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A Discussion of William Holden


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*Picnic* had a lot of very good performances, Arthur O'Connell and Susan Strasberg were both excellent as well. About Mr Holden, my favorite film of his is *Bridges At Toko Ri* . Its an excellent "war" film, very realistic, great action scenes , and Holden's performance as the lead character is Oscar worthy. Very good supporting cast in this as well. Grace Kelly's presence in this is a bit of a stretch to the storyline, but we have to think about the box office don't we? This film doesn't glamorize or demonize war (or the political issues involved here) it just deals with this one, very human character and how his life is impacted by the stress of combat. And as a final note, in real life William Holden had a brother who was killed in WW2.

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Holden is much admired as an actor and rightly so. He could play anything.He more than held his own in "Picnic"Today "Picnic" is remembered by most critics for that poignant and moving scene with Betty Field and Verna Felton just sitting in a park swing at dusk near the end of the picnic discussing life.But moviegoers probably remember Holden and Novak dancing even more.

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I would say that *Alvarez Kelly* is a very average film but the two stars definitely pick it up a notch or so. Holden and Widmark worked very well together here. Supposedly Holden was having a little trouble with the drinking at the time but Widmark befriended him and helped keep him focused on the work.

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  • 5 months later...

Had to resurrect this thread when I saw *Stalag 17* tonight. I hadn't seen it in ages, and had forgotten how good it is.


I was surprised to hear that Holden was reluctant to take the role because he felt his character was selfish, cynical and unsympathetic. That never stopped him before or after !


Anyway, there is something inherently likable about William Holden, so no matter who he plays, he's never totally unsympathetic.

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I really like William Holden. Up until a few years ago, the only thing I had ever seen him in was his guest appearance in "I Love Lucy." I had no prior knowledge of anything else he had been in, except for "The Country Girl," and "Sabrina" which are both mentioned in Holden's episode and an episode leading up to the Hollywood episodes of "I Love Lucy." I had not seen any of his films.


I really like Audrey Hepburn, so I sought out "Sabrina." I loved his character David and was kind of bummed that he didn't end up with her in the end. I understood why though. One day I was home sick from work and "Sunset Boulevard" was on Netflix Instant Queue. I decided to watch it. It was amazing. I really liked Holden's character, and I have to admit, I found him quite dreamy. Plus, who doesn't love Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond? (In fact, I also discovered "All About Eve" while home sick. The best films seem to be found this way). After this, I decided to focus on recording his films off TCM as they aired and ordering them through Netflix. I got his film featuring his first starring role, "Golden Boy."


Last year I recorded "Picnic" during Holden's SUTS day. I watched it on a particularly bad stormy day and found it fascinating. Even though Holden felt miscast, I thought he was great and completely believable as the hunky drifter that would win the affections of Kim Novak, a young girl tired of only being known as "the pretty girl." I also really enjoyed Susan Strasberg's work. I wish she were in more films. Rosalind Russell was fantastic. The best part of the film, aside from the classic "Moonglow" sequence, which is definitely the sexiest part of the movie, is at the end when Holden is trying to convince Novak of her feelings for him.


After this, I borrowed a William Holden biography from the library. While the book was good, I found it sad. Holden's alcoholism really affected him and while he still churned out some good work, "Network" being one of them, the alcohol ravaged his looks. I know some enjoy his more rough, haggard appearance. I personally prefer him in his younger days. Holden's life toward the end, when alcohol really took a hold of him, was sad and it's unfortunate that it was alcohol which proved to be his final undoing.


Some Holden films I have yet to see, but want to:

-Stalag 17

-The Moon is Blue

-Love is a Many Splendored Thing

-Bridge on the River Kwai

-The Wild Bunch

-The Country Girl


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If William Holden's career had abruptly ended in 1950, before Billy Wilder cast him in Sunset Boulevard, I would never even give him a thought.


My point being, and perhaps I'm being incredibly dense, I've never seen anything done in Holden's earlier films to make me think that he showed any of the signs of potential to be able to give that great portrayal of cynicism in the Wilder film, with some of the best on screen narration that I've heard from an actor.


During the '50s (Holden's greatest period) he was every bit Bogart's equal as a screen cynic, but with far greater sex appeal.


It was clearly Billy Wilder who rescued Holden's career from the doldrums. But can anyone point to any of his pre-1950 films in which you thought you saw the potential that was so fully realized with Sunset Boulevard?


