Last Holiday (1950)
“Guinness…The Great Lover!”
Director: Henry Cass
Cast: Alec Guinness, Beatrice Campbell, Kay Walsh
Synopsis: When a lonely, unappreciated farm equipment salesman discovers he has only weeks to live, he withdraws his savings for a final holiday at a ‘posh’ resort.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
Last Holiday is a gentle, sweet-natured comedy about George Bird (Alec Guinness) a mild-mannered, unassuming man who is mistakenly diagnosed as suffering from the fatal Lampington’s Disease. Given only weeks to live, he decides to cash in his insurance policy and take his savings to an exclusive resort called Pinebourne. Once there, he is mistaken by the assortment of guests as a man of means, and within days, has a positive impact on all their lives. Unshackled from certain social constraints by his impending demise, he is free to offer advice, issue gentle reproaches, and show generosity to strangers — all of which he was incapable of doing previously — and finds his luck changing for the better.
Although it is basically a message movie in which the hotel in which he stays acts as a microcosm for society as a whole, the message it delivers is rather old hat, and Last Holiday works better as an example of the understated nature of some of the best of 1950s British comedies. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments in the movie to be sure, but more often you will find yourself watching it with a smile on your face.
Supported by a host of familiar British actors (Sid James, Wilfred Hyde-White, Bernard Lee, Peter Jones, Ernest Thesiger) the ever-reliable Alec Guinness delivers a graceful performance, never overplaying his hand, and almost always maintaining the dignified demeanour of an English gentleman. The script is drenched with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) irony: throwaway comments (‘you’re a long time dead,’ etc.), deathly images (the waiter striking the gong for dinner). Even the dog that causes Guiness’s death is on his way to the vets to be put down.
(Reviewed 13th May 2002)