I’m happy to tell you that I have now finished my long William Holden’s films marathon. From Golden Boy to Fedora, I saw a total of 16 of his films. The only one I had seen before was Sunset Boulevard, as I try to mostly see new movies in my marathons. My introduction to this marathon was an episode of I Love Lucy where William Holden, as a guest star, plays his own role. This is really one of the funniest I Love Lucy‘s episodes I’ve seen so far. Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred are going to Hollywood. Lucy and Ethel can’t wait to see movie stars. In a restaurant, William Holden is sitting at the table next to them and Lucy can’t stop watching him. William, who is tired of having his privacy invaded, decides to teach a lesson to Lucy and does to her what she does to him: staring her without any discretion. The result is quite comical.
Now, let’s explore the movies, from 1939 to 1978, almost 40 years of Holden!
Film 1: Golden Boy (Rouben Mamoulian, 1939)
Role: Joe Bonaparte
It’s the famous Barbara Stanwyck who insisted for William Holden to be part of this film. She was right to give him this chance because he didn’t really have the occasion to prove his potential as an actor of talent before starring in that film. See, Golden Boy is William Holden’s third’s film and his first film as a leading actor. The first twos are now are probably forgotten, but, even if Golden Boy is not his most famous film like Sunset Boulevard or The Bridge on the River Kwai, it’s this film that sort of put him on the map. It’s interesting to know that William Holden was sometimes called Bill Holden, but another of his nicknames was “Golden Boy”. When she received her honorary Oscar, Barbara Stanwyck thanked her late friend William Holden by calling him “my Golden Boy“. In this movie, William Holden gives us a performance full of sensibility. He plays the part of Joe Bonaparte, a violinist who wants to be a boxing champing because it would assure him a better financial future. His father (brilliantly played by Lee J. Cobb) his opposed to this decision because he knows that his son is made for music and not for boxing. He knows that this will make him unhappy. Barbara Stanwyck is William Holden’s boxing agent (Adolphe Menjou)’s girlfriend who, at first, manipulates Joe so he won’t quit the boxing. But after a visit to Joe’s family house, she understands, like Joe’s father, that he is really made to be a musician. She also insists for him to continue what he really likes. Joe hates boxing, but in another way, it brings him money. So, in this movie full of hard decisions, William Holden plays his part with a lot of emotions and refinement. This scene where he plays the violin while closing his eyes is magically beautiful, for our eyes and for our ears. It touches me because I used to play violin when I was younger.
Film 2: Our Town ( Sam Wood, 1940)
Role: George Gibbs
In this beautiful little film, William Holden plays, one more time, a sweet and touching character, but, this time, he seems more innocent than he is in Golden Boy, less “tough”. However, for his sensibility, George Gibbs can still make us think of Joe Bonapart in Golden Boy. In a sad scene where his father explains to him that his mother had to chop wood because he forgot to, William Holden, remorseful, cries quietly. This is, yes, a heartbreaking scene, but, in a way, it proves us that there are no such idiotic rule preventing men to cry.
Film 3: The Remarkable Andrew (Stuart Heisler, 1942)
Role: Andrew Long
In this movie, I met a funny Bill Holden! Like Sabrina (that I have seen before), this is a comedy, but William Holden is even funnier here than he is in Sabrina. One more time, as he was very young, he plays a young man full of innocence and imagination. In The Remarkable Andrew, Holden is Andrew Long, a young accountant who finds a $1240 discrepancy in the city budget. His superior tries to explain this, but Andrew decides to pursue his little investigation and he is eventually blamed too for this mistake. Then, the spirit of Andrew Jackson, his historical idol, visits him accompanied by the spirits some other great men of American history and they try to help him. Of course, nobody except Andrew can see them, that’s where the power of imagination is brilliantly used. One of my favourite moments is when Jackson asks Andrew for a drink and he offers him some grape juice. That’s so cute.
