As I told you during last year’s edition of the Golden Boy Blogathon, William Holden is an actor I snub for a much too long time, and he finally became my 2nd favourite actor (behind James Stewart). In the text tribute I wrote in his honour, I explained how he became one of my most favourite actors, why I love him, etc. Today, in honour of what would have been his 99th birthday, I wanted to do something similar, but different of course. I didn’t really feel like doing a movie review or focus on only one of William Holden’s performances. So, I thought it would be fun to present you my favourite William Holden movie moments! I once thought of doing this with my favourite movie moments in general, but this was too difficult. So, why not focus on a more precise subject? Why not William Holden? These are all movies moments that make me love and admire our Golden Boy more and more. Moments that make me recognize, not only his talent but that also make me be fond of him and realize how he can be so appreciated. Moments that makes him one of a kind. In other words, these will be various. It could be funny, sad, serious moment, it doesn’t really matter.
I’ll present these in chronological order (according to the movie) and will try as much as possible to give an explanation to why each of these moments is a favourite.
By the way, I prefer calling them “moments” instead of “scenes” because these can last only a few seconds.
Ok, here we go!
Golden Boy ( Rouben Mamoulian, 1939)
His first entrance: When our Golden Boy first put the foot on the imaginary side of the movie industry. Well, not exactly has he had minor roles in two other films before but was uncredited. Anyway, that was the first time we were seeing him in a way to remember. The William Holden of Golden Boy was young, only 21, with an innocent look on his face and curly hair. What I absolutely love about this entrance is that it is a very spontaneous one. He interrupts Barbara Stanwyck and Adolf Menjou, who are about to kiss each other, by entering in the room in quite an energetic way. A remarkable entrance indeed!
When he plays the violin: I love these moments (because there are more than one) because he expresses a beautiful vulnerability that we often find in some of his early roles. There’s a lot of sensibility in him and we can feel the emotions through his closed eyes.
Every time he says “papa”: Well, I just think that’s sweet. It makes a change from the usual “daddy”, “dad”, “father”, etc. I call my dad papa! (Well, I’m francophone so it’s normal). It’s also a good way to show the Italian blood of his character. Oh, and that’s one thing I like about Joe Bonaparte, because I have Italian blood too!
When they sing “Funiculi Funicula” : Ok, that’s not only a “William Holden moment” as it involves all his family in the film, plus Barbara Stanwyck, but it’s one that I couldn’t overlook because it’s so much fun! Despite Golden Boy being a drama, it contains its moments of joy like this one where Lorna Moon (Barbara Stanwyck) is invited in Joe’s Italian family for supper. After eating, they decide to play music and joyfully sing “Funiculi Funicula”. You really wish you were here with them because they seem to have a really great time!
Our Town (Sam Wood, 1940)
When he cries… : In this scene, George (William Holden)’s father tells him that his mother had to chop wood because he forgot to. Full of remorse, he starts to cry quietly. Poor Bill! 😥 This is both a sad and beautiful scene as it shows the vulnerability of his character and proves us that men can cry too! And they have the right to!
The Remarkable Andrew (Stuart Heisler, 1942)
When he does his morning exercise at the beginning of the film: this scene makes me laugh so much. He’s just so adorable and funny, especially when he jumps around the room like a frog. Hahaha! He also does some weird sounds with his mouth, which makes the thing even more hilarious than it already is.
Just look at the beginning of this clip for this scene!
When Andrew Jackson asks him for a drink and he offers him some grape juice: Ok, I didn’t remember this scene much, because I haven’t seen the film for a long time, but I read about it in my old William Holden Marathon article. Well, it goes without saying that this is completely adorable. William Holden was so young then!
You’ll find the moment in this clip from 3: 20 to 4: 08
Dear Ruth (William D. Russell, 1947)
Every time he kisses Joan Caulfield spontaneously : This film certainly is the funniest of Holden’s films (in my opinion). He is so in love with Ruth (Caulfield) that his best way to express it is by kissing her all the times, everywhere. This gives us some hilarious moments and we certainly wished we could exchange places with Caulfield. 😉
I, unfortunately, couldn’t find a clip or a picture from these precise kissing moments, so here is a photo of them together.
