Thursday, December 31, 2020

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Holiday,’ With a New Year’s Eve Party for ‘Very Unimportant People’)

Linda Seton [played by Katharine Hepburn]: [Making introductions] “My brother Ned—Mr. and Mrs. Potter—they're friends of Johnny's.”

Mrs. Susan Elliott Potter [played by Jean Dixon]: “He used to live with us.”

Professor Nick Potter [played by Edward Everett Horton]: “We've come to warn his future bride about him—he never puts the cap back on the toothpaste.”

Edward “Ned” Seton [played by Lew Ayres]: “Mm-hmm. Then we'll drink a toast to Johnny—he needs it.”

[Fills champagne glasses]

Susan: “Needs it?”

Ned: “Oh. I'm wrong. He doesn't need it. Johnny's doing all right.”

Linda: “What's on your mind, Ned?”

Ned: “Nothing's on my mind.”

Linda: “What do you mean—‘Johnny's doing all right’?”

Ned: “I mean he's doing All Right. He's having a whirl. Julia's got his hair slicked down and Father's seeing that he meets the important people.”

Nick: “My word—are there important people downstairs?”

Linda: “Oh—frightfully important—that's why I want to give a party up here.”

Nick: [Quoting an imaginary society column] “'Miss Linda Seton—on New Year's Eve— entertained a small group of Very Unimportant People.'”

[Lifting champagne glass]

Nick: “To our hostess.”

[They all drink to Linda]

Linda: [Chuckles] “May I drink, too?”— Holiday (1938), screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman, based on the play by Philip Barry, directed by George Cukor

The Philadelphia Story, a later Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant rom-com, may be more famous, but Holiday has its own charms—especially in this New Year’s Eve scene, with Lew Ayres, as the sodden truth-teller Ned, almost stealing the picture from its stars.

Most of all, what I love about this film (and the original play, by the marvelous Irish-American playwright Philip Barry) is the sobriety that keeps rising to the surface amid all the bubbly—the price and glory of Linda and Grant’s Johnny as they resist convention.

In recent years, some commentators have seen Ned’s flip but ultimately submissive descent into alcoholism as the retreat of a gay son in the face of an overpowering father. I dismissed that, until I noticed other lines of his that seemed to sink under the weight of family history and suppressed sexual orientation:

“You see, Father wanted a large family so Mother promptly had Linda, but Linda was a girl so Mother promptly had Julia, but Julia was a girl and the whole thing seemed hopeless. Then, the following year Mother had me, it was a boy and the fair name of Seaton would flourish….Drink to Mother, Johnny—she tried to be a Seaton for a while, then gave up and died.”

In this same dynamic of a wisecracking drunk who constantly disappoints his father, other movie fans may be reminded of Dudley Moore’s decidedly heterosexual Arthur.

Aficionados of real estate development—not to mention of Presidential history—will summon up a relationship more recent, crushing, and sad.

(While The Philadelphia Story was turned into a celebrated Cole Porter musical, Holiday was transformed into one that gained far less notice: Happy New Year. This 1980 Broadway production, while also featuring songs by the great songwriter, also demonstrated the importance of a musical “book”—or, in this case, with an awkward one constructed by Burt Shevelove, what can happen with an inadequate one.)

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