Thursday, September 15, 2016

Case


Johnny Case ~ one of the key characters from classical Hollywood, mostly forgotten. His eyes: far-seeing, haunted, engaged, melancholy. Case (and the man who played him) holds the secret of life, embodies the democratic nature of movies itself: joy, magic, movement, thought, energy, intelligence, luck, charm, grace, quality, hopes, dreams, and freedom.

In Holiday (1938), Case and his spirit are permanent polar opposites to all that is seen in the movie as anti-life and anti-spirit: money; and those who have it. Holiday reminds us what all Americans knew in their bones, until about 30 years ago: the American very rich are very stupid, humorless, in-bred pigs, capable of holding onto money and power only because of their single-minded opportunity and obsession to do so -- a brood that knows itself to be above others by right and beneath them in fact. (My Man Godfrey [1936] -- another great Depression comedy -- must've been more comforting to its slumming wealthy audience members.)

The story begins with Case -- proletarian and very temporary investment banker -- returning to New York City from a Lake Placid ski trip, where he has met the girl of his dreams. Visiting her home for the first time, he discovers she's the daughter of enormous wealth, living in a preposterously huge Fifth Avenue mansion.

(The hole in the movie is the wholly unbelievable notion that Case could fall in love with either Doris Nolan the actress or Julia Seton the character. Another hole is Katharine Hepburn. In a work of beautiful, understated performances, hers is often as artificial as it is righteous.)

Holiday revolves around Grant's magic, coming closer and closer, then drifting away. It begins on Christmas morning. (And we wonder: where are the decorations in this enormous house? 'Though we do see the family, sans Hepburn, attend Christmas morning mass.) Johnny's friends Nick and Susan (two classical 30s leftists, played by Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) return him to himself -- when he is apart from them he is fretful and distracted. The negative attitudes shown toward Case on occasion by members of the Seton family or Seton family friends strike us as insane. Ned -- quietly played by the special Lew Ayres -- is someone we long to see brought in by Case, as comrade and brother-in-law: we know this will give him heart. Julia -- the intended -- will never take that heart, and so has no real use for Case. For the rich are naturally stunted, says the movie. Hepburn is already where she needs to be -- archly -- and how long could Johnny take her close-up, day-after-day? She already seems complete. The warmth and ardency of a young Lupino might've been a lovelier match. Or Ann Sheridan. . .

Seton Cram, played by Henry Daniell, seems to be playwright Philip Barry pouring it on. Yet aren't we now in a place of Seton Crams-on-steroids, runaway Crams draped in baggy Versace suits with washboard stomachs, carefully unkempt hair, tattoos and bee-stung lips? At one point Cram offers to help Johnny make his first million within a year: "It wouldn't take that long if we had the right sort of government." Ted Cruz couldn't have said it better.

And Grant to Hepburn: "There's a conspiracy against you and me, child. Vested interests. . ." Interests and conspirators who have completely won out.

Still, what a grand movie.