Top of the World: 5 Earl Holliman Films


Yesterday, veteran actor Earl Holliman turned 90! I’ve always liked him for being an actor without any false pretensions. Highly underrated, he surely deserved more recognition. If you remember, a bit more than two years ago, I wrote him a letter to which he answered with two autographed photos. I felt very privileged. So, to celebrate the fact that he just turned 90, I decided to do a top 5 of my favourite film of his! Why a top 5? I know, that’s not a lot but the main reason is that I’ve seen a total of seven of his films, plus one television series episode. And among these films, there are one or two I’ve seen a too long time ago so, honestly, I don’t remember them much. Therefore, I wouldn’t know what to say about them and where to rank them. For example, Giant (George Stevens, 1956). I’ve seen this film only once and that was more than five years ago. I know that he was in it but, honestly, I really don’t remember what his role was.

A few disclaimers before we continue…

  • These are my own personal tastes, so I ask you to, please, respect them. I’m not saying that the number one movie on my list is THE BEST. I’m just saying that it’s the one I personally prefer. It’s very subjective. An objective list could have had a completely different order.
  • If a movie you love is not on the list, it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like it. It might be among the three films that didn’t make the list or maybe I just haven’t seen it! I could also have said “maybe I don’t like it”, but I don’t think I’ve seen a Earl Holliman’s film that I didn’t like.

Well, I think we’re good to go!


5- The Twilight Zone: Where Is Everybody? (Robert Stevens, 1959)


Ok, we actually kick things off with a television episode and not a film, but I couldn’t not include this one. I have to admit, it’s the only Twilight Zone Episode I’ve seen so far (so many films to see, so many television shows to see…) and I watched it mostly because Earl Holliman was in it. I thought it was brilliant and a tour de force for Earl Holliman as he manages to grab our attention despite interacting only with himself and a deserted city. Interestingly, Where Is Everybody? was the pilot episode of the popular TV series. The story of this episode revolves around a man (Holliman) who finds himself in the city of Oakwood and can’t remember who he is and can’t find anybody in the town. The tension increase as the story progresses.

4- Don’t Go Near the Water (Charles Walters, 1957)


I actually watched this film for the first time only yesterday! So, it’s pretty fresh in my memory. The film also stars Glenn Ford, Gia Scala, Anne Francis, Fred Clark, Eva Gabor and a young “cutie pie” Russ Tamblyn. This is a comedy “[…] about U.S. Navy public relations unit stationed on an island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.” (Wikipedia) Earl Holliman, plays Adam Garrett, an enlisted man who falls in love with Navy nurse Alice Tomlen (Anne Francis). It’s a sort of forbidden love as enlisted men cannot be romantically involved with an officer (which Alice Tomlen is), according to the army regulations. But Lieutenant Max Siegel (Glenn Ford) finds a stratagem to allow them to be together. Of course, this is just the story of Earl Holliman’s character, but a lot more goes on for the other characters. Earl Holliman is just so adorable as the shy guy in love with Anne Francis! The two have a discrete but lovely chemistry. When I read in the opening credits that the film was directed by Charles Walter, I knew it was going to be a charming and humble comedy and that’s what I got.

3- The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955)


I saw this film for the firs time (and only time so far) in my class on film noir last year. The final shot is iconic but there are many more things to say about this film. Earl Holliman plays Mingo, one Mr. Brown – the bad guy (Richard Conte)’s thugs alongside Lee Van Cleef. The police have ordered to stop investigating Mr. Brown for his criminal activities has they haven’t got enough strong evidence against him. The Big Combo has one of the top black and white cinematography in film noir history. It’s also worth watching for its use of some risky subjects (for the time period). One of them is a scene where Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and Rita (Helen Stanton) are clearly going to have casual sex. It is shown quite explicitly for a film of the 50s. The other one is the clues of a pretty obvious homosexual relationship between Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman). [SPOILER] After being the victim of an explosion, Mingo finds himself in the hospital with third degrees burns. Weak and about to die, his reaction is heartbreaking when he realizes Fante, also victim of the explosion, is already dead. [END OF SPOILER]. A film ahead of its time.

2- The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Mark Robson, 1954)


I love this film more and more on each viewing. First, the cast composed of William Holden, Fredric March, Grace Kelly, Mickey Rooney and, of course, Earl Holliman, is excellent. Second, it’s one of the rare films about the Korean War. A group of U.S Navy pilots has to bomb a series of bridges located in North Korea. Earl Holliman plays NAC Nestor Gamidge. This was among his first credited roles and despite being secondary, it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s lively and faithful to himself. Plus, his teamwork with Mickey Rooney is a lot of fun. The Bridges At Toko-Ri won the Oscar for Best Special Effects which is proved by the highly impressive attack of the bridges scene. In 2018, with CGI, an explosion in a film looks banal. In 1954, it was impressive.

1- The Rainmaker (Joseph Anthony, 1956)


On one of his autographed photos (a still from the film), Earl Holliman told me he loved working with Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn and confirmed that this was is favourite film. The Rainmaker tells the story of con man Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster) who arrives in a rural town of Kansas claiming he can make rain (which is something the agricultors badly need due). He sounds a bit loony and he eventually ends up at the Curry’s cattle ranch. The daughter, Lizzie Curry (Katharine Hepburn), falls in love with him. Earl Holliman and Lloyd Bridges play her brothers Jim an Noah. Jim is the only one who seems to believe that Bill can really create rain. Here, Earl Holliman gave all the energy he had to deliver what might be the best performance of his career. And it was awarded a Golden Globe! What I love about his performance is the joy and liveliness it adds to the film but also the fact that he really seemed to enjoy himself while he was playing Jim Curry. His strong chemistry with both Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster is the Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster is the proof that he indeed loved working with them. The two stars are unforgettable as well but don’t necessarily overshadow the young Holliman.


In case you wonder what are the three other films I haven’t included on my list, here they are: Giant (George Stevens, 1956), Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (John Sturges, 1957). I also once saw a small part of Last Train from Gun Hill (John Sturges, 1959) on television. I’m totally open to suggestions on what I should watch next.

And you, what are your favourite Earl Holliman films?