Monday, May 6, 2013

HOLIDAY (1930): There's Something About Mary (Astor, that is)

This is my entry in the Mary Astor Blogathon hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings . Click here for all who agree that there is just something about Mary!

Cary Grant is Johnny Case and Katharine Hepburn is Linda Seton in the film version of the Philip Barry play "Holiday," right? Right you are, but before Kate and Cary tore up the screen together there was an earlier 1930 version starring Ann Harding and, second billed, Mary Astor. Robert Ames had the Cary Grant role and the fact that he got 4th billing (behind Edward Everett Horton in the same part he played in the later film), tells you that there is a shift in focus here. While Grant's Johnny Case really did let a breath of fresh air into that stuffy Seton mansion, Ames is an interesting guy who happens to get in between 2 sisters. In the later version, is there really any choice between Kate and Doris Nolan? The fact that I can  never remember her name and always call her Doris-what's-her-name tells you where I stand. She is shallow and uninteresting and as soon as Hepburn's Linda bolts upon the scene, there is no doubt that she is the more desirable sister. But, in 1930, that sister is played by our Mary and she is chic, kittenish, lovable and very, very sexy. Quel dilemma! 
Devoted Sisters: Ann Harding as Linda and Mary Astor as Julia
Ann Harding as Linda gives a strong performance. Not as impulsive as Kate, she is a more thoughtful rebel, but she is as crisp and clean as the dialogue. Robert Ames as Johnny is no Cary Grant, but then who is? Where Cary and Kate had enormous chemistry, Ames seems to have more chemistry with Mary.   It's hard not to think of Cary when watching Ames, but if you take the time to read up on this actor, you'll see that he was quite the scoundrel who lived fast and died young (click here for a Wikipedia bio). Monroe Owsley (another actor who died young) as brother Ned was preferable (to me) over Lew Ayres in the later version. His depression and despair seemed more tragic.


Julia & Johnny
So, it is our Mary and her lusty chemical reaction with her co-star that sets this version on "Holiday" on its ears. She is too gorgeous, too wonderful, too everything to suddenly turn all materialistic on a big fat Seton dime. I really wanted her to run off to Paris with Johnny at the end and leave Linda and Ned and the Potters (Susan Potter played by pre-poisonous Hedda Hopper) to play in the nursery. They would have had a real adult romance. Or, better yet, I'd like to see Kate battle Cary for his heart. That would be some choice!
After a successful career in silents as a Madonna like damsel, Mary initially flunked her sound test. Rather than take a pay cut, she left Fox studios, did some stage work and, lo and behold, emerged as the purring, sophisticated, laser-point-perfect actress we celebrate today. She is never less than memorable.


Can't we have this version????
A note on the DVD version: it was just plain awful. I am not sure if there is a better copy out there, but the one I was able to find was almost unwatchable. This very well done early talkie deserves to be polished, cleaned up and made available, as it is an interesting companion to the more famous 1938 version.

38 comments:

Inge Gregusch said...

You've outdone yourself, FC! Gone and unearthed a real gem. Thank you!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I've wanted to see this version for some time, thanks for the reminder. Intriguing descriptions of Mary's work. Great post.

DorianTB said...

Chick, I aboslutley adore your 1930 version of HOLIDAY! That version sounds more like my cup of tea. Your pasted picture of our gal Mary cracked me up! Who do we petition to get a remastered version of HOLIDAY with Mary polished to a high shine? Thanks for your wonderful post and for being part of our Mary Astor Blogathon!

KimWilson said...

That must have been a homemade DVD because I've been waiting to see this for years and it's still not out. Love your cropped picture at the end!

Patti said...

I dislike Katharine Hepburn intensely (dare I admit that and not get booted out of the CMBA), so I tend to avoid the majority of films she's in. "Holiday" is one which I haven't seen, but thanks to your review, I know I can get the same story without Kate.

It's funny, I recently caught "Dodsworth" for the first time, and I was stunned at how pretty Mary was. I have never thought her to be ugly, but I haven't found her to be particularly attractive either. (I guess I've only seen her in 40's and 50's films.) She was quite a beauty in the 30's, and the pictures you have included make that very apparent.

movieclassics said...

FlickChick, I'd love to see this version - just discovered that it's on Youtube in sections, but the picture quality is absolutely terrible, pretty well unwatchable as you say, so I've given up on it for now. I had hoped the DVD would be better, but, by the sounds of your description, that may not be the case! I might have to return and put up with the Youtube version... anyway, really enjoyed your piece and your comparisons with the famous remake. Judy

Silver Screenings said...

I've never seen this version, and I know I'll love it. I can just picture, by the way you've written it, how wonderful Astor would be in this role.

Also, fabulous photo you've posted of "Johnny & Julia" in the doorway.

Thanks for participating in our blogathon!

FlickChick said...

Inge - thank you so much. I knew you'd be bowled over by that deco poster.

FlickChick said...

Jacqueline - it's such a shame that the only DVD out there is barely watchable. This really deserves to be preserved.

FlickChick said...

Thanks Dorian for the opportunity to write about one of my faves.

FlickChick said...

Kim - how much fun would it have been to see Kate try to come between Mary & Cary?

FlickChick said...

Patti - Mary was such a beauty. You should check out some photos of her during the silent era - just breathtaking.As for Kate - well, I am not quite as annoyed by her as you, but she rarely makes my top 10.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Judy. Yes - such a shame that the only copy out there is horrific. It would be so awesome if a good copy was released.

FlickChick said...