Obviously not when he was playing a young innocent in Our Town or that violin playing boxer in Golden Boy (wish John Garfield had got that role instead). Admittedly, I've only seen a few of Holden's earlier performances, largely because his earlier films and performances don't do much for me.


Holden once called Joe Gillis in Boulevard the best role of his career. Well, obviously, there were other good roles afterward, as well.


However, my question remains, do others honestly see that much in Holden's pre-1950 work to give indications as to why Wilder (correctly) cast him in Boulevard, turning the actor into a major player and opening his career up for better roles?


Monty Clift was in the running for Joe Gillis. If that had happened, it's more than possible that Holden might never had received a breakthrough role and we wouldn't even be talking about him now.


Billy Wilder was a genius for seeing something in Holden (what, his line readings when he tried out for the part?) and casting him in Boulevard. Maybe that's it. Wilder was a genius, and I, most certainly, am not.


P.S. Now that I think about it, I do like Holden as Judy Holliday's cerebral leading man in Born Yesterday. His credible portrayal of intelligence, combined with his striking good looks, do give him a sizzle in that film, I feel. Assuming Born Yesterday was filmed before Sunset Boulevard, it's the only Holden performance I can think of that I really like before Billy Wilder got his hands on him.


Edited by: TomJH on Feb 8, 2014 9:28 AM

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So thrilled to see the thread resurrected. Thank you! William Holden was one of my favorite actors. As Tom alluded to, I didn't much care for William Holden's very early work - he seemed like a "cute boy", but nothing special and the movies weren't that interesting and he seemed a bit stiff. I was blown away when I saw him in "Sunset Boulevard". He should have won an Oscar for Best Actor for that film. A wonderful film and performance by William Holden. Also, he looked stunningly handsome in that film. One of the best looking actors I've ever seen. After Sunset Boulevard, he had many films that were top notch. I thought Stalag 17 was a tremendous film and he was exceptional in that movie. William Holden was just a terrific actor, and very sexy and handsome. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

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Regarding your question about whether William Holden before "Sunset" showed any spark of the talent he was to reveal in future films:

Without looking his work up, offhand, *Invisible Stripes* comes to mind. Made in 1939 and starring George Raft, *Invisible Stripes* comes across as a sort of hybrid gangster/drama.

It's not a great film, but certainly worth watching. William Holden plays Raft's younger brother who is frustrated and discouraged - in fact, he's angry - by the seemingly insurmountable difficulties involved in "just trying to get ahead", or make a good life -not even a luxurious life, just a good, secure life- with his fiance (Jane Bryan).

Man, what a baby-face Holden was when he was young ! At times he looks barely older than 15 !

Anyway, the energy he projects in this film and the intensity of his anger in some of his scenes give a clue to what he could and would do in his future work.




Who knew this little kid would turn into the craggy Pike Bishop?

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MissW, it's been too many years since I saw Invisible Stripes to comment upon "Baby Face" Holden's performance. You write that the intensity of his anger in that film is impressive, and an indication of things to come.


I guess I should make an effort to take another look at this one.


You also made passing reference to Holden as Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch. Craggy or not (and he was) I love that performance. Holden had a fluctuating career after the '50s but this was a true highlight for him. This is a performance of magnificent screen presence, combined with those weather beaten features adding to the authenticity of his work as a tired aging outlaw.


I might make mention of another '60s effort by Holden that few ever talk about: The Seventh Dawn, shot of location in Malaysia (or was it still Malaya then?), with Holden as a wealthy rubber plantation owner caught in the middle between the British authorities still in control of the country and the revolutionaries (headed by a friend of Holden's) that want the British out NOW!


Holden gives an interesting performance but the film is really most remarkable for some great cinematography and a wonderful, glorious musical score by Riz Ortolani (no, I never heard of him either). The Seventh Dawn is worth seeing if ONLY for its stunningly beautiful opening titles, a breath taking combination of music and photography.


It has been on TCM in the past though I don't recall if the channel is still showing it. 7th Dawn not a film that many talk about, and I make no claim that it is an unjustly ignored masterpiece of any kind (it does have a few far fetched improbabilities in the story line). But the combination of Holden's world weary presence, cinematography and that great, great, great musical score definitely make it worth a look (and listen).



