Katharine Hepburn: Holiday (1938) – A Film Review

Katharine Hepburn – – – – – – – – – Linda Seton
Cary Grant – – – – – – – – – – – – –  Johnny Case
Doris Nolan – – – – – – – – – – – – – Julia Seton
Lew Ayres – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Ned Seton
Edward Everett Horton – – – – – – –  Professor Nick Potter
Henry Kolker – – – – – – – – – – – – Edward Seton
Binnie Barnes – – – – – – – – – – –  Mrs. Laura Cram
Jean Dixon – – – – – – – – – – – – –  Mrs. Susan Elliott Potter
Henry Daniell – – – – – – – – – – – – Seton Cram

Directed by – – – – – – – – – – – – –  George Cukor
Written by – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  Donald Ogden Stewart & Sidney Buchman
Based on a Play by – – – – – – – – – – Philip Barry

Introduction: The Star

Katharine Hepburn. A name that should need no introduction. Though times have changed so unfortunately she does. Katharine Hepburn has won 4 oscars for acting (Morning Glory (d. Lowell Sherman USA 1933), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (d. Stanley Kramer USA 1967), The Lion in Winter (d. Anthony Harvey UK/USA 1968) and On Golden Pond (d. Mark Rydell USA/UK 1981)), only recently did another actor/actress receive a third – Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (d. Steven Spielberg USA 2012). Her reputation should be well established. She was also a personality in her own right, she is the sole character and the subject of the play Tea At Five (A. Matthew Lombardo USA 2002) and she was portrayed in Martin Scorsese‘s The Aviator (d. Scorcsese USA/Germany 2004) by Cate Blanchett. This performance made the Oscar winning actress and Oscar winning role. In 2014 two biopics of her life was announced so hopefully interest in her life and works will be renewed. Her achievements in life make her an icon of Hollywood – she is also a feminist and fashion icon as she played strong female characters and wore trousers before they were fashionable. “I’m a personality as well as an actress. Show me an actress who isn’t a personality and you’ll show me a woman who isn’t a star.” – Katharine Hepburn. And yet she feels under appreciated… perhaps its just the lack of serious study into her acting abilities. Asking friends they don’t seem to be too aware of her or her career. So I was very pleased to see that the BFI Southbank is holding a Katharine Hepburn season in tribute to this iconic actress.

The Black Sheep of the Family

Now Katharine Hepburn wasn’t without struggles. In fact her strong personality and determined mind managed to get her from an Oscar, with Morning Glory to ‘Box Office Poison‘ – where she was deemed unfavourable with audiences enough to ensure a box office flop. Funnily enough, this period of her career also saw some of her critically acclaimed films. Sylvia Scarlett (d. George Cukor USA 1935) a flop at it’s release is now considered ahead of its time! Stage Door (d. Gregory La Cava USA 1937) is almost a vehicle to help Katharine Hepburn’s success, bulking up the cast with other top actresses Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball Andrea Leeds and Gail Patrick. Bringing Up Baby (d. Howard Hawks USA 1938) is considered a classic screwball comedyHoliday was unfortunately of this time, paired for the third time with Cary Grant, who was popular at the time, the comedy was set for success. The film has since been referred to as “one of [Director George] Cukor’s best films” and even studio boss Harry Cohn was tempted to react to the negative publicity about Katharine Hepburn at the time by taking an add out in Variety magazine with “what is wrong with Katharine Hepburn?” A difficult time for Katharine Hepburn but this doesn’t so much for the film at all. Holiday (d. Cukor USA 1938) does seem to be another film that was under appreciated at the time but this does not say for its present day reception.

The Holiday

The film relies on the performances of the cast with what may be a pretty traditional narrative structures. “Julia my dear, can’t you see that life entered this house this morning!” This take on the class system and all things bourgeois is incredibly humorous and each and every actor provides their part. Those that represent the firm establishment are rigid and provide a perfect contrast to the show steelers: Jean Dixon, Edward Everett Horton, Lew Ayres, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Their playful stance on life is refreshing making this for a delightful watch. The script allows each character to be their own whilst providing lovingly to the cast and script. Some of the acts of acrobatics is unlike that which you might usually find in such a film.


Holiday is a film to stand the test of time and a testament to the idea that some of Katharine Hepburn’s best films were during the ‘Box Office Poison’ days. The strong and at times playful characters that Katharine Hepburn would sometimes play is definitely showcased here, whilst also lending to her physical presence as well (quite the natural acrobat). Though the season is about Katharine Hepburn so the focus is a little more on her work, the film is a good representation of each actors abilities such as Cary Grant’s. A thoroughly entertaining film and a delight to see back on the silver screen once more.


Concerning Johnny Case and his return home after having met his bride to be, he meets the rest of the family to go through with his intended wedding. The father of the bride isn’t too favourable to this impulsive nature and he soon finds that perhaps his bride to be is more like her father than her sister who revels in his playful side.

Further Reading

BFI Southbank



Holiday – a thorough look at the film

Holiday TCM

Holiday (1938) or How Live to Work and Make Money Cannot Buy Happiness

Holiday 1938 or 5th Avenue Anti-Stuffed Shirt and Flying Trapeze Club

Classic Films in Focus

George Cukor’s Holiday

George Cukor

Morning Glory TCM

Morning Glory Filmsite

Sylvia Scarlett TCM

Stage Door TCM

Stage Door Filmsite

Bringing Up Baby TCM

Bringing Up Baby Filmsite

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner TCM

The Lion in Winter TCM

On Golden Pond TCM

Katharine Hepburn TCM

Absolute Definition: Katharine Hepburn

Born For the Part

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Katharine Hepburn’s Trousers

The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn’s Fake Accent

10 Life Lessons We Learnt From Katharine Hepburn

Hepburn, Katharine. Me Stories of My Life. Ballantine Books, 1996.

Katharine Hepburn’s Obituary

The Johnny Case Approach

You Better Run Down Now

What is the Answer?

Looks Like Me + Acrobat

Holiday 1938 Trailer

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