1938, US, directed by George Cukor
Often tagged as a screwball comedy - it features several of that (sub) genre's most polished practitioners in fine, quick-witted form - Holiday has a more serious undercurrent than most screwball films, dissecting the lives of the rich and, perhaps, privileged but not simply dismissing them with a satirical swipe, while it’s also insightful as a study of a man faced with a choice between two very different paths.
What’s most striking about the film is George Cukor’s ability to transition, seamlessly, from scenes of high physical comedy and banter to emotionally fraught territory, never more strikingly than in a sequence an hour or so into the film which begins with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn having a fine time, and ends with both uncertain of their futures. There’s also a very vivid sense of the intrusion of the wider world of 1938, particularly in the presence of a quasi-fascist relative, and in the pointed questioning of the idea that the pursuit of success in business is a fundamentally American value (the often ghostly presence of a perennially half-drunk, and terribly sad-eyed, Lew Ayres is another skewer in the idea that riches bring happiness).
The film also gives the lie to the idea – much-repeated and rarely questioned – that Cukor is a stagebound director: while a number of the scenes here clearly reproduce sequences from Philip Barry’s original play, Cukor carefully moves his camera around the space to ensure we’re never simply watching from a fixed theatrical viewpoint, while he makes extensive use of the large staircase sets, most strikingly in a beautiful shot that follows a couple as they make their way upstairs during a party and in another which tracks Hepburn down through the crowds at the same soirée. The final shot, too, is especially clever, with Cary Grant’s hand reaching up into the frame to grasp Hepburn.