Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Article #648 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2002
Posting Date: 5-18-2003

Death manifests himself in human form for three days to try to discover why man fears him so.

I’ve heard DRACULA was advertised with the tag line “The Weirdest Love Story ever told!” (this is probably a paraphrase), but at heart, I’ve never felt that you could honestly call that movie a love story. The tag line would be much more appropriate for this one, since it ultimately boils down to what amounts to a love story. This movie is very good indeed, particularly if you consider that it is built around a concept that could have easily been handled in a cute or facile manner. Instead, it is handled as seriously as possible, with some real thought put into how death would try to come to terms with a life and an outlook that was to that point totally unfamiliar to him; much of the credit does go to Fredric March in the title role. It’s quite scary when it needs to be, particularly during the first twenty minutes. From then on, it deals with its themes with subtlety, a quiet wit, an enduring sadness, and an everpresent tension on how Death might react if crossed. It’s not perfect; some of the dialogue is self-conscious and artificial, as if the writers knew they were dealing with weighty issues and were trying to be profound. But I am certainly glad they didn’t try to turn it into a musical comedy of sorts.


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