Death Takes a Holiday


Drama / Fantasy / Romance

Plot summary

Uploaded by: FREEMAN

Top cast

Evelyn Venable Photo
Evelyn Venable as Grazia
Fredric March Photo
Fredric March as Prince Sirki
Gail Patrick Photo
Gail Patrick as Rhoda
Henry Travers Photo
Henry Travers as Baron Cesarea
720p.WEB 1080p.WEB
735.82 MB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 20 min
P/S 3 / 30
1.33 GB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 20 min
P/S 12 / 59

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by theowinthrop8 / 10

"Why Fear Death...?"

There is a subject that might be brought into the sphere of a masters degree thesis: how the destruction and death of World War I created a wave of theatrical and cinematic creativity dealing with life after death, and that death is not an ending but a beginning. This trend mirrored the rise of spiritualism (as pushed and advocated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Oliver Lodge, and others) as a way of healing the real emotional losses felt by millions of people around the world after 1914 - 1918. It produced some works of stage and screen such as the anti-war FIFTY MILLION GHOSTS (attacking armaments king Basil Zaharoff - young Orson Welles appeared on stage in it),the play and film OUTWARD BOUND by Sutton Vane, and (probably best of all) Albert Casella's classic DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY. It's still produced occasionally, and even made it to a television version (in 1971) and a recent remake (MEET JOE BLACK).

Supposedly, as the "Lusitania" was going to the bottom of the Irish Sea, producer Charles Frohman said to his friends standing with him on deck, "Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life?" or words to that effect. Frohman (who did drown in the disaster) was quoting the words of his close friend and business associate James Barrie from PETER PAN. In a sense, Casella's story follows this particular point of view. Death (Fredric March) has come to the palazzo of Duke Lambert (Sir Guy Standing) and is intent on taking his daughter Grazia (Evelyn Venable),but instead makes a deal. He has heard a great deal about the human emotion of love, and has never experienced it. Instead, the only experience with human beings he has had was fear. So, he will not take any of Lambert's guests, family, or friends on this visit, if Lambert will allow him to stay as "Prince Sirki", a recently deceased nobleman whose form is available. Lambert agrees.

The film actually (like the play) is quite probing, into the nature of death, love, and life itself. We see the various people who are in the palazzo, some of whom have lives of pleasure or adventure, and March constantly finds small flaws in these things that the humans overlook. When he meets one who races at high speed, he asks (straightforwardly, but with a heavy ironic undertone),"Why haven't we met before?" Henry Travers in a supporting role is a lover of fine food and drink - and obviously he too may soon meet March again under different circumstances.

But it is Venable who is the key to March's humanization. She is not impressed by the wonders of life and the world her friends push. She seeks something more meaningful. A beautiful woman, she is pursued in the film (by Carrado - Kent Taylor),but finds his heavy sensual love not what she wants. It is only with March, also seeking an answer, that she finds the match to herself.

March too is pursued, by the social climbing Gail Patrick and Helen Westley, and both are quickly shown the valuelessness of "titles" and status. March willingly shows them (briefly) his real self, and they flee him in terror.

Both March and Veneble are incomplete: he by the seeming void in his eternal duty of ending life and being feared for it, she by her realizing what the book of ECCLESIASTES said two thousand years ago that is still true: "Vanity of Vanities...all is vanity!". The one exception is true love, and both find that in each other that goal is met. So at the end Grazia willingly goes with Sirki, because there is no fear for both when together - for together they can face the universe and eternity.

Reviewed by BrandtSponseller9 / 10

Getting philosophical about death

Adapted by Walter Ferris, Maxwell Anderson and Gladys Lehman from Alberto Cassella's 1929 play La Morte in Vacanze, Death Takes a Holiday features Fredric March as the titular Grim Reaper. Death becomes curious about why he is so feared. He wants to understand humankind better. So through some unspecified means he becomes corporeal for a three-day period, beginning and ending at midnight. He chooses to take the form of a Prince Sirki, recently deceased, and takes his holiday at the palatial Italian villa of Duke Lambert (Guy Standing). Will he discover what makes humans tick in only three days? This is a highly successful, unusual film. It has strong touches of horror, even though it's more of an art-house drama cum romance flick. It's also frequently philosophical, and director Mitchell Leisen easily sustains dramatic tension for close to 90-minutes despite the fact that this was only his second feature, and a very "talky" one at that, which takes place primarily in a single setting (the play only had one set, but the film adds a couple other scenes).

