11 June 2000 | oliverkneale
Very worth seeing, but frustrating
First of all, the director of this film, Mitchell Leisen is one of the most underrated talents of 30's and 40's. He's acquired something of a bad reputation because of pretty vicious remarks made about him by Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder when talking about the films he directed from their scripts in the days before they were allowed to direct their *own* scripts. However, he doesn't deserve the derision. He's made some fluff films, for sure, but he's a consistently entertaining filmmaker who, more often than not, really delivers.
Anyway, Death Takes a Holiday is sort of his "art film" and it has a lot of great things in it. Fredric March's performance as Death is wonderful, the atmosphere is thick, the humor works, the scene setting is smart and romantic, and the opening titles are fun and weird, immediately presenting the film as something that's going to be a little unusual.
The problem with the film lies in Fredric March's romance with Evelyn Venable. The idea of Death falling in love with a human is great, but it's just not convincing here, mostly due to Venabale turning in a wooden performance that almost suggests she might be hypnotized. Also, the dialogue between them, particularly in the closing scene, is melodramatic and pseudo poetic beyond belief. You almost want to laugh at it.
It's a shame this most important aspect of the movie was handled so badly because just about everything else in film is great, particularly the interaction between Fredric March and just about everyone else in film who isn't Evelyn Venable. All of the good stuff just bursts with intruiging ideas.
And for that I would recommend the film to all potential viewers. The film is not without it's problems, but the good stuff is just good enough for me to say that the proverbial glass is definitely half full.