Sunday, February 14, 2010

1938: Holiday (George Cukor)

1938: Holiday (George Cukor)
Ah, how Cukor pulls this one off for me!  There's as much suspense in this romantic comedy as there is in any mystery or drama I can think of from this period.  I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't seen it. But suffice it to say, you're not sure where Cukor's taking the story until almost the very last second.

I guess I also have a thing about conformity.  The way that this film deals with familial pressure and the pressure to conform affects me in a very personal way.  In fact, it affects me as deeply as any film from the thirties.  

This is one of those years where it's absolutely no contest for me. Holiday is a desert island film for me.  Brilliant, I think, but more important, just a film that's extremely personal for me.  

Other contenders for 1938: There are a few films I still need to see from this year, most notably Michael Curtiz's Angels with Dirty Faces, Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes.  I do really like Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby but not near as much as the Cukor.  And, I love Jean Renoir's La bete humaine. But I can't say it affects me in the same deeply personal way as Holiday.

7/13/10 I watched Michael Curtiz's Angels with Dirty Faces.  There are some tremendous moments, particularly when Cagney starts yelping near the end and the shootout in the drugstore.  But there's something about Curtiz's touch for me that often feels a little heavy.  All in all, I enjoyed it even if it didn't all totally work for me.  

7/15/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes.  It's one of his most well-respected British films, but I must say I was a little disappointed in it.  I enjoyed much of the humor of the first thirty minutes, but I wasn't as involved once the suspense part of the film kicked in.  Based on one viewing of The Lady Vanishes, I still much prefer The 39 Steps and consider it by far my favorite of what I've seen from Hitch's British period.  

7/25/10 I watched Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky.  Devoid of Eisensteinian montage, this one derives its power from a certain spareness and a commitment to combat verisimilitude.  I could never fully connect to the characters, but Prokofiev provides a haunting score and some of the acting is quite strong.  


  1. Ah, Jeffrey, you are in for a treat... I would give anything to be able to watch Angels With Dirty Faces again for the first time! It is my #1 pick for 1938 and would also be my #1 overall for the entire decade. I think it's James Cagney's best film and the second-best made by Curtiz (second only to Casablanca). It has one of the greatest endings in Hollywood history.

    I also really like The Lady Vanishes, but this is another no-brainer. Angels is an all-time favorite.

  2. Dave, I know that feeling, wishing that I could have the experience of seeing things for the first time all over again! There's nothing quite like it. Needless to say, ANGELS is on my queue, and I can't wait to see it.

    Thanks, Dave!

  3. Jeffrey: Cukor of course is a Hollywood legend, and HOLIDAY is surely one of a handful of excellent films he crafted, and a worthy choice for this countdown. That's a good way to put it - it's a desert island film!

    My Own #1 Film of 1938:

    Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein)


    The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)
    The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz)
    Pygmalion (Asquith)
    Angels With Dirth Faces (Curtiz)
    Three Comrades (Borzage)
    Le Quai des Brummes (Carne)
    La Bete Humaine (Renoir)
    Olympische Spiele I & II (Riefenstahl)
    Holiday (Cukor)
    Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
    You Can't Take It With You (Capra)

    It's a very close call for the top spot for me this year Jeffrey and it's the kind of year where it depends on what mood you're in on any given day to come up with the answer.

  4. Sam, thanks so much for the excellent comments! I have some major gaps this year, too. And unfortunately these include your top two picks. Alas though, I will rectify this soon.

    As always, great to have your wealth of knowledge and perspective here!

  5. It's so great to find someone else who appreciates this film the way I do. As you say, it's a very personal film, one whose themes and aesthetics really get to me: there's something so warm and genuine about the central performances, and I love the way Cukor deals with the struggle against conformity and social pressure. It is as moving and potent a treatment of non-conformity as the Hollywood cinema has ever produced.

  6. Ed, I noticed on your home page that you were a huge fan of this film, too. And then I read both of the great pieces you wrote on it. We're 100% on the same page here, and you won't hear me argue at all with your final point, "It is as moving and potent a treatment of non-conformity as the Hollywood cinema has ever produced."

  7. I recently saw HOLIDAY for the first time and just happened to catch it here on your list. The real revelation here was finally seeing Hepburn in something where she shone through what is often, to me, a brittle exterior. It's a lively and humane performance.

    The Fifth Avenue mansion is fantastic as well, especially the design of the "kids room" upstairs. I suppose this Cukor will always be regarded as somehow minor in light of his subsequent masterworks. But it's a near perfect family drama rendered with genuine humor.

  8. Great addition here, Andrew! I agree, this one is considered somehow minor, but definitely not in my book. In fact, it's probably my favorite of all of Cukor's work, even with his A STAR IS BORN, which I consider an extraordinary accomplishment, too.

    I love what you say, "a near perfect family drama rendered with genuine humor." Humor and tremendous feeling. I'm glad you caught this one.