poohs till date. And however old your sister becomes, she will always claim that she stuck to the safe and tested path because you were wild and rebellious enough for the entire family, which in my sister’s case, I refuse to acknowledge now that we are both in our 40s. Though we took different paths to reach here, I find that we haven’t wandered too far away from each other.

My sister and me, here we look happy enough in our hats.

But we spent all our growing up years fighting to the point of driving our mother to tears. It’s only when we both got married and left home, that we came to realize what we mean to each other.

Sisters and hats feature largely in ‘Holiday‘ (1938) by George Cukor.

Johny Case (Cary Grant) comes back from a holiday in Placid, in love with a girl Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). When he arrives at her home, he discovers that she is very, very rich. His betrothed makes her first appearance in a conical, Wizard of Oz hat, which alone should tell us that he is going to soon fall out of love with her. Why was I not surprised to learn that George Cukor was largely responsible for the ultimate look of the characters in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Dhanno was squirming at the thought of seeing a film with a conical-hatted heroine and was very relieved when Katherine Hepburn made her appearance without a hat as Julia’s older sister, Linda.

Linda is the black sheep of the family, because she refuses to party, to sweet-talk important relatives and friends, and prefers to stay in one corner of the palatial house, their old playroom, filled with the toys and fancies of their childhood, Julia’s doll, Linda’s giraffe and trapeze and Ned (Lew Ayres), their younger brother’s drum set, and also, a large portrait of their mother. Linda also doesn’t wear hats, and her hair is straight and simple and dark, fitting her like a helmet as does Dominique Francon’s in Ayn Rand’s ‘Fountainhead‘.

Johny Case arrives in her life and the stuffy house as a breath of fresh air. He is not overawed by Julia’s wealth, he does not find it necessary to hide his ordinary family background or his struggle to survive since he was 14 from Julia’s father, and he does back cartwheels when he is worried. He even offers to teach Linda how to do back cartwheels, and she falls in love with him. Cary Grant is as usual handsome and charming, and plays his role with ease. Several points are added to his performance by the cart-wheeling unimpeded by his tall bulky frame.

Katherine Hepburn plays Linda with a manic intensity. Her eyes, glistening with fierce tears, her sharp jaw-line and her whip-like thinness, make her rather an uncomfortable character to live with.

I can’t see her making it as a dewy-faced Indian film heroine at all. But she’d have done all the lovely cabaret numbers with cigarette holders.

Linda has tried nursing, painting, and all kinds of activities to consume her energy, but of course, what she needs is a man, the right man. She does not have the option to drink away her frustrations like Ned who bungles through the film, in and out, perpetually drunk, trying to forget his musical ambitions and reconcile to the life of making money, prescribed by his father. Lew Ayres builds his performance on well-timed exits and entries, underlining one of his lines in the film, “Walk, don’t run, to the nearest exit.” Without seeming to do much, he makes Ned a tragic-comic figure.

Much of the film is actually based in the palatial house with it’s many doors, and many exits and entries, creating an atmosphere that is impersonal and cold, suffocating any spontaneous impulses within the people who live there.

Julia meanwhile having got her trophy home, and having convinced her father that Johny Case is the right man for her, because he is well on his way to being a financial success, promptly forgets all that she presumably fell in love with in Johny and becomes once again very much her father’s daughter. Her excessively crimped curls seem to suggest a person who thinks she can straighten Johny out, to be the perfect husband and son-in-law.

Johny however has his own opinions. As he tells Julia’s father, “When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite!”

He also has his own observations about the Seton household. He can feel a growing attraction to Linda who staunchly refrains from kissing him, though she’s happy enough to cartwheel with him. When Johny does make a killing at the stock market, he wants to retire, to take a holiday at least for as long as the money lasts him, to discover himself.

This is incomprehensible to Julia and her father, and fascinating to Linda and Ned. While Ned is inclined to think that Julia and his father and their wealth will lead Johny to a compromise, Linda thinks that Julia ought to understand that she will lose Johny and that she ought to do everything possible not to lose Johny. She tries hard to convince Julia, “You’ve got no faith in Johnny, have you, Julia? His little dream may fall flat, you think. Well, so it may, what if it should? There’ll be another. Oh, I’ve got all the faith in the world in Johnny. Whatever he does is all right with me. If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to come back and sell peanuts, oh, how I’ll believe in those peanuts!”

But Julia does not seem to care. Faced with an ultimatum, she decides to pretend that Johny did not exist, leaving Linda free to make her own choice and follow Johny on his holiday with his friends. Nick Potter (Edward Everett Horton) who used to be Johny’s professor at Harvard and his wife Mrs. Susan Potter (Jean Dixon) are as whimsical and intelligent as Johny and Linda and understand the importance of a holiday. Jean Dixon, by the way, is one of those actresses who transform a frame into real 3-dimensional space by entering it.

I’m left sadly lamenting the fact that there are no signs of retirement or holiday in the near future for me. But then I am no financial wizard. And I don’t do back cartwheels. And I don’t wear no hats anymore.

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