When Johnny Case (Cary Grant) and Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) meet while on vacation, it’s love at first sight. Only after the second do they realize that they come from completely different worlds. Johnny comes from a humble background, while Julia’s family is very rich. Her father Edward (Henry Kolker) is also very suspicious when he finds out about the relationship and doesn’t believe that the young man is the right one. This becomes even more pronounced when Johnny says that money isn’t important to him. Instead of devoting his life to work, he would rather travel the world. While Julia and Edward are amazed, Julia’s sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn) is thrilled, as she has a similar attitude towards wealth and possessions…
A forgotten star comedy
A film with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant? With such a star-studded cast, you’d think this would be a great classic. And yet The Sister of the Bride is a comparatively unknown film. The comedy about an unlikely couple flopped in the USA, despite good reviews. The film wasn’t even released in cinemas here in 1938. It was only shown on German television decades later, at that time still subtitled. At some point a DVD was released, but that was years ago and it is only still available second-hand. Things are also poor for foreign language publications. In this respect, the rare broadcasts on TV are one of the few opportunities to see the whole thing.
The question is: Should you even see the film? The answer to that depends on what you expect from it. So you can read again and again that it is a screwball comedy. But that doesn’t really fit. Actually, they live from arguments between men and women, from barbs and verbal battles. But that doesn’t exist in Holiday. Certainly there are the differences of opinion between Johnny and Julia regarding work and the meaning of money. But it doesn’t turn into a funny exchange of blows. And with Linda there are no conflicts anyway. Rather, the point is precisely that it fits the protagonist much better. There is no room for arguments.
More search for meaning than love
It’s better as a romantic comedy. The adaptation of Philip Barry’s play Holiday corresponds, at least in part, to a popular cliché that remains an integral part of the genre today. So at the beginning of the story the wrong people are together. Only at the end will they realize who fits and what really matters. However, this would actually require romantic scenes. And these are few and far between in Holiday. So there is a rapprochement in the middle of the film that the audience knows will only really take place later. In these moments the film also discovers a slight tragedy that benefits from the top-class cast. This is actually a matter of the heart. But it remains the exception.
Instead, director George Cukor (The Night Before the Wedding) has made more of a social comedy that deals with questions of meaning. The film was surprisingly modern. When people talk about the fact that work and money cannot be the meaning of life and that a professional career is not the ultimate goal, this anticipates today’s discussions. A comedy critical of capitalism? This is more timeless than many other films from that time. For that reason alone, The Sister of the Bride is worth a look. It really may not be a great classic, and the film isn’t as funny as it would have been. But you can have fun with it, there’s also a bit of dreaming involved.
“Holiday” failed in the USA at the time, but only a few people in this country know the film. And yet the star-studded comedy is worth a look. The story about a man from a humble background who wants to marry the daughter of a millionaire is more convincing as a social comedy than as a screwball romance.