Film 4: Dear Ruth (William D. Russell, 1947)
Role: Lieutenant William Seacroft
This is another comedy with a really funny William Holden, the funniest I must say. Even funnier than his character in The Remarkable Andrew. What’s make Bill amusing here, is his great passion for a girl he had never met before… Miriam Wilkins (Mona Freeman), a teenage girl who wants to help the world and fight for causes, has a soldier for a pen pal. However, she uses her sister Ruth’s signature in those letters that eventually becomes love letters. Everything becomes out of control when this soldier, William Seacroft (William Holden), decides to show up to Ruth’s place during a two-day leave. Ruth (Joan Caulfield) has to pretend, but she will have to tell him the truth sooner or later. William is really in love with her and all he wants to do is to marry her and be alone with her. Ruth is already engaged to another man, Albert Kummer (Billy De Wolfe). One of the best humoristic moment in Dear Ruth is when William kisses his Ruth. That’s passionate, but also full of indiscretions because he does it in front of everybody. Well, as we say, love is blind! This movie was an agreeable surprise!
Film 5: Apartment for Peggy ( George Seaton, 1948)
Role: Jason Taylor
This film was the first of four collaborations between Holden and Seaton. I must admit, as much as this was a beautiful film, I haven’t much to say about William Holden’s performance here. Not necessarily because he had a supporting role, but, even if his performance was right in this film, it wasn’t outstanding neither. Also, let’s admit that, in this film, Edmund Gwen, who plays the main character, steals the show.
Film 6: Miss Grant Takes Richmond (Lloyd Bacon, 1949)
Role: Dick Richmond
One more time, in this nice and easy comedy, William Holden gives us a good performance, but nothing extraordinary either. He was an excellent actor, but, here, he seems to respect what we told him to do without going out of his limits. Lucille Ball, who plays Dick’s secretary, steals the show here, really. However, I must say that his team work with Mrs. Ball seems to have worked pretty well. They are great together and it was nice to see them together in a movie after having watched this delightful I Love Lucy‘s episode.
Film 7: Father Is a Bachelor ( Aby Berlin and Norman Foster, 1950)
Role: Johnny Rutledge
This is far from being William Holden’s most famous film, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Well, I simply adored it! It’s now my second favourite Holden’s film after Sunset Boulevard. I wish more people will see it because it is a lovely and touching movie. It’s also what we call a beautiful family movie. Here, you will see William Holden singing! Unfortunately, it is not his real singing voice, but it remains fun to watch and listen. Johnny Rutledge (William Holden) is a carefree vagabond. One day, his employer Professor Mordecai Ford is put in jail so Johnny has to continue his road alone. In a small country town, he meets a young girl named May. She lives alone with her four brothers: January, February, March, and April. They are orphans. Quickly, the kids, especially May, fin a friend in Johnny, but also a father. Johnny who is, at first, not sure that this is a good idea, eventually sees himself taking care of them as if they were his real children. This movie is just so heartwarming. William Holden plays someone with a great heart who does everything, even steal, for these children. He hides tenderness behind his tough attitude, and it’s fantastic to see him as a kind person who takes care of those poor children. He really is a hero.