Of course March's performance is crucial to making the film work. He has the difficult task of playing both a personification of a menacing supernatural force and a chimerical human trying to "act natural" and slightly failing. That March plays the role so impeccably is made all the more fascinating in light of the fact that he was filming All of Me (1934) at the same time. He borrowed a woman's bicycle (his wife Florence Elridge's) to enable him to quickly travel from one set to the other on the Paramount studio lot. March has said that Death/Prince Sirki was one of his favorite roles, and he willingly reprised it both on radio for Lux Radio Theater in March of 1937 and on stage, in a production by Baltimore City College in May of 1938.

As impressive as March is, he is initially upstaged by the fantastic special effects. We first see Death as simply a shadow. Later, March appears in more traditional Grim Reaper garb, which is eerily transparent and surprisingly modern in design. Leisen demanded that the transparency effect be achieved in-camera rather than a later manipulation during the film processing stage. So Gordon Jennings employed the same technique that made The Invisible Man (1933) invisible. Parts of the set were recreated in black velvet. These were reflected in a partially transparent mirror, which was then superimposed over March (you can see a related effect "live" in the ballroom scene of Walt Disney World's The Haunted Mansion ride). March's elaborate cloaks were composed of layers of chiffon in dark hues from gray to black. Jennings also installed tiny lights under March's "hood" to light up his skull make-up.

The rest of the cast is excellent, too, if maybe a bit too sprawling for the film's length. But there needs to be a larger number of characters, as a hinge of the film is that three different women fall in love with Prince Sirki during his brief visit, one of them eventually being discouraged by his bizarre behavior, the other by being able to see his "true self". Sirki ends up falling in love with Grazia (Evelyn Venable, in her second role after 1933's Cradle Song),who is supposedly the fiancée of Corrado (Kent Taylor),but with him, she is oddly aloof. Despite the romance between Death/Sirki and Grazia, March and Venable never kiss in the film, as Venable's father had a clause written into her contract forbidding it.

Leisen creates a thick, almost creepy atmosphere for much of the film (although it's strongest when Duke Lambert first encounters Death),which gives it much of its horror overtones. For me, the romance aspect has a slight (appropriate) morbidity because of this, and it's questionable whether the film should even be considered a romance. The set design is also fantastic--the villa is breathtaking; it's too bad Leisen couldn't show it off more.

The constant tension invoked by Death/Sirki always being on the brink of "blowing his cover" keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat more often than one might expect. But Death Takes a Holiday is most fascinating when it waxes philosophical. Because death is on holiday, numerous accidents occur that people just walk away from (this was an intriguing and logical aspect that was absent from the 1998 remake, Meet Joe Black). This makes the newspapers, and Death finds it particularly ironic that humans seem to almost lament that war is not working correctly. He promises to the unwitting that humankind will soon again be able to blow each other up. Baron Cesarea (Henry Travers, who also played Dr. Cranley in The Invisible Man) offers that there are three "games" in life--money, war and love, and Death/Sirki ends up agreeing. Love finally gives him the answer of why humankind fears him so, and finally shows why life is not futile or simply a frittering away of time while people wait for him to arrive in his natural guise. The ending of the film was quite controversial, and suggests that love can even surmount death; it almost seems to say that possessing love, death might not be such a bad thing after all.

Reviewed by jotix1008 / 10

The Grim Reaper vacations in Italy

"Death Takes a Holiday" was based on a play, and it's interesting that another playwright was called upon to adapt it for the screen. The original piece by Alberto Casella feels almost Pirandellian, in that it elevates every day things into a philosophical realm. Maxwell Anderson's respect for the original text shows in his elegant treatment of the material. The film is greatly enhanced by Mitchell Leisen's direction.

The people behind this 1934 film gathered an interesting cast to play Mr. Casella's characters. The idea of making death a human being was a novel idea. When the Grim Reaper becomes real in the person of Prince Sirki, it opened the possibilities for how he looked at life from this new perspective.

The idea of bringing Prince Sirki into the Duke Lambert's palatial home was the right setting, for it gives the movie an elegance that only in that context could be achieved. It's clear that Prince Sirki falls for the beautiful Grazia instantly. Grazia is almost engaged to Corrado, the Duke's son.

It's a joy to see these aristocrats at play when they encounter the figure of the prince. Only the Duke knows about him and is always by the prince's side in order to help him grasp the earthly nuances that supposedly, Sirki knows nothing about.

The ensemble performances Mr. Leisen achieved from his cast shows on the finished product we see. Fredric March makes an elegant presence as Sirki. The beautiful Evelyn Venable is perfect as Grazia. Guy Standing makes the most of his Duke Lambert. Henry Travers, Kent Taylor, Gail Patrick and Katherine Alexancer are seen in minor parts.

How can anyone compare this elegant production with the recent remake of this film? It is a puzzle to this observer, at best.

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