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William Holden


Richard Kimble
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I was going to post in the other thread but it is getting dominated by politics, which I believe should be kept off this forum. So I'll start a new general discussion thread for Holden.

 

I just learned, literally moments ago, that William Holden planned to make his directorial debut in 1954 with Elmer Gantry, but the Production Code office would not approve the script. For me, this is only the second most interesting cancelled Holden project. The champ would have to be a film Mitchell Leisen was preparing in late 1941 -- Johnny Got His Gun. After Pearl Harbor the production was permanently shelved. (In 1940 James Cagney had given a tour de force performance of JGHG in a radio adaptation of the novel, which can be heard at archive.org)

 

In the early '80s Burt Kennedy intended to make a western called Dime Box, starring Holden and Glenn Ford. The earlier lives of their characters would be illustrated by clips of the two in Texas (1941). Holden's death ended the project.

 

Although most people consider Jack Lemmon as the ultimate Billy Wilder actor, I think that title should go to Holden. Lemmon was unsurpassed in comedy, but Holden had more gravitas. For all his wisecracking there is an air of regret about him -- the All-American boy who lost his way, and is desperately struggling to get back on the right track.

 

That's why I wish Holden had played the lead in Ace In The Hole. Kirk Douglas comes across as beyond redemption; with Holden it seems as if there is still hope for him.

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I was going to post in the other thread but it is getting dominated by politics, which I believe should be kept off this forum. So I'll start a new general discussion thread for Holden.

 

I just learned, literally moments ago, that William Holden planned to make his directorial debut in 1954 with Elmer Gantry, but the Production Code office would not approve the script. For me, this is only the second most interesting cancelled Holden project. The champ would have to be a film Mitchell Leisen was preparing in late 1941 -- Johnny Got His Gun. After Pearl Harbor the production was permanently shelved. (In 1940 James Cagney had given a tour de force performance of JGHG in a radio adaptation of the novel, which can be heard at archive.org)

 

In the early '80s Burt Kennedy intended to make a western called Dime Box, starring Holden and Glenn Ford. The earlier lives of their characters would be illustrated by clips of the two in Texas (1941). Holden's death ended the project.

 

Although most people consider Jack Lemmon as the ultimate Billy Wilder actor, I think that title should go to Holden. Lemmon was unsurpassed in comedy, but Holden had more gravitas. For all his wisecracking there is an air of regret about him -- the All-American boy who lost his way, and is desperately struggling to get back on the right track.

 

That's why I wish Holden had played the lead in Ace In The Hole. Kirk Douglas comes across as beyond redemption; with Holden it seems as if there is still hope for him.

The thought of Holden in Ace in the Hole is an interesting one, and I've no doubt that he would have been great, especially with Wilder directing him once again. The reporter might not have seemed as unrelentingly and irredeemably morally corrrupt as Douglas made him seem.

 

No doubt that Holden was one of Wilder's greatest actors. Somewhere I read (can't remember where, unfortunately) that Holden regarded Sunset Blvd as the film that contained the best role of his career. He must have always felt a debt to Wilder for being responsible for skyrocketing his career.

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The thought of Holden in Ace in the Hole is an interesting one, and I've no doubt that he would have been great, especially with Wilder directing him once again. The reporter might not have seemed as unrelentingly and irredeemably morally corrrupt as Douglas made him seem.

 

No doubt that Holden was one of Wilder's greatest actors. Somewhere I read (can't remember where, unfortunately) that Holden regarded Sunset Blvd as the film that contained the best role of his career. He must have always felt a debt to Wilder for being responsible for skyrocketing his career.

 

Holden would have been great in Ace in the Hole.   With Sunset Blvd it does appear that Joe might be able to turn things around (of course the auidence knows he will not since we are hearing the narative of a dead man).    Ace in the Hole is fine with Douglas but it would have been interesting to see another interpetation and one that was less in your face.     

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Holden would have been great in Ace in the Hole.   With Sunset Blvd it does appear that Joe might be able to turn things around (of course the auidence knows he will not since we are hearing the narative of a dead man).    Ace in the Hole is fine with Douglas but it would have been interesting to see another interpetation and one that was less in your face.     

I thought that Holden's delivery of that voice over narration in Sunset Boulevard was marvelous.

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I thought that Holden's delivery of that voice over narration in Sunset Boulevard was marvelous.

 

 

Agreed.    Most movies have something negative one can comment on but not this one.   One of the best movies of all time.

 

Of course I wonder how we would feel about the movie if it was done in a more traditional way without Joe being dead from the start.    One could still have the narration but it wouldn't have been a dead man talking  (which adds that something special).      