Father is a Bachelor (Abby Berlin and Norma Foster, 1950)
When he sings : Unfortunately, his voice was doubled (which is kind of odd, since I’ve been told that he had a fine singing voice), but, despite that, it remains something delightful. We don’t often see a “musical” Holden so that certainly is our chance. The singing moments are joyful ones and make this film the perfect family movie!
When he smiles to the old maid he is supposed to marry (not a very enthusiatic smile) : Toward the end of the film, he is supposed to marry one of the Cassin sisters in order to keep the poor Chalotte children under his guardianship. To determine which lady will marry him, they play a game of cricket. When Adealine wins, the smiles that Johnny (Holden) gives her is so forced and mixed with disgust that it automatically makes you burst into laughs. And it’s meant to as this film is a comedy! Believe it or not, Bill’s smiles are not always charming ones. 😉
When he makes a dress for May : By accident, Johnny burns little May’s dress. To fix his mess, he decides to confection one himself. He pretends he can, but that’s obviously untrue! The creating process, as well as the results, are pretty catastrophic and amusing. Poor May! Luckily, Johnny eventually manages to obtain a real pretty dress.
Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder, 1950)
When he kisses Nancy Olson on the nose: What I like about the scenes between Holden and Olson in this film is that, just like this one proves it, they are so sweet and simple. A kiss on the nose! Can you think of something lovelier?
When he and Nancy are being theatrical “life!… can be beautiful”: In this false theatrical moment, Betty (Olson) and Joe (Holden) seem to be playing a scene from one of Joe’s films (but we are not 100 % sure). The theatricality is so intentionally exaggerated that it makes us feel the fun that these two can have together. I obviously think that Nancy Olson was one of the actresses with whom Bill had the best on-screen chemistry.
When he interrupts Max who is playing organ: Joe is angry in this scene as his luggage have been moved to his guest room (and he has NO intention to stay). He goes downstairs to ask Max (Erich von Stroheim) who did. This one is playing organ very loudly (what a pleasant way to be awake (!)). What I like about this scene is when he tells him “Hey you! Max, whatever your name is.” This pretty much sums up his anger and the esteem he has for Max (!)… Also, Max doesn’t stop playing which makes us understand the delightful arrogance of his character!
His final smile: I don’t remember so much from this film (remember it was a good one), but this smile he does at the end is one I didn’t forget. It’s such a sweet and contagious one! The typical Golden Boy smile, you know!
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953)
When he discovers the guilty man and says “Ach so!” : This reminds me of my German classes as my teacher was saying that all the time. In this scene, he kinds of imitate Sgt. Johann Schulz (Sig Ruman) who is always saying that as well. We feel he is quite amused and satisfied as he will no longer be the accused one.
When he cooks an egg: Just because this egg is cooked with so much style!
Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1953)
When he tries to guess who this beautiful lady is (Sabrina): When Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) comes back from Paris, she is waiting at the train station for her father who is supposed to pick her. David (William Holden) who is driving by suddenly stops because this beautiful lady certainly grabs his attention. He doesn’t know that she is Sabrina, the daughter of his family’s chauffeur, who has secretly always been in love with him. He offers her a lift and tries to guess who she is. We and Sabrina are obviously quite amused by the situation and things become even more priceless when he finally discovers her real identity. To think that he ignored her all these years!
When he dances with Sabrina: That’s a beautiful moment full of tenderness and, one more time, we wish we could exchange places with Holden’s female co-star.
When he sits down on a glass: To prevent his brother to go dance with Sabrina (and spoil his engagement to Elizabeth Tyson), Linus (Humphrey Bogart) invites him to sit on a chair where he has put a glass. Poor David! The glass obviously breaks when he sits down on it and he is in for a long convalescence. We feel sorry for David, but we certainly can’t avoid a few laughs!
When he falls on his butt but after sitting on the glasses: During his convalescence, David is once again hurt by falling on his already damaged butt. Another hilarious moment that proves that Holden had a perfect comedic timing.
