Monday, April 16, 2012

"Death Takes a Holiday" (1934) Finally!

The "finally" meaning that I've finally seen it, of course.

As I mentioned a while ago, I've been wanting to see this movie for years.  Meet Joe Black (1998) is based on it, and it stars Frederic March, so of course I wanted to see it!

The movie I know March best from is The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and I was sad to see he hadn't acquired his perky mustache yet.  He did have an intriguing Foreign Accent, vaguely reminiscent of Peter Lorre at times, but really quite unidentifiable as to just where he was from other than Somewhere Else.

Anyway, in the movie, Death (March) decides to take three days off from his usual job and see what this Life business is all about.  He thinks the best way to do it would be to hang out at the Villa Felicita with a bunch of rich people, posing as Prince Sirki (a name as unidentifiably Foreign as his accent).  Of course, the occupants of this Villa of Contentment are anything but contented, especially Grazia (Evelyn Venable), the ethereal fiancee of the owner's son.  She might as well be singing "It Might as Well be Spring" during the first half of the movie, as she opines about how she's just missing something in her life.  Restless as a willow in a windstorm, indeed.

The arrival of Prince Sirki throws the other two Eligible Young Ladies at the villa into a frenzy of barely-civil cattiness as they vie for the prince's attention.  Naturally, it's Grazia who draws him instead, because she's completely fascinated by him.  After all, he's handily representative of everything Other that she's been yearning for.  Her perfectly ordinary -- and ordinarily perfect -- fiance could never compete.

By the time Sirki/Death starts experimenting with seduction, I realized that this movie is basically a vampire movie, only they dispensed with the whole vampire-as-a-metaphor-for-death idea and just went straight to talking about people's fascination with -- and attraction to -- death.  (As for my fascination with em-dashes today, that's another story.)  But as Rachel of The Girl with the White Parasol pointed out, it works really well as a metaphor for a young girl contemplating suicide instead.

That young girl, of course, is Grazia.  Look how wistful and otherworldly she is!


And Grazia gets my two favorite dresses too.  All white and floaty, both of them.



Sorry for the blurry shots -- I was screencapping these off YouTube.  But you can get an idea of how lovely they are, anyway.

I was kind of surprised by the ending, I must say, though I guess I was just expecting it to be like the end of Meet Joe Black.  Why, I don't know, since the rest of it was pretty different, other than the basic premise of Death hanging out with rich people for a few days to learn about life.  I'm glad I've finally seen this, but I won't be trying to buy it on DVD, as I didn't love it.

11 comments:

  1. Interesting. I can't decide if this makes me want to see it more or less! LOL! I'm glad you finally got to see it.

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  2. Not a movie watcher, but since you are, this article shows where you can get "Lieutenant Kije" with English subtitles.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieutenant_Kij%C3%A9_%28film%29

    For some reason the English title is "The Tsar Wants to Sleep."

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  3. DKoren -- I know, it was kind of an odd movie, and I myself haven't really decided quite how I feel about it.

    Rodger I -- thanks for the link! Looked it up on imdb.com and they had me at "sarcastic comedy." I'll check it out when I get a chance.

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  4. Thanks for leaving me a link to your post about this movie.

    I have never seen "Meet Joe Black." (I don't watch many current movies.) Thus, I can't compare the 2 films.

    As a huge Fredric March fan, I'm always on the hunt for a film of his I've never seen, and this had been on my radar for awhile. I finally tracked it down, and while I enjoyed it (as you know from my blog post), I did't love it. It fell a bit short for me.

    My take on the ending was that he was there to prepare Grazia for her death, so that when her time came, she wouldn't be afraid. That may not be it at all, but that's how I took it.

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    1. No, I didn't really love this either, but I'm glad I saw it.

      I think the ending really is open to several interpretations. My take is that Death granted Grazia's wish and took her with him, but it's very unspecific and open.

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  5. You are right on the mark here, this is a great film. Have you ever seen the 1971 tv film remake of the same name? It stars Yvette Mimieux, Monte Markham, Bert Convy, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. It is a pretty good film if I say so myself. (and I do)

    Gord

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    1. Gord, oooooh, a Myrna Loy remake of this? Looks like YouTube has it in its entirety -- thanks for the heads-up!

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  6. You are most welcome. You would be amazed how many good 70's tv remakes there are.
    Gord

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    1. It's true. There's a marvelous TV version of Rebecca from 1979 that I think I might like even better than Hitchcock's version, though I'd really have to rewatch both of them to say for sure.

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  7. I also have a tv version from 1954 that was presented on KRAFT TELEVISION THEATER here somewhere in the storage closet.

    Gord

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