Film 8: Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
Role: Joe Gillis
As I just said, Sunset Boulevard is my favourite William Holden’s film. He gives us another memorable performance for which he received a Best Actor Oscar’s nomination. I think this movie is simply fascinating. I mean, everything is perfectly set. I love the narration in it and I think Holden did it brilliantly. He talks with a good fluidity and expresses himself very clearly. What I like about his acting is the way his behaviour is different depending on who he is talking to. With Betty, Joe is not the same person as he is with Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), the fallen actress. Bill’s acting in Sunset Boulevard is fine because it is thoughtful and nothing is exaggerated. We can feel he knew what he was doing. What is also fantastic about this film is the complicity between Holden and Nancy Olson. In the movie, Holden’s character, Joe Gillis, and Olson character, Betty Schafer, begin to write a screenplay together and they make a powerful duo. Unfortunately, because of Norma’s jealousy, the project doesn’t go very far, well, not for Joe. Believe it or not, this movie is one of the reasons that made me want to study screenwriting. It’s a movie about screenwriters, but it also has a brilliant screenplay, my favourite one more precisely. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Film 9: Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)
Role: Paul Verrall
This was a very interesting movie and, once again, William Holden plays the role of someone who cares about other people. Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday) is engaged to Harry Brock, a rich man with a strange money business. Billie is not very intelligent and Harry takes the occasion and makes her responsible of his maneuvering. Unfortunately for him, Billie’s stupidity becomes very embarrassing for him and his business. So, he decides to ask Paul Verrall (William Holden), a brilliant journalism, to help Billie to be more cultivated. Unfortunately, this will go too far for Harry because Billie will become more intelligent than he would have wished and less docile too. Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar for this role. William Holden was great too and he had a good chemistry with the actress. He plays the kindest man in this story.
Film 10: Boots Malone (William Dietrele, 1952)
Role: Boots Malone
The movie itself was ok, but not my favourite one. However, I liked William Holden’s performance in it. He plays the tough guy who also has a great heart. So, because of that, it was a touching movie. Some parts were a little long or repetitive, that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t enjoy the movie too much. I loved the ending tho.
Film 11: The Turning Point (William Dietrele, 1952)
Role: Jerry McKibbon
Really, I don’t have much to say about this film either. When I watched it, it didn’t really captivate me. Not that it wasn’t good, but it was not the best noir I ever saw either. Holden was good, played his role rightly, but honestly, I remember more Edmond O’Brien’s performance. I have seen it since a less long time that Golden Boy, but I remember Golden Boy best as it was a movie that captivated me much more. Sometimes (euhm, often), my parents don’t remember a movie just after a week, well, for me it’s rare, but it was the case for this one.
Film 12: Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953)
Role: Sgt. J.J. Sefton
What a great performance we have here! Well, so great that William won the Best Actor Oscar for it! This comedy tells the story of a group of American soldiers who are prisoners in a German war prison. Their objective is to escape by using many creative strategies, but, after two of the soldiers who tried to escape die, they suspect one of them to be an informant and Sergeant J.J Sefton (William Holden) is immediately accused. Of course, as we love Holden, we don’t want him to be guilty! This was a fantastic performance by him because he shares his character’s emotions rightly, without exaggerating anything. This was a TRUE performance, I believed in it. One more time, Billy Wilder directed him perfectly. What I also love about this performance, it’s that it’s a good one to see Holden’s versatility. Sometimes, Sefton is serious, sometimes he has a good sense of humour or is deliciously mocker. When Holden received his Oscar, his speech was the shortest speech in Academy Awards’ history. He simply said, “Thank you.” He hurried too much because TV broadcast had a strict cutoff time, but he explained after that he really wanted to thank the people he worked with, especially Billy Wilder. Poor Bill!
Film 13: The Proud and Profane (George Seaton, 1956)
Role: Lt. Col. Colin Black
Honestly, it was strange to see William Holden with a moustache! Well, that doesn’t make him a bad actor either. In this film, the actor is enough different than he is in the other movies I had seen before. He plays someone that we don’t really like in the first place. However, his character has a good evolution through the events of the film. Here, the public will probably share Deborah Kerr’s emotion depending on Holden’s actions. He is hard to understand because sometimes he’s a real bastard, but sometimes he is quite lovable. It’s interesting to see that, in the 50’s, Holden really started to play in war movies like this one, Stalag 17 or The Bridge on the River Kwai. I was happy to see this film because Deborah Kerr gives us a brilliant performance. Her teamwork with Holden was also very interesting.
