Death Takes a Holiday (1934) – Mitchell Leisen

I continue my exploration of classic cinema with DK Canada’s The Movie Book, as I dive into the What Else to Watch list following my screening of the brilliant, The Seventh Seal.

Death Takes a Holiday (remade in 1998 as Meet Joe Black) stars Fredric March as Prince Sirki, a man who comes to visit the home of Duke Lambert (Guy Standing), and falls in love with Grazia (Evelyn Venable), who in turn has been cautious in that realm.

But things take a strange turn when the Grim Reaper, when Sirki ends up dead, and he takes the Prince’s form.  Before this, he has been stalking the ducal grounds in the form of a black shadow, and get’s permission from Lambert to take his holiday with them, where in he plans to discover the nature of humanity, tries to relate what it is to be mortal, and along the way falls in love.

Over the course of his three day holiday with the duke’s family, Grazia begins to fall in love with him, but will she still care for him when she learns his true nature?

I will say this, there are some pretty decent effects when Death is in his shadowy form.


The film itself is rather slow-moving, with some sprinkling of some fun humour to it as Death as Sirki navigates things like breakfast, sleep, and relationships. And of course, with Death on vacation, there are three days when nothing dies, flowers no longer wither, and accidents won’t claim lives.

A number of other young women on the estate try to woo him, but shy away from him when they get a feel for his true nature.

Grazia shows no fear of him, and the two navigate new waters together as their relationship begins to bloom.

This is a gentle, romantic film that still has the power to sway and entertain, it’s perfect for that night in, a shared bottle of wine, and a cuddle on the couch. It also serves as a wonderful discussion for those things like life, death, love, and everything that existence encapsulates.

March is suitably charming in the role, and most of the humour comes from his interactions with the others, and their perceptions of death, something that he tries not to take offence to.

The romance is sweet (not quite saccharine, but not far off), and fun. The film is oddly short, only an hour and twenty minutes, but it doesn’t waste any of its time on things that could be excised. It’s a trim, wholly entertaining film.

But don’t take my word for it, pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book, and find a classic to watch tonight!


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