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Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is a freethinker who believes that there should be more to life than material gain. He meets Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) while on a ski holiday in Aspen and falls in love but when he arrives back in New York is surprised to learn that she is part of the establishment; that her richly conservative father lives for business and that Julia desperately wants her fiancé to be successful as well. Johnny longs only to make enough money in order to travel the world on an extended holiday and he discovers that the black sheep of the family, Julia's rebellious sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn) is a kindred spirit who rejects her father's obsessive and repressive ways.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
My, how the world has changed! Once upon a time there might have been men without burning ambition who, given the chance to get rich and enjoy privilege, might have turned their backs on it all for leisurely whirls of globe-trotting instead. One wonders what men like Johnny Case would have found when they finally returned to mother earth: the vicious circle of missed opportunity; the pressure of restarting a stalled career and the need to succeed in order to survive.

This may not be a better world than the one inhabited by Philip Barry, who wrote the original play during the Depression in 1928, but it has learned to be practical and these days only a fool would risk professional suicide on a reckless hedonistic spin. Men like Johnny Case simply don't exist anymore, which is why this garrulous romantic comedy, which might have been highly sophisticated in its heyday seems rather gormless and musty today.

It begins with Johnny revealing his larrikin streak by kicking at the door of the Potters' apartment, demanding entry inside. Despite the obvious generation gap, Professor Potter (Edward Everett Horton, who played the same role in the 1930 film version) and his wife Susan (Jean Dixon) are old friends, but their relationship with Johnny is never explained...nor does he give good reason for visiting them when he seems so desperate to reunite with the girl he intends to marry.

As Johnny leaves the Potter apartment, he performs an energetic back-flip, which is repeated a couple of more times later on, once, quite clearly using doubles. This was Cukor's (and Barry's) way of demonstrating what a freewheeling fella Johnny is, but there are more than enough words to account for that. The circus act not only seems a tad excessive but also smacks of the absurd. Lord knows what the happy-go-lucky Johnny sees in his uptight daddy's girl; a cute set of dimples is all we're told. But when he suggests they share a secret and Julia drones on about how she "can't see what particular fun a secret would be," the warning bells should have been clanging loud in his ears.

Indeed, Grant seems unsettled by the phoney idealism and by Julia's sudden leap from pleasant ski girl to petulant society girl but otherwise the performances help sustain the film beyond its flaws. Hepburn, who had understudied her role on Broadway ten years before and used a scene from the play in her original screen test, is in sparkling form as the would-be tomboy. She takes an immediate shine to Johnny, alerting the dim Julia that "life walked into this house this morning; don't let him get away." Henry Kolker is formidable as the tenacious father, a businessman of fabulous wealth and power driven by the adrenalin of "there's no such thrill in the world as making money." And Lew Ayres is Ned, a sympathetic drunk whose spirit has been broken by his domineering father but who knows (as the viewer knows) precisely where the whims of romance are heading, even before the participants do. Well, what is Barry saying here: forget your troubles, c'mon get happy; money can't buy happiness, life is for living, or all of the former?

The darker overtones suggested by the writer, infidelity, obsession and alcoholism, are brushed aside by the facile cheer leaving us with a wan script that is in dire need of nourishment. Hepburn was given top billing over the objections of Columbia boss Harry Cohn, who preferred Irene Dunne for the role, but Cukor stood firm. Hepburn had been labelled "box office poison" at the time, but Cohn countered by promoting the film with a question: "Is it true what they say about Hepburn?" Well, it was until Philip Barry made her bankable...first with Holiday and then The Philadelphia Story (1940).

Published January 6, 2005

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(US, 1938)

CAST: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres

DIRECTOR: George Cukor

SCRIPT: Sidney Buchman, Donald Ogden Stewart

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.33:1 Full screen; subtitles in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, Hindi

SPECIAL FEATURES: Bonus trailers

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tri-Star

DVD RELEASE: December 15, 2004

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