Holiday (1930)

I recently watched and wrote up the 1938 remake of Holiday before realizing it was, in fact, a remake. Since I'm prioritizing pre-war holiday movies this year, I didn't want to skip over its predecessor. In earlier years, I'd have given it some time to avoid watching the same basic story twice in quick succession, but last year's Christmas Carol project warped my brain to the point that sort of thing no longer bores me.

That does place me in the somewhat awkward position of talking about a film that - at least as far as story is concerned - is virtually identical to one I just discussed. Since I neither want to reword the same synopsis nor copy and paste what I wrote before, when the time to talk plot rolls around, I'll just direct you to that review and discuss elements that were different between versions.

First, though, I want to get to the unfortunate business of measuring the two films overall. Normally, I tend to favor earlier adaptations (as my picks for Three Godfathers and A Christmas Carol illustrate), but this time I'm leaning strongly towards the 1938 version. It's not so much that the earlier film is bad - in some ways, it's arguably better - but the later movie has aged in a way that feels modern and exciting, while this version feels a bit old-fashioned.

More specifically, the 1938 film feels like a Hollywood romantic comedy - and a very good one - complete with two of the golden age's most charismatic stars. This one, on the other hand, feels like a well-executed adaptation of a play made in the early years of talkies. It's gorgeously shot, the performances are strong for what they are, and the overall film does good work conveying both comedy and drama, but it's aiming for something more naturalistic than its larger-than-life remake. There's nothing wrong with a grounded approach, but it does tether the experience of watching to the era it was written.

And that leads me to the next reason this doesn't age quite as well: its politics feel much less relevant. The 1938 film rails against capitalism, conformity, and fascism, all of which remain threats in the present day. This version is still political, but the more cutting moments were clearly added for the later film.

Again, if you want a synopsis, go read my review of the 1938 version - aside from tweaking a handful of lines, most of the script is the same in both. That said, there are changes - each movie includes at least one sequence the other omits. My guess is this one is more faithful to the source material, which was only a few years old at the time, but I don't know for certain.

First, this version doesn't include an opening sequence presumably added for the remake in which Johnny goes to visit the Potters, a pair of friends, to tell them about his engagement. The Potters weren't originally his friends in this movie, but rather Linda's, though it's worth noting they're well-liked by both characters in both versions of the film. It's also worth noting that Edward Everett Horton reprises his role as Nick Porter in the later movie. 

This movie also doesn't have several of the eccentricities that helped shape the tone in the remake. Linda's adventuring (and pro-union) background is absent, there's no hint Ned was ever an aspiring musician, and Johnny doesn't perform various acrobatics to relieve stress. Meanwhile, Julia's cousins are less oblivious and comically villainous than they'd seem eight years later. Again, this is much more grounded.

There's also a sequence right after New Year's cutting to a wedding in a fake-out to make the audience think Johnny and Julia are tying the knot before revealing it's just a rehearsal. This sequence includes some space for the Porters and the cousins to play off each other. We get a couple different connected scenes, as well, including Linda discussing the situation with the Potters in a car afterward. It's worth noting that while these exact scenes weren't in the remake, some of the dialogue was used in other settings.

The only other scene change I noticed came at the end. This movie concludes with Linda leaving to follow after Johnny - we don't actually see how that plays out (though it seems like a foregone conclusion they'll end up together).

The larger difference is tone. The 1938 version leaned into the humor, essentially treating the story as a romantic comedy, a genre that hadn't really coalesced when the original was made. I don't want to make this sound like a melodrama - it's still funny, particularly in the first half, but as it goes it focuses heavily on the emotional struggle between Linda's interest in Johnny and her love for her sister.

That brings us to the largest difference. The 1938 movie focused pretty evenly on both the romantic leads, while the earlier film clearly belongs first and foremost to Linda. Part of this is due to the narrative differences (not opening on a scene with Johnny and his friends alters how the story is centered), but the main cause is simply how the tonal focus on Linda's reactions frames the film. The camera tends to linger on her as she reacts, showing us how she feels at key moments. Johnny's more straightforward as character - even when he's facing difficult choices, he tends to make them responsively rather than proactively.

Part of me loves that, because it places him in a role that would typically become associated with female characters in sexist movies. Even though he technically chooses to call off the engagement, every choice he makes feels reactive. In contrast, the real agency belongs to Linda, Julia, and perhaps a lesser extent their father.

Due to the difference in POV, the holiday elements feel a bit different in this version. They still represent a path forward and hope for change, but the political connotations really aren't as strong. This is really a personal transformation, rather than a symbol of societal progress. I should also note that both versions feature Linda and Johnny dancing and sharing a midnight kiss that awakens them to their feelings for each other, but the 1938 movie was much more subdued in this moment. That kiss was really more a peck on the cheek, while this was on the mouth and clearly romantic. New Year's is when the story pivots firmly to a romance to between Linda and Johnny.

Like the 1938 movie, this also looks backwards. Linda's attachment to her own past feels even more pronounced by virtue of her being the central character. None of this feels like the nostalgic attempt to reclaim lost innocence that would come to dominate Christmas media after the war, but it's worth noting the holiday is used here as both a window forward and back.

This is a solid film with a great deal to appreciate and consider. The cinematography is wonderful, with some gorgeously lit interior shots that make excellent use of the technology to convey the grandeur of the settings without losing the characters. And the performances really are good. But overall this feels like an example of a well-made film from its time, while the remake packs in surprises and delights. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to film nerds and the like, but if you're looking for something that holds up for general audiences, you're better off with the remake.