Death Takes a Holiday


1h 18m 1934

Brief Synopsis

Death goes on vacation to learn about mortal life -- and love.

Film Details

Also Known As
Strange Holiday
Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Fantasy
Romance
Release Date
Mar 30, 1934
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play La Morte in vacanza by Alberto Casella and the English-language adaptation by Walter Ferris (New York, 26 Feb 1929).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

On their way home from a carnival, Duke Lambert and his family and guests narrowly escape death in an auto accident caused by a mysterious shadow. At Lambert's Villa Felicitá, Lambert and his son Corrado, who is in love with Grazia, the daughter of Princess Maria, urge Grazia to marry Corrado soon. Grazia, however, is reluctant to marry because she has not yet experienced the kind of happiness for which she longs. While alone in the garden, Grazia screams and faints when she senses a mysterious and malevolent presence, but sees no one. The garden is searched for an intruder, but when no one is found, everyone but Lambert retires early. The presence reveals himself as Death to Lambert and demands that Lambert accept him as a guest while he takes a three-day holiday in mortal form to discover why men cling to life. Death insists that Lambert reveal to no one his true identity when he appears in the form of Prince Sirki, a friend whom Lambert was expecting and who, unknown to him, recently died. As Death leaves the house, Corrado shoots from an upstairs window at what he belives to be the intruder, but to no effect. The sound of the gunshot awakens the household, and Lambert attempts to prepare them for the strangeness of their new guest, Prince Sirki, who arrives shortly thereafter. The newness of his mortal form delights Death, and he behaves like a gentleman. Death and Grazia are immediately smitten with each other; however, she goes home with her mother, and Death is entertained by Lambert's guests, Stephanie and Rhoda Fenton, who are hungry for husbands. In the meantime, accidents occur all over the world, but to everyone's amazement no one dies. Gradually, Death realizes that love is the most important human emotion, but remains free from its pull, as all the women he encounters sense Death's strangeness and are frightened of him. Grazia returns to the villa on the eve of Death's last night in human form and remains willing and unafraid as Death makes love to her. Now anguished at having to leave his newfound humanity behind, Death consents to the pleas of Lambert and the others that he leave Grazia behind, but Grazia, it transpires, already knows the true identity of the man she has taken as her lover, and she and Death depart joyfully together.

Film Details

Also Known As
Strange Holiday
Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Fantasy
Romance
Release Date
Mar 30, 1934
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Productions, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play La Morte in vacanza by Alberto Casella and the English-language adaptation by Walter Ferris (New York, 26 Feb 1929).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Articles

Death Takes A Holiday (1934) - Death Takes a Holiday (1934)


Synopsis: A group of Italian nobles are staying as guests at the villa of Duke Lambert. However, a pall is cast over the occasion when a strange shadow on the road causes a near-fatal auto accident. Grazia, the fiancee of Lambert's son, Corrado, is frightened by an intruder on the premises, but no one is able to find him. That night, when Lambert is alone Death appears and explains that he wants to take a three-day holiday in order to live as a mortal and learn why humans cherish life so highly. Assuming the form of Prince Sirki, an old friend of Duke Lambert, he lives among the guests; all death in the world temporarily ceases while he is on holiday. "Prince Sirki" and Grazia fall in love with each other, but the future of their romance is in doubt since Death has not yet revealed his true identity to her.

Death Takes a Holiday (1934) is based on a play by the Italian writer Alberto Casella; the English-language version, written by Walter Ferris, opened in New York in 1929. Although the play was a commercial success, Ferris subsequently found more of a steady career writing screenplays such as the Shirley Temple vehicles Heidi (1937) and The Little Princess (1939) and the adventure classic Swiss Family Robinson (1940). In the film adaptation by Gladys Lehman and the playwright Maxwell Anderson, the stylized flavor of the play's dialogue is retained, but the action is opened out and the dialogue flows more smoothly. Anderson, who had already established a nationwide reputation thanks to the anti-war play What Price Glory? and the verse drama Elizabeth the Queen, periodically wrote original scripts for Hollywood as well as adapted his own plays for the screen. During the same year, Maxwell Anderson also worked on We Live Again (1934), an adaptation of Tolstoy's Resurrection. Significant films based on Anderson's plays include: the 1926 and 1952 adaptations of What Price Glory? directed by Raoul Walsh and John Ford, respectively; Mary of Scotland (1936); Winterset (1936); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939); Key Largo (1948); Joan of Arc (1948); and The Bad Seed (1956).

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is its use of special effects, which were supervised by Gordon Jennings. Director Mitchell Leisen recalls: "The effect of Death being transparent was very difficult to do because we wanted to do it right in the camera instead of having the lab put it in, and we had to keep him within two or three feet of Sir Guy Standing, who had to remain solid. We duplicated certain pieces of the set in black velvet. Then we put a mirror in front of Freddy that was only 30% silvered so that you could shoot through it. In order to make him transparent, we simply lit up certain portions of the black set which reflected in the mirror superimposed over Freddy, giving the appearance that he was transparent."

The film became a great box-office success, one of Paramount's highest-grossing films that year. Leisen later recalled: "We had seven or eight thousand letters come in from people all over the country, saying they no longer feared death. It had been explained to them in such a way that they could understand the beauty of it." The play was also adapted as a 1971 television film starring Yvette Mimieux and Monte Markham (with Melvyn Douglas and Myrna Loy in supporting roles) and, most recently, the Martin Brest film Meet Joe Black (1998), an updated version set in New York, with Brad Pitt playing Death. However, the 1934 version remains the most affecting thanks to a strong central performance by Fredric March, gleaming set design by Hans Dreier, and elegant direction by Mitchell Leisen, who was given a special award at the 1934 Venice Film Festival for his work on this film. This was only Leisen's second feature as a director, the first being Cradle Song (1933). During the 1920s, Leisen had worked as a costume designer and art director with several Cecil B. DeMille films to his credit. Clearly, his experience working under the master of "production values" paid off.

Producer: E. Lloyd Sheldon
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson and Gladys Lehman, based on the play La Morte in vacanza by Alberto Casella, adapted for the English language by Walter Ferris
Photography: Charles Lang
Technical Effects: Gordon Jennings
Art Directors: Hans Dreier and Ernst Fegte
Music: Bernhard Kaun, John Leipold, Milan Roder
Cast: Fredric March (Prince Sirki/Death), Evelyn Venable (Grazia), Guy Standing (Duke Lambert), Katharine Alexander (Alda), Gail Patrick (Rhoda Fenton), Helen Westley (Stephanie), Kathleen Howard (Princess Maria), Kent Taylor (Corrado), Henry Travers (Baron Cesarea), G. P. Huntely, Jr. (Eric), Otto Hoffman (Fedele), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Valle).
BW-78m.

by James Steffen
Death Takes A Holiday (1934) - Death Takes A Holiday (1934)

Death Takes A Holiday (1934) - Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Synopsis: A group of Italian nobles are staying as guests at the villa of Duke Lambert. However, a pall is cast over the occasion when a strange shadow on the road causes a near-fatal auto accident. Grazia, the fiancee of Lambert's son, Corrado, is frightened by an intruder on the premises, but no one is able to find him. That night, when Lambert is alone Death appears and explains that he wants to take a three-day holiday in order to live as a mortal and learn why humans cherish life so highly. Assuming the form of Prince Sirki, an old friend of Duke Lambert, he lives among the guests; all death in the world temporarily ceases while he is on holiday. "Prince Sirki" and Grazia fall in love with each other, but the future of their romance is in doubt since Death has not yet revealed his true identity to her. Death Takes a Holiday (1934) is based on a play by the Italian writer Alberto Casella; the English-language version, written by Walter Ferris, opened in New York in 1929. Although the play was a commercial success, Ferris subsequently found more of a steady career writing screenplays such as the Shirley Temple vehicles Heidi (1937) and The Little Princess (1939) and the adventure classic Swiss Family Robinson (1940). In the film adaptation by Gladys Lehman and the playwright Maxwell Anderson, the stylized flavor of the play's dialogue is retained, but the action is opened out and the dialogue flows more smoothly. Anderson, who had already established a nationwide reputation thanks to the anti-war play What Price Glory? and the verse drama Elizabeth the Queen, periodically wrote original scripts for Hollywood as well as adapted his own plays for the screen. During the same year, Maxwell Anderson also worked on We Live Again (1934), an adaptation of Tolstoy's Resurrection. Significant films based on Anderson's plays include: the 1926 and 1952 adaptations of What Price Glory? directed by Raoul Walsh and John Ford, respectively; Mary of Scotland (1936); Winterset (1936); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939); Key Largo (1948); Joan of Arc (1948); and The Bad Seed (1956). One of the more interesting aspects of the film is its use of special effects, which were supervised by Gordon Jennings. Director Mitchell Leisen recalls: "The effect of Death being transparent was very difficult to do because we wanted to do it right in the camera instead of having the lab put it in, and we had to keep him within two or three feet of Sir Guy Standing, who had to remain solid. We duplicated certain pieces of the set in black velvet. Then we put a mirror in front of Freddy that was only 30% silvered so that you could shoot through it. In order to make him transparent, we simply lit up certain portions of the black set which reflected in the mirror superimposed over Freddy, giving the appearance that he was transparent." The film became a great box-office success, one of Paramount's highest-grossing films that year. Leisen later recalled: "We had seven or eight thousand letters come in from people all over the country, saying they no longer feared death. It had been explained to them in such a way that they could understand the beauty of it." The play was also adapted as a 1971 television film starring Yvette Mimieux and Monte Markham (with Melvyn Douglas and Myrna Loy in supporting roles) and, most recently, the Martin Brest film Meet Joe Black (1998), an updated version set in New York, with Brad Pitt playing Death. However, the 1934 version remains the most affecting thanks to a strong central performance by Fredric March, gleaming set design by Hans Dreier, and elegant direction by Mitchell Leisen, who was given a special award at the 1934 Venice Film Festival for his work on this film. This was only Leisen's second feature as a director, the first being Cradle Song (1933). During the 1920s, Leisen had worked as a costume designer and art director with several Cecil B. DeMille films to his credit. Clearly, his experience working under the master of "production values" paid off. Producer: E. Lloyd Sheldon Director: Mitchell Leisen Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson and Gladys Lehman, based on the play La Morte in vacanza by Alberto Casella, adapted for the English language by Walter Ferris Photography: Charles Lang Technical Effects: Gordon Jennings Art Directors: Hans Dreier and Ernst Fegte Music: Bernhard Kaun, John Leipold, Milan Roder Cast: Fredric March (Prince Sirki/Death), Evelyn Venable (Grazia), Guy Standing (Duke Lambert), Katharine Alexander (Alda), Gail Patrick (Rhoda Fenton), Helen Westley (Stephanie), Kathleen Howard (Princess Maria), Kent Taylor (Corrado), Henry Travers (Baron Cesarea), G. P. Huntely, Jr. (Eric), Otto Hoffman (Fedele), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Valle). BW-78m. by James Steffen

Quotes

I am - how shall I pursue it - a sort of vagabond of space. I am the point of contact between time and eternity.
- Death
My holiday is just caprice--a mad joke that has scarcely begun. But what a monstrous, what a sublime joke! I, Death, take on the World, the Flesh, and the Devil!
- Death
Now suddenly I know for the first time that men bear a dream within them, a dream that lifts them above their dust... and their little days.
- Death
I wish that we may never meet when you are less beautiful, and I must be less kind.
- Death

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was Strange Holiday. Actor Otto Hoffman's surname is misspelled as "Hoffmann" in the onscreen credits. According to a 1930 Film Daily news item, plans were underway to produce this film with William Powell in a lead role. In 1948, Myra Page Wiren filed a plagiarism suit against Paramount, claiming that her story "Most" was used for the film. A lower court dismissed the case, and when Wiren contested this decision, the appeal continued until 1954, when the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision against Wiren. A modern source credits Travis Banton and Edith Head with costumes. Another adaptation of the story was made in 1998, under the title Meet Joe Black. That film, a Universal release directed by Martin Brest and starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, updated the story to present day New York.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1934

Released in United States on Video November 1998

Released in United States 1934

Released in United States on Video November 1998