THAT SMILE when Audrey Hepburn arrives at the ball: Once again, that’s a typical Golden Holden smile and it’s perfectly adorable. But who wouldn’t smile at the sight of Audrey Hepburn?
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Mark Robson, 1954)
When Grace Kelly waves at him and he waves back from the boat (the smiles): A quick but sweet romantic moment that perfectly expresses the love that these two have for each other.
The Country Girl (George Seaton, 1954)
When he kisses Grace Kelly passionately: On my! There’s full of passion indeed, but also tension in this scene. They are quarreling and he suddenly kisses her. Well, we’re not sure at first if it’s a way to express his love for her or if it’s just a way to make her shut up, but, no matter what, it remains an unforgettable moment that leaves you speechless.
When he becomes a vampire: I don’t remember much from this film, but this scene is one that nobody forgets. The theatrical acting is so exaggerated (in an intentional way) and the make-up is so cartoonish. It makes this moment an unforgettable one. And a purple vampire! :O (strange)
When he says “If they move, kill ’em!”: Wow! That’s a good way to chill our blood. This line is said without any pity and it immediately gives us the mood of the film. It also makes us realise that we are now far from the sweet Joe Bonaparte of Golden Boy.
Look at 2:10 to 2: 14 of this clip for this short line!
Every time he says let’s go: Robert Ryan says it too. It’s kind of something that unconsciously connects them. “Let’s go” is not something that seems quite extraordinary to say, but as it is said all the time in this film, it kind of became an iconic line(s). They even made a T-shirt out of it! 😉
When he waves at Robert Ryan with his hat just before the bridge explodes: We (the spectators) know exactly what is going to happen so we can’t help anticipating this moment. This waving is full of arrogance which, one more time, perfectly shows us the nature of Pike Bishop (Holden).
The most beautiful lines of the film: When the two lovers find each other back at the end of the film, he tells her: “Hello, my love”, to what Breezy (Kay Lenz) answers “Hello, my life.” This is just one of the most beautiful moments from the film and it agreeably makes you sigh.
When he welcomes Paul Newman and they shake hands: Hum, nothing so extraordinary about that, but I guess I just like the idea of Holden and Newman shaking hands. Plus, this one is effectuate with an admirable determination. We like that.
When he feels guilty: It takes long before Jim Duncan (Holden) realises the extent of the catastrophe, but, when he does, he obviously feels guilty about it. He does that little move with his chin (a typical Holden gesture) and we almost have the feeling he is trying not to cry. Anyway, he looks very sad and that just breaks my heart. 😥
When he punches Richard Chamberlain in the stomach : I know, violence is bad, but here I can’t help approving of this moment, because Roger Simmons (Chamberlain) certainly is one of the most annoying movie characters of all times.
These are, of course, not all the William Holden’s movies I’ve seen, there are 14 more… And I probably have many other favourite moments that I’m not thinking of right now. You are more than welcomed to share yours with me and that might be a good way to refresh my memory!
To read the other wonderful entries for this blogathon, please click here.
The Wonderful World of Cinema’s Cast (and Crew) Photos Competition is already over, and we have a winner!! Among 50 cast photos, you’ve elected this pic of The Philadelphia Story‘s casting as your favourite one!
I must say you have great tastes, because it is indeed a wonderful pic (and the movie is awesome as well)!!
I’ve told you that I might do something special with the winning pic. Well, I don’t think I will review the movie, because I’ve already done that twice, but I will start by using it as a new banner image! Modern Times has been there for quite some times now, so I think it’s definitely time for a change. And this pic will suit my blog perfectly!
Doing this type of photo contest was something I enjoyed very much ( I hope you did too!) and I’ll try to start another one soon!
Thanks again for voting and congratulation to The Philadelphia Story!
This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This was my journal entry on The Third Man (week 3)
Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out was on my long “to watch” list since I read a review of it written by one of my fellow bloggers. Film noir + James Mason + Carol Reed = what seemed to be for me a perfect combination. And it was! I didn’t remember the film was taking place in Northern Ireland, but I guess it was a good thing as it finally created a context (this course) for me to watch it.