 

Hey,  I wouldn't change it for anything.    If it was done in a traditional way, I think it would still have been a really good movie,  with the added bonus of a surprise ending with Joe getting shot.   But it is unlikely it would be the masterpiece we know today.

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Agreed.    Most movies have something negative one can comment on but not this one.   One of the best movies of all time.

 

Of course I wonder how we would feel about the movie if it was done in a more traditional way without Joe being dead from the start.    One could still have the narration but it wouldn't have been a dead man talking  (which adds that something special).      

 

Hey,  I wouldn't change it for anything.    If it was done in a traditional way, I think it would still have been a really good movie,  with the added bonus of a surprise ending with Joe getting shot.   But it is unlikely it would be the masterpiece we know today.

The idea of having Joe narrating even about his own death is oddly effective. Joe, cynic that he is, seems to be laughing at himself (wherever he is now) for getting himself into that situation and ending up floating dead in a pool.

 

Yes, it certainly must have been shocking for 1950 audiences (or later first time viewers, too, for that matter) to see the voice over narrator of a film suddenly shot dead and continue to narrate the story.

 

Many people extoll the over-the-top once-in-a-lifetime performance of Swanson as demented Norma Desmond. But I think it's Holden's cynical character that is the real core of the film, and he's great in the part.

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SUNSET BOULEVARD;  starts out by introducing  the doomed main character (in fact he's dead) and immediately goes into a film long flashback with the doomed man telling us how he got into his predicament .  Doesn't that sound a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY ?

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SUNSET BOULEVARD;  starts out by introducing  the doomed main character (in fact he's dead) and immediately goes into a film long flashback with the doomed man telling us how he got into his predicament .  Doesn't that sound a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY ?

 

The device is not unique to Wilder -- it's also used in The Big Clock. It's even spoofed in Bob Hope's My Favorite Brunette.

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SUNSET BOULEVARD;  starts out by introducing  the doomed main character (in fact he's dead) and immediately goes into a film long flashback with the doomed man telling us how he got into his predicament .  Doesn't that sound a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY ?

 

Or D.O.A., and probably more than a few other movies in the noir era.  Given all the noirs that were told in flashback form, the law of averages would seem to suggest that at least 1 out of 10 of them were told by dead men. 

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SUNSET BOULEVARD;  starts out by introducing  the doomed main character (in fact he's dead) and immediately goes into a film long flashback with the doomed man telling us how he got into his predicament .  Doesn't that sound a little like DOUBLE INDEMNITY ?

 

Or D.O.A., and probably more than a few other movies in the noir era.  Given all the noirs that were told in flashback form, the law of averages would seem to suggest that at least 1 out of 10 of them were told by dead men. 

I don't recall any, Andy. Can you name one?

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It's possible, then, that Sunset Boulevard was the first film to have narration done by a dead person.

 

The same year as Sunset Blvd, 1950, also had a western, Rocky Mountain, that starts off with narration by a character who is dead by the film's end. He only narrates at the film's beginning, however. It wasn't developed in the film, as it would be by Wilder. It may even have been a bit of continuity sloppiness on the part of the filmmakers of that western that the initial narration even occurred, considering what would later happen to that narrator.

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It's possible, then, that Sunset Boulevard was the first film to have narration done by a dead person.

 

The same year as Sunset Blvd, 1950, also had a western, Rocky Mountain, that starts off with narration by a character who is dead by the film's end. He only narrates at the film's beginning, however. It wasn't developed in the film, as it would be by Wilder. It may even have been a bit of continuity sloppiness on the part of the filmmakers of that western that the initial narration even occurred, considering what would later happen to that narrator.

In 1944's The Seventh Cross, I believe it is Herbert Rudley who narrates, while he is dying. I can't recall the dialogue, but at one point he says something like "today I died." Maybe someone else can weigh in.

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It's possible, then, that Sunset Boulevard was the first film to have narration done by a dead person.

 

The same year as Sunset Blvd, 1950, also had a western, Rocky Mountain, that starts off with narration by a character who is dead by the film's end. He only narrates at the film's beginning, however. It wasn't developed in the film, as it would be by Wilder. It may even have been a bit of continuity sloppiness on the part of the filmmakers of that western that the initial narration even occurred, considering what would later happen to that narrator.

 

Funny how you clearly said narration done by a dead person and all the examples are people that may die but are not dead yet.  

 

Take someone that is about to be executed.   That person could be saved at the last second by Governor's reprieve.   The plot device where the actual killer is discovered at the last second and the condemned man is saved is fairly standard.   So from the audience's POV one would NOT assume it was 100% certain the guy was going to die.  In fact if the guy was a big star like Holden the odds are higher that he will be saved (since generally studio bosses didn't like to kill off their major stars).