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I have seen "Born Yesterday." A few times in fact, come to think of it, I think it was one of the movies I picked up at Barnes and Noble last month when they were having a sale. I, agree, I loved that film. He provided such a nice contrast to the horrible Broderick Crawford character (I didn't think Broderick Crawford was horrible. The character was, like he was supposed to be). He provided just the right amount of pizzazz to provide Judy Holliday's character with a reason to leave her current situation.

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That's the book that I borrowed from the library. It was pretty good. I liked the non-linear structure used to tell Holden's story. Started with the end of his life, went into the beginning and worked its way back toward where the book started.


I found the book very informative and I learned a ton about Holden. Some of the stories I found crazy, like Holden doing handstands on the windowsill of an open window way up high in a high rise building. This seemed a little hard to believe; but Errol Flynn made a reference to the same thing in his book, so I believe it to be true.


I thought this book was very well written and liked that the author wasn't writing the book for the sole purpose of providing salacious details about Holden's life. I hate the biographies that feel like their sole intent is to disparage an actor and ruin their reputation by sharing sordid details about their lives. Details that half the time, aren't even true.

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>Obviously not when he was playing a young innocent in Our Town or that violin playing boxer in Golden Boy (wish John Garfield had got that role instead). Admittedly, I've only seen a few of Holden's earlier performances, largely because his earlier films and performances don't do much for me.



I really liked him in "Golden Boy." I agree that he's a little stiff and is lacking the personality that he had in his 1950s films; but I chalked up his stiffness to it being his first starring role and the fact that he was starring with Barbara Stanwyck. I have a feeling if I were a young kid, in my first major role and my co-star was someone as established as Barbara Stanwyck, I'd be nervous too. I also really like this film, perhaps for its place in Hollywood history. This was the film that put Holden on the map and it's all due to Stanwyck.


Holden was struggling during the production and the executives were ready to fire him. Barbara Stanwyck went to bat for him and helped coach him through the film. Afterward, Holden was eternally grateful to her and sent her flowers every anniversary of the first day of the "Golden Boy" shoot. In, I believe the 1978 Oscars, Stanwyck and Holden presented an award together and Holden publicly thanked Stanwyck for the help she gave him. Later, in 1982, shortly after Holden's death, the Academy gave Stanwyck an Honorary Oscar. During her acceptance speech, she acknowledged their lifetime friendship stating: "A few years ago I stood on this stage with William Holden as a presenter. I loved him very much, and I miss him. He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish."


Sometimes, even if the film is not the best film ever, or not the best example of an actor's work, it deserves to be recognized if it provided an important boost, collaboration, friendship or whatever in an actor's work.

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I took the book out a few weeks ago from the library. The binding was all broken, there was food, snots and other unappetizing stuff in the book, so I wound up returning it after reading only a few pages with latex gloves on. I find it hard to believe there has never been another biography written about Holden except the Golden Boy book for the early '80's.


Also, I saw Born Yesterday. I thought Holden looked great with the glasses on. However, the film was terrible. Couldn't get past that annoying voice on July Holliday - like chalk on a blackboard to me. I also found the movie very boring.


I liked Sunset Boulevard the best, then Stalag 17 and a few other great Holden films are "Breezy" and I also loved "World of Suzy Wong". I can't understand why that movie is no longer on DVD. Bridge on River Kwai was good too, but a bit too long for me.

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I made reference in an earlier posting today to the wonderful musical score by Riz Ortolani for The 7th Dawn, a William Holden drama of 1964.


For anyone interested, here's a YouTube link by which you can hear the closing title music. This is a great orchestral arrangement in my opinion of a truly lovely score.



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Yes, even when Holden played a heel he was still hard to dislike.

I like some of his late 1940s flicks like Dear Ruth and An

Apartment for Peggy where he plays a more likeable character,

but the 1950s was really Holden's decade. Some many good

performances there.


Last night Manky mentioned that the shot of Holden coming back

up from the tunnel to give a quick salute was a bow to the idea

that Sefton was not completely cynical. I've always taken it as the

opposite--he's giving one final screw you to the guys who jumped

to the wrong conclusion and beat the heck out of him. I suppose

it can be taken either way.

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speedracer, I remember Barbara Stanwyck's teary-eyed "golden boy" address before the Motion Picture Academy when she got her award the year after his death. It speaks so well about Stanwyck as a person, as well as the depth of her friendship with a recently departed friend.


A deeply moving, poignant moment.




"And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish."


Somewhere I hope Bill Holden was watching.

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