Restoration: 1938's <I>Holiday</I>
Issue: March/April 2019

Restoration: 1938's Holiday

CULVER CITY, CA — Sony Pictures Entertainment ( recently completed a 4K digital restoration of Holiday, the 1938 romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Directed by George Cukor, the newly-restored film screened recently at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood in advance of its release on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.

Holiday was the second film adaptation of Philip Barry’s hit comedic stage play. Grant and Hepburn star, respectively, as a free-thinking man of humble beginnings and the rebellious sister of his wealthy fiancée. Hepburn had understudied for the role during the play’s run on Broadway, and the film is regarded as a high point in the careers of its director and stars. 

Left: Before print with streaks and stains due to wear 
Right: Restored frame

The restoration of the film marked the first in more than two decades and was conducted under the supervision of Rita Belda, SPE’s vice president for asset management, film restoration and digital mastering. As original elements from the film were lost, Belda and her team had to rely on a 35mm nitrate duplicate negative and a 35mm nitrate print, dating from 1941, as source elements. Upon inspection, both showed damage from overuse through the decades and, after undergoing 4K wetgate scanning at Cineric ( in New York, further problems became apparent. The nitrate print, especially, suffered from severe wear and tear. 

“As with many films of the era, the more beloved it is, the poorer the condition of the elements,” explains Belda. “Holiday is a charming film with a fantastic cast and director, so, sadly, it was no exception to that rule. We started with the dupe negative because it had been the basis of the previous photo-chemical restoration, but it was missing footage. It was dirty and there were lots of built-in problems from the lab. Although it was relatively sharp, there was little highlight or shadow detail. The image felt dark and compressed. The excessive grain pattern was also an issue.”

Visually, the 35mm print was better. The photography appeared sharp and rich. Far greater detail was apparent in the highlights and shadows, and the grain pattern was less distracting than in the dupe negative. Physical damage, however, was worse. It was affected by scratches and stains appearing in vertical and horizontal damage patterns. 

Left: Unrestored 35mm print
Right: Unrestored 35mm nitrate dupe negative

“It was the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of physical damage,” recalls Belda. 
To achieve the best result, Belda elected to use the 4K scan of the 35mm print as the basis for the restoration and employ rigorous digital restoration techniques to address its many problems. The scanned elements were first put through a round of extensive manual restoration at Prasad Corp. in Burbank. That eliminated much of the dirt and scratch marks without touching the original grain structure.  

Still, as much as 40 percent of the film remained badly damaged, so a decision was made to supplement the print with more material from the dupe negative and apply additional restoration processing. Colorist and restoration specialist Sheri Eisenberg at Roundabout Entertainment in Santa Monica used a FilmLight Baselight system to address some of the most severely damaged scenes in the print scan by drawing from the scan of the dupe negative.

“We took several different approaches,” Eisenberg explains. “In some instances, if we found a shot that couldn’t be repaired, we replaced it with the shot from the dupe negative. In other cases, we pieced things together by combining parts of the two. If the damage was only visible in a section of the frame, we’d take part of the frame from one element, and match it in to the corresponding frames from the alternate source, and create a composite.” 

Left: Before image with horizontal and vertical scratches
Right: Restored image

For both replacement shots and composites, Eisenberg used the Baselight’s color correction tools to make them blend with adjacent shots. A few shots requiring further attention were sent to Prime Focus in Culver City for more extensive digital processing. 

“We used everything in the tool box,” says Belda. “It was tough, it was challenging, and it required a lot of eyes.”

In the end, all the extra care and attention were worthwhile, according to Belda, as movie-lovers will now be able to enjoy Holiday in a manner that hasn’t been seen in decades. 

“The blending of various digital processes allowed us to overcome the most difficult challenges in the source elements,” she says. “The film’s inherent wit and charm means that most viewers will not notice the difference in texture as a result of the different source elements.”