HOLIDAY (1938) Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn

Like the classic oldies? Have you seen Holiday (1938) with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn?  You might have missed it… it didn’t get as much notoriety as Philadelphia Story or Bringing Up Baby and that’s a shame.  Hard to imagine now, but Katherine Hepburn had built herself a bad reputation earlier in the 30s and was not a box office draw.  This is the perfect vehicle for her– a strong, quirky, well-to-do Main Line woman who doesn’t want to bend to societal demands. 
   The story is straightforward — a self-made man with a middle class background (Grant) falls in love with a woman (Doris Nolan) born into the Seton dynasty –one of the six richest families in the U.S.  He meets the family and soon discovers that getting married will be as complicated as getting marrying into a royal family.  There are rules and expectations.  And respectable society folk do not chuck their positions to find themselves as Grant’s character Johnny Case yearns to do, “…to try to find out who I am and what goes on and what about it.”( Unfortunately, this is perhaps why the film was not as well received as it should have been… post-Depression era folks did not embrace this philosophy.) As plans move forward he realizes he has more in common with his betrothed’s sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn).
Hepburn and Grant did four pictures together, three (including this one) with director George Cukor.  I for one, will be hunting up more Cukor films as this is a gem for many reasons:
  • acting is sublime–it is obvious that not only Hepburn and Grant had chemistry but they must have enjoyed their supporting cast members as well –Lew Ayres who plays her trapped and alcoholic brother; Edward Everett Horton (love him!!!) and Jean Dixon who play a sweet couple who are like surrogate parents to Grant. Scenes where they all escape the formal socialite scene to be themselves in the playroom are delightful.
  • Most of the film takes place in the Seton home –a home so large it has an elevator and a kitchen just a bit smaller than  a private airplane hangar. Opulent and stunning, it is a silent but shimmering character in the picture. 
  •  Costume designs by Robert Kalloch! Unfortunately, many animals died to make this film as there are quite a few fur wraps and hats to be seen but this was an age when clothing was ELEGANT.
Justin Chang recently wrote a review in the Los Angeles Times commenting that Holiday is the best of the Hepburn/Grant collaborations:

For more detail, please check out Margaret Perry’s blog (with a fun little meme of Grant and Hepburn doing a dance over a couch:



Onibaba (1964) Japanese

This artsy, black and white film has a slow build and a straightforward plot. Two peasant women, mother and daughter, are forced to kill samurai returning from war. By selling their belongings, they can purchase grain. They live in a hut in a huge grassy field. The daughter develops a relationship with a man nearby. The jealous mother tries to subvert this relationship by telling the daughter that sex without marriage is sinful and she will go to hell. When the mother kills a peculiar samurai wearing a mask, her karma ripens swiftly.

The lighting in the latter half of the film is extraordinary and the ending is worth the wait.

Director: Kaneto Shindô


Zen Noir (2004)

“Are you going to eat orange or freak out?” 

I love this movie, but it isn’t for everyone. This is not a movie you watch for plot–the plot is illusive. It got fairly awful reviews, despite winning several indie movie awards. It has jarring music and it seems to be longer than necessary.

The premise: a detective is investigating a death at a temple…but really, it is Everyman investigating the meaning of life. He tries to analyze it but gets confused. Message: left brain vs. right brain, logic vs. instinct… you can’t understand the essence of life by studying it like a math problem. You have to experience it.  I love this movie even though I hate the music. Why? IF you have a basic understanding of Zen Buddhism, this movie is funny and explains the essence of Zen well. 

Actor Kim Chan who plays the wise old monk had me convinced the studio had hired a real monk. He’s hilarious and delightful. This movie is rich and funny, sad, weird and wonderful–about life and death and being in the moment… it is one that I need to watch again every once in a while.

The film is available on YouTube:

Zen Noir gets FIVE MONKEYS from me for its ambitious and daring approach to explaining zen. Is it the best movie I’ve ever seen? No, but it sure lingers and you can’t say, “Oh yeah, it’s like… I don’t think there’s anything quite like it.

Philadelphia Story (1940)

One of my favorite old classics– super drunk scene performed by Jimmy Stewart!

Cary Grant is at his best with the breezy, suave charm. Not sure I’m so crazy about Katherine Hepburn’s character in this one, but she holds nothing back in her performance. The storyline: a young divorcee from a well-to-do family is about to get remarried. It seems that the person who understood her best was her ex-husband who is still in love with her. This film helped salvage Hepburn’s career. The dialogue is manic, the energy level is exhausting, but this is one of the great films of the 40s and it holds up in my opinion. A feel-good film with a message about airs and expectations and being real.

Link to some fun movie trivia on this one: