I wish that we may never meet when you are less beautiful, and I must be less kind.
My quest to see Death Takes a Holiday spans several years, and almost unsurprisingly, after all this time it only succeeded to disappoint. The journey itself is half amusing, and it lead me to seeing the coma inducing Meet Joe Black, which I can only say improves on nothing the original had to offer.
Fredric March stars as “death”, who seems to be feeling a certain malaise with his existence and decides to find out why people fear him. Taking the form of a Prince, he takes a three day vacation at the home of a Duke where he hopes to learn what makes life worth living.
The film itself suffers greatly from circumstance, for every film that overcame the difficulties of early sound, there were hundreds that felt stilted and hampered by the new invention. This is no exception, and it’s especially apparent in the dialogue, which is not only overused but often blunt and uninteresting. Still compared to many contemporaries, the film is visually quite interesting. It creates a dream-like atmosphere with it’s soft focus photography, and the general opulence of the locations. Even some of the effects are quite spectacular, for example, there is a moment when death reaches out to touch a flower and right before our eyes it wilts and dies. However it was done, it makes for a very beautiful image.
The acting is very weak overall in the film, one or two of the older supporting players are quite excellent (they nearly always are), but otherwise it’s clear no one is really in the same league as Fredric March. I consider March to be among my favourite actors, he has a wonderful face and at his best is one of the best actors to grace the screen. Considering how ridiculous some of his lines are, he pulls them off with grace, and yet with a sense of foreign-ness that feels appropriately “off”. He’s especially good at recognizing and delivering the more humourous lines, which is one of the reasons why this film is better than it’s remake.. that feels so “serious”. When dealing with death, a little well delivered dark humour never hurts. It’s surprising to me he didn’t do all that much comedy, although he was excellent alongside Lombard in Nothing Sacred. Even so, he does allow himself to be caught up at times and overacts, this is especially apparent in the final scene. Although, this also has to do with some shoddy editing, as it’s clear if the cutting were a little tighter some of his more awkward transitions and ticks could have been masked.
I can only mildly recommend this film, as it is heavily flawed. I still found it fascinating, especially for it’s implications and some of it’s ideas despite them not being quite fleshed out.