Movie review: “Holiday” (1938)

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Partner told me that, at a recent training/educational session, the trainer asked each member of the class: What’s your favorite movie?

Partner found it an impossible question. Who has just one favorite movie, after all? I have about twenty, a few of which I’ve spoken about here: “Annie Hall,” “The Mask of Dimitrios,” “Dodsworth.”

But, absolutely, “Holiday” (the 1938 version with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant) is on my list.

It’s a witty little Philip Barry play from the 1920, which was first made into a 1930 movie, and then (immortally) into this 1938 movie. The movie didn’t do well, supposedly because late-Thirties audiences didn’t want to see a movie in which the hero didn’t want to work; also, Katherine Hepburn had recently been declared “box-office poison.”

Piffle.

Summary: Wealthy-by-birth Doris Nolan meets wealthy-by-hard-work Cary Grant at Lake Placid, and brings him back to New York City as her fiancé. Cary meets Doris’s carefree sister Katherine Hepburn, and realizes within a few days that he’s in love with the wrong sister.

There are lots of things to admire here: Lew Ayres as alcoholic brother Ned, who’s pathetic but brave; Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as Cary Grant’s funny best friends; George Cukor’s quiet sympathetic direction.

Best of all, however, is the dialogue. Many of the best lines are given to Hepburn, as follows:

Cary Grant has just admired an icky-poo doll once owned by his fiancé (Hepburn’s sister), saying “It even looks like her.” This follows:

Linda Seton: [Hugging a toy giraffe] “Now don’t you a word about Leopold, he’s very sensitive.”

Johnny Case: “Yours.”

Linda Seton: “Looks like me.” [turning its head in profile]

Or, when Hepburn’s horrible cousins appear in the doorway:

Linda Seton: “Oh, for the love of Pete – it’s the witch and Dopey!”

Or, questioning Cary on his family background:

Linda Seton: “Do you mean to say that your mother wasn’t even a Whoozis?”

This movie is a slice of lemon meringue pie, cool and refreshing. I could watch it morning, noon, and night.

Do yourself a favor and take a look at it.


The perfect movie: “Annie Hall”

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We have talked a lot about movies recently: good, bad, memorable, unmemorable. Movie-lovers get a little crazy about movies.

 

 

How about this, then: is there a perfect movie?

 

 

There are all kinds of quantifiable / describable things that make a movie truly great. It needs to be fun, and watchable, and susceptible to interpretation on many levels, and engaging, and contain excellent performances and clever / memorable dialogue, and be directed compellingly . . .

 

 

I have a short list: “The Red Shoes.” “The Lion In Winter.” “Casablanca.” “Citizen Kane.” “The Maltese Falcon.”

 

 

But the other day I walked into the house, and I could hear the TV in the next room: Partner was watching a movie. Diane Keaton and Woody Allen were arguing, and . . .

 

 

Well, of course, “Annie Hall”!

 

 

I have seen it more times than I can count – probably (I kid you not) a hundred times. I know most of the dialogue by heart. I had a friend who, when she phoned me, would not say “Hello,” but rather a random line of “Annie Hall” dialogue; my response was supposed to be the next line of dialogue in the movie. One call went like this: “Hello?” I said.

 

 

“Are you getting your period?” my friend rasped.

 

 

Too easy. “I don’t get a period!” I said. “I’m a cartoon character!”

 

 

Woody achieved – to use one of his own expressions from the movie – maximum heaviosity in this film. The brittle chemistry between Woody and Diane makes everything work. The dialogue is perfect: witty without being arch. Woody had fun using every film technique of the last fifty years – split-screen, subtitles, animation – for a minute or so each, and they work beautifully. Woody actually speaks to the camera frequently, and it’s not stupid or uncomfortable, it works: it makes the movie personal and engaging. The characters walk freely into scenes from their own past, and comment on them, and observe them. (Woody’s classroom scene at the opening of the movie is a classic: he actually joins his own nine-year-old self in an argument with a smartassed nine-year-old girl.)

 

 

Okay, so it’s a funny movie about a twice-divorced guy from Brooklyn who gets into a relationship with a not-so-dumb girl from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

 

 

It’s also a bittersweet/sad movie about a twice-divorced guy from Brooklyn who gets into a relationship with a not-so-dumb girl from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

 

 

I remember watching the 1978 Oscar ceremony about a month before I graduated from college, back at Gonzaga in Spokane, with my friend George. George is (if you can believe it) a bigger Woody Allen fan than I am. When the Best Picture award was given to “Annie Hall,” George actually shed a tear. I’ve never forgotten it.

 

 

If you’ve never seen this movie, do yourself a favor and see it.

 

 

It’s perfect.

 


 

Woody Allen

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Ike Barinholtz, the very cute comedian who used to be on Mad TV, recently tweeted: “’Midnight in Paris’ is Woody Allen’s 15th best movie.”

 

 

I haven’t seen the movie, but I have no reason to doubt him.

 

 

I came of age during the Golden Age of Woody Allen. He’d emerged from his early experimental period – “Bananas,” “Take The Money and Run,” “Sleeper” – to create one of the most perfect comedies of all time: “Annie Hall.”

 

 

If you don’t agree with me on this point one hundred percent, watch it again. And then again.

 

 

Back in the 1990s, a friend of mine would call me, and instead of saying “Hello,” she’d give me a line of “Annie Hall” dialogue. I was expected to respond with the following line. I don’t think I can do it anymore, but I could do it instantly back then. “I don’t get a period! I’m a cartoon character!” “We use a large vibrating egg.” “Love fades.”

 

 

After “Annie Hall,” Woody made “Manhattan,” which I liked, but which felt – artsy. Artificial. And it still does.

 

 

Then he made “Interiors,” his first drama. I have seen it dozens of times. I love it, but I cannot recommend it to you, unless you like beige décor and Mary Beth Hurt. It is not a comedy. It is full of angst and stiff dialogue and homages to Ingmar Bergman. Unfortunately, it is also full of uncomfortable echoes of Woody’s own (very funny) Bergman parody, “Love and Death.” Sometimes I think “Interiors” is one of Woody’s funniest comedies. I’d never say it to his face, though.

 

 

I am fond of “Stardust Memories,” which came next, but I’ll tell you why later.

 

 

After “Stardust Memories,” he made many duds. Many, many, many duds. “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” “Mighty Aphrodite.” “Hollywood Ending.” “Celebrity.” Some were supposed to be serious, or at least tragicomic. Oh, dear god, “September”!

 

 

But there were still moments of glory. “Broadway Danny Rose” is a thing of beauty, and go see it please, it is too funny. The first time I saw it, I did not realize it was Mia Farrow behind those big dark glasses. Woody and Mia were still together then, and (the story goes) they were in a restaurant, and Woody said, “What do you want your next role to be?”, and Mia pointed at an Italian woman in the next booth, with dark glasses and a floppy hat, and said: “I want to play her.”

 

 

And she does. And she is wonderful.

 

 

Oh, that’s right, I need to tell you about why I love “Stardust Memories” so much.

 

 

In it, Woody fantasizes that he’s talking to aliens, about how he wants to communicate something important – something lasting – to the human race. And all he can do is make these stupid comedies.

 

 

And the alien says: “But we like your movies. Especially the earlier funnier ones.”

 


 

 

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