Film 14: The Devil’s Brigade (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1968)
Role: Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick
As you can see, here I skipped 12 years of William Holden’s films. However, just like The Proud and Profane, this is also a war movie. It tells the true story of The Devil’s Brigade during the World War II. The American Lieutenant Colonel Robert T. Frederick (Holden) has the mission to form a commando force with both American and Canadian soldiers specialized in mountain combat. The first part of the film is the training and the second part is the combat between the Americans and the Germans in Italy. Really, I didn’t know what to expect from this film because I had never heard of it before. Honestly, I enjoyed it. It was interesting to see the difference between the American soldiers and the Canadian soldiers. At the beginning, they don’t really get along with each other, but they eventually become great pals and a real team. The music by Alex North is very good also. About Holden, I liked his performance because he plays someone calm and wise, someone who thinks before doing anything stupid. He is the real war hero of this picture. William Holden was older here, but this performance just makes me realized that he was talented at all ages.
Film 15: Breezy (Clint Eastwood, 1973)
Role: Frank Harmon
Breezy is a beautiful and simple film directed by the one and only Clint Eastwood! I have only seen three of the movies he directed (Breezy, The Bridge of Madison County and Mystic River) and, really, I can say, without hesitation, that Breezy is my favourite one. Breezy ( Kay Lenz) is a young hippie who falls in love with a man in his forties played by Bill of course. Her love for him is so true that it makes you forget their age difference. Both actors give us a thoughtful performance and they make a beautiful couple together. One of my favourite scenes is when they go to the beach together, I also love those lines:
Frank: “Hello my love.”
Breezy: “Hello my life.”
I mean, who would like Holden to tell us “Hello my love” whatever his age?! After seeing three war movies, it was nice to see something different. It was nice to see Holden as someone more “ordinary”, closer to us. In this film, his relationship with a young girl can make us think a little about the one he has with Faye Dunaway’s character in Network.
Film 16: Fedora (Billy Wilder, 1978)
Role: Barry “Dutch” Detweiler
Wow! What a fantastic way to finish my marathon! One more time, this was another brilliant film directed by my second favourite movie director, the incredible Billy Wilder. This was also Holden’s last film under the direction of this movie director. In Fedora, Holden stars as Barry “Dutch” Detweiler, an independent producer and movie writer who learns the death of the famous actress Fedora. Then, he remembers his unsuccessful tentative to bring her back to screen two weeks ago. Meeting Fedora was difficult because she seemed to be trapped by the occupants of the isolated villa on a Greek island where she lives. But soon, Barry learns the truth about Fedora. Really, what I like about this film is the fact that it has many surprises. I expected nothing about what happens. It’s captivating and you are avid to know what Barry will discover about Fedora. This movie makes me think a little of Sunset Boulevard as it is about a fallen actress. Holden was brilliant in it. His performance is strong, and it’s interesting to see how he makes his character reacts to the things he learns about Fedora. It was nice to compare my reactions to his reactions.
So, that was it for this famous William Holden’s films marathon. As you can see, I eliminated some films (The Lion, The Revengers, The Earthling and The Bridges at Toko-Ri), but don’t worry, I had seen The Bridges at Toko-Ri before and I will see the other ones another time. This is really just a question of time because I really have to start another marathon. As you can see, Network, Sabrina, Paris When it Sizzles, The Country Girl and The Bridge on the River Kwai were not on my list. The reason is just that I had seen these films before and, as I mentioned it before, I try to see new movies in my marathons. I would have liked to see Picnic and The Wild Bunch, but I couldn’t find them, so it will be for another time. Seeing William Holden’s on FIVE decades was a truly worthy experience. I made me realized what a versatile actor he was. Thanks to this marathon, I have now seen a total of 22 William Holden’s films! Really, he is a fantastic actor. To finish this text, I would like to do a personal top 10 of all the movies I have seen during this marathon. So here it goes:
Next week, the Dolores Hart’s films marathon will REALLY start. I promise!