 

Even in DOA there could have been some gimmic ending where he is cured after all; e.g.  the doctors were mistaken and since he only had a small dose there is a cure afterall.   

 

BUT Joe is DEAD.    No fantasy Hollywood ending is going to bring him back before the curtain is closed!     So the audience watches the entire film know there is NO hope for Joe.   

 

I'm not saying SB was the first to do that.   I would really have to research that. 

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BUT Joe is DEAD.    No fantasy Hollywood ending is going to bring him back before the curtain is closed!     So the audience watches the entire film know there is NO hope for Joe.   

 

I'm not saying SB was the first to do that.   I would really have to research that. 

Yes, I only said that Sunset Boulevard is possibly the first film to have a dead man narrating it. So far, though, no one appears to have come up with another.

 

The one statement that you made, however, James, that I might question is your assumption that audiences watching the film know all along that Joe is dead.

 

It's been, to be honest, a few years since I last saw the film, let alone the first time. I don't recall on that first viewing of it, however, that it registered with me that Joe was floating dead in the pool at the beginning of the film. I have to wonder how many in the audience even recognize Holden then, and, therefore, know that it's a case of "dead man narrating."

 

But I'm just speaking for myself here, no one else. So I'd like to ask the question, do others recall when seeing the film for the first time that they knew right from the beginning of the film that Joe was dead?

 

That's why I think that his death at the film's end comes as a shock - because they DON'T realize it's his body in the pool at the film's beginning, and he is the film's narrator.

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Yes, I only said that Sunset Boulevard is possibly the first film to have a dead man narrating it. So far, though, no one appears to have come up with another.

 

The one statement that you made, however, James, that I might question is your assumption that audiences watching the film know all along that Joe is dead.

 

It's been, to be honest, a few years since I last saw the film, let alone the first time. I don't recall on that first viewing of it, however, that it registered with me that Joe was floating dead in the pool at the beginning of the film. I have to wonder how many in the audience even recognize Holden then, and, therefore, know that it's a case of "dead man narrating."

 

But I'm just speaking for myself here, no one else. So I'd like to ask the question, do others recall when seeing the film for the first time that they knew right from the beginning of the film that Joe was dead?

 

That's why I think that his death at the film's end comes as a shock - because they DON'T realize it's his body in the pool at the film's beginning, and he is the film's narrator.

 

To me it is 100% clear that Joe is dead and from that point forward we are hearing a dead man tell us how he ended up in dead in the pool.    Joe was dressed in a suit.    Here in So Cal,  we don't go for a swim wearing a suit.  ;)

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Well neither is Walter Neff, even if his footsteps are the footsteps of a dead man.

 

There is a major difference between the fate awaiting Walter and that of Joe at the end of each film.    Regardless of if Walter lived or died from his wounds,  he was going to end up either geting the chair or life in prison.  i.e. his life was ruined and there was no hope for a better future. 

 

That wasn't the case with Joe.   Joe does wake up and decides to leave the mess he was in.    His life wasn't ruined.  There was hope.   He could have a relationship with Betty or move back home etc....       So knowing from the start that Joe was dead took away any vision of hope right from the start.    This was a very dark way to begin a movie but our emotions were NOT being toyed with.

 

A more convertional telling of the story would be like Out of the Past;   Where we still have hope the guy will break away and overcome his troubles.   We still have hope right up until it is shut down.   That is toying with our emotions. 

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To me it is 100% clear that Joe is dead and from that point forward we are hearing a dead man tell us how he ended up in dead in the pool.    Joe was dressed in a suit.    Here in So Cal,  we don't go for a swim wearing a suit.  ;)

You're right, James. I pulled out my old DVD and saw that it is clear at the film's beginning that Holden is dead. Still, audiences must have been wondering, "What's going on here? THAT guy is narrating!"

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BUT Joe is DEAD.    No fantasy Hollywood ending is going to bring him back before the curtain is closed!     So the audience watches the entire film know there is NO hope for Joe.   

 

 

What I find brilliant about SUNSET BLVD is how even with Joe clearly being established as dead in the swimming pool at the beginning of the movie (we see William Holden's face and hear his voice saying that a homicide has been reported and essentially "that's me" in the pool) a first-time viewer somehow forgets the opening as Joe continues to narrate the story and the events unfold until we are brought crashing back to the beginning when Norma shoots Joe and he falls into the pool.

 

I read somewhere that one of Billy Wilder's original ideas for the beginning of the movie was to have Joe's corpse in the morgue narrating the story.

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