8 Down, 2 to Go: Ann Harding in Holiday

(the 422nd of the 424 Best Actress nominees!)



The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Marie Dressler in Min and Bill

Marlene Dietrich in Morocco

Irene Dunne in Cimarron

Norma Shearer in A Free Soul

As I’ve mentioned, I have anticipated seeing the original film adaptation of Holiday for quite some time.  I have a strange fascination with films that take a hard look at the upper class (Love Me Tonight, Howards End, The Rules of the Game), and the 1938 film adaptation of Philip Barry’s play, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, provides perhaps the most incisive and comprehensive American critique of the deep-seated prejudices of wealth.  This iteration of the play preserves most of its sparkling energy, revolving around Ann’s sister of a wealthy heiress who brings home a self-made fiance after a whirlwind romance on holiday.  Ann’s character, immediately more of a match for the man than her sister, at first sits back and attentively observes other characters’ subtle and polite clashes of will, only gradually emerging as the film’s heroine, the rebel leader against the suffocating force of her family’s iron will.  I found this adaptation to be delightful, filled with a cast mostly able to match the later remake, with a glimmer of two of pre-Code flavor.

Is it even possible to fairly judge a performance, when this is all you can see?  I knew, though, that thanks to Holiday’s lack of home video release, finding decent viewing conditions would be a challenge.  The VHS transfer I tracked down erases most of the nuance in Ann Harding’s (and the rest of the cast’s) performance, as well as the finer features of her beauty, and I’m left only with the broad strokes of her characterization.  Admittedly, then, I am judging the performance only based on the limited amount I can discern, so my apologies to Ann if I do her an injustice.

From what I can tell, Ann’s stagey rendition unfortunately suffers by comparison against the effusive Katharine Hepburn in the 1938 remake.  I think of the character of Linda Seton as a combination of stubbornness and spontaneity, capable of rebelling against the “reverence for riches” that corrupts or paralyzes every member of her surrounding family.  Ann has the stubbornness down; I give her full credit for digging in passionately in the battles against her domineering father.  Ultimately, even disregarding the immediate comparison, what I miss in Ann’s performance is the spontaneity: her dialogue feels more like lines on a page than thoughts springing fiercely to her character’s mind.  In her scenes with the fiancé and her brother (the two characters only partially in thrall to the family’s will), I can’t find the tenacious spark that makes me believe Ann capable of not only resisting, but completely breaking free from her family.  I still give her credit, though, for a respectable portrayal of an excellent role, and cast my vote in agreement with the Academy for Marie Dressler’s acerbic mother with a heart of gold in Min and Bill.


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