Silver Screenings - thanks for co-hosting. Mary had such a long career and the participants in this event are covering everything from the silents to the 50s.

Aubyn Eli said...

FlickChick, I tried to watch this one on Youtube and gave up--it looked more like a moving Rorschach test than an actual film. Glad to see that you're made of tougher stuff than I am :). I'm intrigued by the idea of Mary Astor in the sister role since, as you say, Doris Nolan is so forgettable. I've only seen one Ann Harding performance and she struck me as a cool, reserved actress. Very different from Katharine Hepburn. And I think you're right, Mary is too lovable and smart to be dismissed so easily. Nice review!

lipranzer said...

I finally saw this on You Tube; I can only imagine how the DVD must have looked like. I agree Astor was good in this (and Harding was also good, even though she was competing in my mind with Hepburn's wonderful performance), but I think the movie fell short. Johnny never makes much sense here, partly because of Ames, but also partly because of the writing. I also can't understand how Maltin could claim Monroe Owsley came off better than Lew Ayres as Ned. Finally, while I like Astor in this, as I said before, her character's change from appealing to snobbish sort of comes out of left field. Still, I enjoyed your write-up very much.

Dawn Sample said...

Please add me to the list of classic movie fans wanting to see this version. I will look for it on TCM..

Caftan Woman said...

It's been on my wish list for such a long time that I guess I can wait for a decent release. The idea of Harding and Astor intrigues me and you've thrown more coal on that fire.

said...

First, thanks for your comment in my post!
Since I love different versions of the same story, I'll look for this one and compare to the 1938 one. Now, a choice between Kate and Mary would be a very difficult one!
Also nice to know more about Robert Ames who, as an interesting note, was from Hartford, Connecticut, like Katharine Hepburn.
Kisses!

Elizabeth Boyde said...

I've always liked the casting of the Kate/Cary version. Yes, even with Doris whatsit, and Ayres' drink-induced apathy impresses me with every viewing, but after watching lots of movies with either Harding or Astor, I'm itching to see the 1930 version. Though I like Kate, I always relish seeing Ann Harding. As for our girl Mary, you've got her pegged -- 'chic, kittenish, lovable and very sexy'. (She always makes me think of that line from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN -- "She's so refined. I think I'll kill myself.")

Sorry to hear your DVD was so pathetic. I cannot think why this has never been shown on TCM?! I'm really glad you chose to blog about this.

John/24Frames said...

As I go through the list of blogs for this marathon, I am finding out how many of Astor's films I have not seen. HOLIDAY is on that list! Enjoyed your post!

Gwen Kramer said...

I like the 1938 version so I am definitely going to have to track this edition down. A shame that the DVD quality is not up to par. Thanks for the great review!

FlickChick said...

Aubyn - yes, the DVD was really unwatchable and I almost gave up, but I wanted to soldier on for the event. I am glad I did, but this movie so needs to be restored.

FlickChick said...

Sean - it was pretty hard on the eyes. I agree that Johnny is not so important here (as you can tell by the actor's 4th billing). The focus really is on the siblings. If the darn thing was restored it would make a fun double feature with the later version.

FlickChick said...

Dawn - I doubt it will be shown on TCM due to the poor condition of the print

FlickChick said...

CW - yes - wait for a restored version (if they ever do it). Ann Harding is a very interesting actress - very cerebral and cool. I'd like to see more of her work.

FlickChick said...

Le - it seems Robert Ames was a lot more interesting off screen than on screen!

FlickChick said...

Elizabeth - love the reference to Singin' in the Rain! Though they are polar opposites, any time you can get Mary Astor and Lina Lamont in the same sentence I'm a happy girl!

FlickChick said...

John - this is a great blogathon, isn't it? I, too, have learned so much more about Mary Astor.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Gwen - I sure hope this one gets a decent release in our lifetime!

Vienna said...

Great review and like everyone else, I would love to see this version. I've only seen a couple of Ann Harding films and liked her.
Will now spend some time exploring your blog!

FlickChick said...

Gee, thanks Vienna. Good luck to all of us finding a respectable copy of this gem.

Page said...

FlickChick,
I'm quite fond of this earlier version. Being such a big fan of Cary, that says a lot. : )

Perhaps it's seeing Harding and Astor together and the 'sisterly' chemistry they had. It was a lot of fun to watch and while Holiday is fantastic, this earlier version holds its own.

I really enjoyed your look back at the film and your comparisons, what worked for this version. I also take not at how an actor/actress was billed in a film for some reason. It's the little things like this that have me wondering about that mysterious 'studio system'.

Your informative reviews are always a good read and this was no exception.

A wonderful contribution to the Blogathon.
Page

The Lady Eve said...

I haven't seen this version, but Mary Astor vs. Ann Harding seems lots more interesting than Hepburn vs. that other actress. I'm not a big Hepburn fan, really, but I've always liked her in "Holiday" - along with Lew Ayres and, of course (!), Cary Grant.

Great addition to the Mary Astor blogathon, Chick. On my way now to find out more about Robert Ames at Wikipedia and check out this film on YouTube.

Lasso The Movies said...

I haven't seen this either, but I sure hope I do soon. It might not be as great, but like you said, how could it be. Astor still would be fun in this role. Thanks for the post.

FlickChick said...

Hi Page - yes, the billing order gives a good clue on the importance of the sister relationship.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Lady Eve - and get some good eye drops if you try to watch this on YouTube!

FlickChick said...

Thanks for stopping by, Paul. And, as you say, if Mary is there, it has to be good. She makes everything just a little bit better.