Last of the Monster Kids

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 13th

Holiday (1938)

I might've mentioned this in the past. I'm not nearly as familiar with golden age cinema as I'd like to be. (Outside of classic horror, of course.) For example: I've seen very few films starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, two of the icons of thirties and forties Hollywood. So when I came across 1938’s “Holiday,” while looking for classic Christmas movies to watch this December, I decided to try it. A remake of an RKO picture from eight years prior, it was the third of four films Grant and Hepburn would make together. It’s usually overlooked in favor of their next film together, “The Philadelphia Story,” which was also directed by George Cukor. Even I know that Cukor - who also directed “My Fair Lady,” “Gaslight,” and a few other classics - is one of Golden Hollywood’s Masters. All of these were good reasons to add the film to my December watch list.

While on holiday, Johnny Case meets and falls in love with Julia Seton. Before Christmas, they meet at her family’s home. Turns out, Julia’s family is loaded. Before he’ll approve the marriage, Julia’s father insist that Johnny takes a job in the family’s banking business. Johnny, a free spirit, is reluctant to do this at first but agrees to placate his fiancĂ©e. On New Year’s night, the engagement is announced. But Johnny is increasingly uncertain. At the same time, he’s getting closer to Linda, Julia’s sister and the black sheep of the family. Soon, he has a lot of choices to make.

“Holiday” is a pleasantly gentle romantic-comedy. The early scenes are characterized by a sweet and bubbly tone. Though sometimes described as a screwball comedy, “Holiday” is never manic or madcap. Early on, Grant does a somersault out of sheer joy from being so in love with Julia. Early on, Grant does a somersault out of sheer joy from being so in love with Julia. Later on, an even more elaborate flip, a real circus worthy tumble, is performed by two other people. Yet these bigger stunts are not what the film is about. Instead, the film is about meaningful connections between normal people, many of which just happen to be quite funny.

This allows “Holiday” to transfer tones quite easily. The second half of the film is more dramatic. Johnny increasingly feels pulled between his love for Julia and being true to himself. Made during the Great Depression, “Holiday” does not approach this topic carelessly. Johnny could take an easy gig with Julia’s family and be set for life or sacrifice a sense of independence that’s important to him. This choice is greater symbolized by the love triangle between the sisters, as Linda feels increasingly out-of-place among the strict regulations her dad insists on. These are big choices to make and the film addresses them with the appropriate amount of seriousness.

Mostly, the film works as well as it does thanks to two lovely lead performances. Cary Grant has a visible spring in his step as Johnny. He strikes the viewer as someone with a real list for life. Yet he clearly has a deeper inner life, making the dramatic second half more believable. Katherine Hepburn is similarly lovable. A scene where she leads Johnny through the childhood bedroom, interacting with the various toys, is adorable. Hepburn is never naughty or bratty, genuinely striking the viewer as an outcast being treated unfairly. The supporting cast is strong too, with Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon being quite charming as Johnny’s best friends.

“Holiday” does have its flaws. Julia’s characterization gets the short end of the stick, becoming almost a non-entity in the last act. The viewer is never quite sure why Johnny is so in love with her in the first place. The end is a bit abrupt. It’s also not much of a Christmas movie, most of the film being set in January. Only a scene in church were hymns are sung or the ocassinal appearance of a Christmas tree confirms the seasonal setting. I won’t hold that against the film. “Holiday” is a largely delightful motion picture, sweet and wonderfully acted. [7/10]

The Town Santa Forgot (1993)

As a kid, I can recall seeing a Christmas special somewhere on cable, detailing the day-to-day workings at Santa’s workshop. I thought it might’ve been “The Town Santa Forgot.” The timeline seemed right, as the 1993 prime time special was aired annually on Cartoon Network throughout the nineties. That must’ve been some other special but I’ll review “The Town Santa Forgot” anyway. Told in rhyming verse, the half-half cartoon is about an exceptionally greedy child named Jeremy Creek. Despite having literally thousands of toys, he still demands more. Hoping Santa will fulfill his avarice, he sends a mile long wish list to the North Pole. Upon reading the massive letter, Santa assumes “Jeremy Creek” must be the name of a town. Turns out it is, a impoverished swamp village Santa has never visited before. Jeremy discovers the confusion on Christmas Day but takes it better than expected.

The first half of “The Town Santa Forgot” features some likable cartoony mayhem. Jeremy’s temper tantrums, occurring whenever he sees something he wants, can literally shake houses and crack walls. No wonder his parents placate him. Similarly oversized is the scene where a tidal of toys washes into the Creek household. I also like the moment where Jeremy details every possession in his room, which includes multiple Dracula model kits. (There’s one or two other shout-outs to Halloween in this special.) Though produces by Hanna-Barbera, the special has decent animation and character designs.

If Jeremy is too much of a brat for you, the selfish kid naturally gets humbled by the end. The show’s message of charity is actually well delivered, as just seeing the news report about the town’s influx of gifts is enough to make him realize the error of his ways. Though it’s a bit melodramatic that his entire life is changed by this night, it’s a good message to deliver to kids, told in a way I think they’ll understand. Dick van Dyke plays the special’s narrator, though weirdly does not also voice Santa. There’s a forgettable song midway through but the rhyming narration is actually fairly cute and clever. Though not the mysterious special I’ve been seeking, I still found this to be a worthy half-hour. [7/10]

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