DirectorMitchell Leisen ScreenplayMaxwell Anderson CountryUnited States
Release dateFebruary 23, 1934 Based onDeath Takes a Holiday (play) by Alberto Casella WriterMaxwell Anderson (screenplay), Gladys Lehman (screenplay), Alberto Casella (play), Walter Ferris (english adaptation) AwardsVenice Film Festival Special Recommendation Award CastFredric March (Prince Sirki / Death), Evelyn Venable (Grazia), Guy Standing (Duke Lambert), Katharine Alexander (Alda), Gail Patrick (Rhoda), Helen Westley (Stephanie) Similar moviesThe Nightmare Before Christmas, The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Aladdin, Bridget Jones's Diary
TaglineLove surpasses death
Death Takes a Holiday is a 1934 American Pre-Code romantic drama starring Fredric March, Evelyn Venable and Guy Standing. It is based on the 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza by Alberto Casella, as adapted in English for Broadway in 1929 by Walter Ferris.
After years of questioning why people fear him, Death takes on human form (Fredric March) for three days so that he can mingle among mortals and find an answer. He finds a host in Duke Lambert (Guy Standing) after revealing himself and his intentions to the Duke, and takes up temporary residence in the Duke's villa. However, events soon spiral out of control as Death falls in love with the beautiful young Grazia (Evelyn Venable). As he falls in love with her, Duke Lambert, the father of Grazia's mortal lover Corrado (Kent Taylor), begs him to give Grazia up and leave her among the living. Death must decide whether to seek his own happiness, or sacrifice it so that Grazia may live.
Fredric March - Prince Sirki/Death
Evelyn Venable - Grazia
Guy Standing - Duke Lambert
Katherine Alexander - Alda
Gail Patrick - Rhoda
Kent Taylor - Corrado
Helen Westley - Stephanie
Henry Travers - Baron Cesarea
Kathleen Howard - Princess Maria
The theatrical premiere of the film was on February 23, 1934 at the Paramount Theatre in New York City. The home video releases have been:
Death Takes a Holiday (VHS). Universal Studios. March 8, 1999.
Death Takes a Holiday (DVD). Universal Studios. January 9, 2007. (as part of the Meet Joe Black Ultimate Edition)
Death Takes a Holiday (DVD). Universal Studios. January 11, 2010.
The film was an enormous critical success. Time called it "thoughtful and delicately morbid", while Mordaunt Hall for The New York Times wrote that "it is an impressive picture, each scene of which calls for close attention".
Richard Watts, Jr, for the New York Herald Tribune, described it as "An interesting, frequently striking and occasionally beautiful dramatic fantasy", while the Chicago Daily Tribune said that March was "completely submerged in probably the greatest role he has ever played." Variety called it "the kind of story and picture that beckons the thinker, and for this reason is likely to have greater appeal among the intelligensia." It praised March's performance as "skillful". John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that the film was "nicely done", although he suggested it was "a little obnoxious with all its talk of being in love with death."
The film was a box office disappointment for Paramount.
The American Film Institute recognized the film with a nomination in its 2002 list, AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions.
Remakes and adaptations
It aired as the drama of the week on Cecil B. DeMille's Lux Radio Theatre on March 22, 1937, starring Fredric March as Death and his wife, actress Florence Eldridge, as Grazia. Universal Studios, which acquired the rights to the film in 1962 following a merger with then-owners MCA, made a 1971 television production featuring Yvette Mimieux, Monte Markham, Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas and Bert Convy. Loy related in her biography that the production was marred by a decline in filming production standards; she described a frustrated Douglas storming off the set and returning to his home in New York when a tour guide interrupted the filming of one of his dramatic scenes to point out Rock Hudson's dressing room. The film was remade by Universal again in 1998 as Meet Joe Black starring Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani and Anthony Hopkins.
It was adapted into a musical by Maury Yeston with the book by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan. It began previews Off-Broadway on June 10, and officially opened on July 21, 2011, in a limited engagement through September 4, 2011, at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre in a production by Roundabout Theatre Company. A May 2006 episode of the television drama Medium also builds on the concept of death portrayed as a man. The season 2 episode is similarly called, "Death Takes a Policy."