DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY: TV MOVIE OF THE WEEK BLOGATHON

 

Death Takes a Holiday was a classic film made in 1934 before it was remade in 1971 as a TV movie. The original starred Fredric March and Evelyn Veneble, based on an Italian play of the same title by Alberto Casella. Our TV Movie of the Week Blogathon selection is the 1971 version, the ABC Movie of the Week also titled Death Takes  a Holiday. It features an excellent cast starring Yvette Mimieux as Peggy Chapman, Monte Markham as “David Smith,” Melvyn Douglas as Judge Earl Chapman, and Myrna Loy as his wife Selena Chapman As in the classic film, death makes his usual reaping visit, and ends up  falling in love with his victim. And who could blame him?

As the movie opens, Yvette Mimieux walks alone along the beach, a vision of beauty. The solo guitar score of Laurindo Almeida moves from peaceful sunny chords to darker airs as she swims underwater amidst kelp beds, where we finally see her still and lifeless body.

Yet in the next scene she is back on the beach, saved by a “David Smith.” After they introduce each other she kisses him, he surprised, she says, “I always kiss men that save my life.” She invites him to stay the weekend at her house, since his boat wrecked on her family’s island.

 

Over the course of a couple of days he learns about her family and its members. He talks with mother Selena about how she copes with the long-ago loss of her young daughter. He falls more deeply in love with Peggy, curious about her fascination with death. She explains her family’s history of misfortune. In pointing to a tree that is like a totem to her, she said that the ancient tribes believed that for every glorious victory there was a terrible defeat. She relates how during her ski-jumps she thinks about cheating death each time she reaches bottom.

 

The Judge her father is curious about David, and presses him about his background and family, sensing a growing closeness between his daughter and him. David avoids the subject. The Judge goes further and asks his attorney for research on him. The attorney tries to tell him some real news, that no one has died in 12 hours. And Peggy has a suitor that is also at the family retreat, growing increasingly jealous of David. He makes bold and tells David to leave, which has no effect

 

And now there is more news. In the depth of the Viet Nam war, through typhoons, building fires. and on the country’s highways,  around the world it seems, there have been no reported deaths in 24 hours. But amidst this news, remote on their island for a family retreat, It is now time for more family games, which include inflatable sport boat races between the brothers. As the judge, David and Selma watch from a beach lifeguard tower, they panic when one of the brothers falls off and his boat heads straight towards two of the children. But David reassures them, “They will be safe.” When the boat veers off at last, Judge Earl says, “I remember you now. You were there at my last three strokes.” And yes, death almost took him, but not quite. And so David asks him what keeps him hanging on so tenaciously to life. And Earl answers him, “Everything that matters to me, everything I love is here…I love people, what they can achieve, how they touch each other’s lives, what they can give one another…”

 

 

When Earl finds out Death is here for his daughter and not him, he begs him to take him instead. He is old and he suffers, despite what he has said about how he clings to life, his daughter has everything to live for. Death admits he has fallen in love with her, but he is powerless to change things. And later when Earl and Selena talk about what has happened, and Peggy joins in to find out that Earl has asked for David to take him instead, she leaves, saying she loves him and is ready to leave with him. Selena admonishes Earl that Peggy should love who she wants – even Death, and how should they judge who would be the happiest. (spoiler alert)

And while Peggy is walking among the trees she finds out that her own totem tree is about to be felled, caused by prior storm damage. Then she decides to jump off a cliff. But David runs and stops her in time, and tells her ecstatically that he has decided to stay on earth with her. She is happy he loves her but tells him he can’t stay because too many people will keep on living. She has decided to go with him, if they can go together, which he agrees to, and so ends the movie.

The movie was beautifully filmed. The principal actors made this magical realism movie believable and moving. It has no great dramatic moments but leads directly to the point of the story. Its use of the great actors of the classic era: Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas add depth, while prompting questions of why Yvette Mimieux didn’t became a bigger star, and even a bigger career for Monte Markham. It is certainly worth watching, better than many current movies seen on TV today, premium TV included. It was also remade in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt as Death visiting Anthony Hopkins and his daughter played by Claire Forlani.

 

This post is part of The Movie of the Week Blogathon, hosted by The Classic Film and TV Café.

12 thoughts on “DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY: TV MOVIE OF THE WEEK BLOGATHON”

    1. I think you would like it. It was well made with a good script and well acted by the principal actors, as you read, classic actors and great young stars. The cinematography was great, and actually the images I found are in low resolution that don’t do justice to the movie. Even watching it on a computer monitor, however, the movie rolled quickly as you got wrapped up in the story and the fate of the couple (even knowing the plot!).

  1. I saw this when it was first shown when I was just a kid. I was a total sucker for the Movie of the Week and would watch them no matter what but some were more memorable than others as this one was. I remember it all these years and was delighted when I found it a while back on YouTube where I revisited it and found it was still a good watch.

    I was a big fan of Monte Markham, I watched each of his failed series tries, and never understood why he didn’t hit it a bit bigger though he’s had a long career as a journeyman actor. I love Yvette Mimeux as well, such a movie star name it’s hard to believe it’s actually hers but it is. Add in old reliables Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas and how can you go wrong?

    I saw this before the original Fredric March film which I now have. Both are interesting films, March’s more mystical but each worthwhile.

    1. Thanks for your comment Joel. I know what you mean about the less than stellar career of Monte Markham, and to a certain extent for Yvette Mimieux as well. They should have gone farther in their day and subsequently. It would be great to be able to watch this on a bigger screen with it’s high production values.

  2. This was one of my all time favorite movies when I was a kid. It used to play on the local channel all the time, and I just fell in love with it. I agree, it’s gorgeous to look at… Plus, Monte! 🙂 He’s been one of my favorite actors for forever, and I guess this is where I first saw him. Thanks for your review!

    1. Thanks for your comment Amanda. I’m glad you enjoyed my review. And as you indicate it appealed to the young as well as adults. Monte was a hit with the girls and Yvette with the boys. But the movie had deeper themes that resonate with older adults as well.It would be nice if it were replayed on TV in a “Best of” series.

  3. I love the original DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY so much – it’s one of my favorite movies – even though it’s kind of hokey and over-acted it still works.

    I’ve never seen this version so thanks for introducing it to me. I have a hard time picturing Monte Markham being enigmatic, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. 🙂

    1. Yes Caftan Woman, I was thrilled it was on the list of YouTube offerings (how else could we see it now?). Outside of the 1970s fashions, hair, and Vietnam references, it stands up very well today. Happy this brought back good memories for you.

  4. So glad you picked this film, Christian. This was my introduction to DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, as I had not seen the Fredric March version at the time. I quite liked it when it was first shown…and still do. It masks the big surprise very well and the underrated Monte Markham and Yvette Mimieux had great chemistry together. It rightly has its share of fans–as evidenced by its ratings and viewer comments on the IMDb. Like you, I’ve always wondered why the stars didn’t have bigger careers. At least, Yvette garnered some strong reviews a few years for JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, the film that put Tommy Lee Jones on the map.

    1. Thanks Rick. I was very happy that this was one of the TV Movie of the Week offerings, as it was and is a strong movie and quality production.
      If you are a fan of Yvette’s, she was also a great dancer, as can be seen in the rather obscure “Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.” And somewhat off the topic but speaking of Tommy Lee, he was the Harvard roommate of a good friend of mine, where they both played on the Harvard football team. You don’t usually think of Tommy Lee as the Harvard type, but he has brains as well as his cowboy background.Thanks for this chance to participate in the blogathon.

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