To visualize some clips from The Third Man (with Joseph Cotten – I LOVE this actor) was quite relevant as an “introduction” to Odd Man Out. Personally, this brought back good memories of when I was in Vienna with my friend this summer: when we visited Prater (where there is the famous big wheel) and when we spent an afternoon with a friend of mine, Paul Henreid’s grandson, who showed us the famous “Third Man door” where, if my memory doesn’t fail me, Harry Lime makes his first appearance.
But, aside from bringing back good memories, watching the clips allowed us to make a great comparison with the cinematography of this film and Odd Man Out’s one. Being two noirs, I believed this element is the one that is the most similar from one film to another. For example, the night scenes of a city, showed with a lot of contrasts and shadows, wet streets and dark corners, seem to be recurrent in both films, as well as in film noir in general. In both films there is this mysterious and oppressing ambiance created by all this darkness and complex characters as well.
It’s interesting, because each time I watch a Carol Reed’s film, I can feel I am watching a Carol Reed’s film, even if some of them are very different. For example, my favourite one, A Girl Must Live, a comedy starring Carol Reed’s fetish actress, Margaret Lockwood, obviously has nothing to do with Odd Man Out, but somehow there is something in both films that tells me that it is a Carol Reed’s film. What it is? I can’t quite say. Is it due to the fact that they are British films? Because those are so different from American films, especially classic British films. I don’t know. Of course, it’s easier to do the comparison between Odd Man Out and The Third Man, as they are both film noirs.
Odd Man Out is not about the green Ireland that we saw in the following movie: The Quiet Man, but this is indeed a way to show us different aspects of Ireland’s life. While James Mason was not an Irish actor, I believe he did an interesting and convincing job. The co-actress, Kathleen Ryan (who was Irish), made me think so much of Patricia Roc, whom I could have perfectly imagined in this role as well (although she was British). The two makes a sad pair and perhaps represent the most tragic aspects of the film, the failure of the man character. Of course, there are many more to discuss about Odd Man Out, but I’ll stop here for the moment.
Bette Davis was one of the most iconic and talented actresses to ever grace the silver screen. She’s remembered for her strong personality, her impressive tact, her unique eyes and, of course, all those classics she starred in such as Jezebel, All About Eve, Now Voyager and many others. Except for the fact that she’s a timeless personality, she’s now significantly and symbolically back in our contemporary world with the new TV show Feud about the making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and her difficult relation with Joan Crawford, her co-star and rival.
In order to celebrate the “inimitable Bette Davis” as she calls her, my friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywoodis back this weekend with her 2nd annual Bette Davis Blogathon. We are highly thrilled to participate in the event as Mrs. Davis certainly is a worthy subject.
We can remember Bette Davis for the three collaboration she made with William Wyler, including one for which she won the Best Actress Oscar: Jezebel. While I’m not sure how I feel about this one and while The Little Foxes left me cold, The Letter is, without the shadow of a doubt, my favourite one.
The Letter was the second collaboration between Wyler and Davis. The film was released in 1940 and was a screen adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1927 play. The film received no less than seven Oscar nominations (but unfortunately didn’t win any of them): Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actress (Bette Davis), Best Supporting Actor (James Stephenson), Best Original Music Score (Max Steiner), Best Editing (Warren Low), Best Cinematography: Black and white (Tony Gaudio).
The Letter starts loudly with a series of ferocious gun bangs. Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) has just killed a man. She lives on a Malayan plantation with her British husband, Robert (Herbert Marshall), a plantation manager. He is not here when the drama takes place, but he arrives not soon after. The man Leslie has killed is Geoff Hammond (David Newell), a friend of the family. After calming down, Leslie explains to her husband, the police and her lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) what happened: Hammond tried to abuse her and she killed him in simple self-defense. Obviously, she has nothing to be blamed for. However, serious doubts about Leslie’s version of the facts start haunting Joyce’s mind when he is informed that a letter written by Leslie to Geoff is now in possession of Geoff’s Eurasian widow (Gale Sondergaard). The Letter was written the night Hammond died and Leslie was asking him to come see her. Mrs. Hammond requires $10 000 to give it back.
Bette said of The Letter that it was a “magnificent picture” (IMDB) and we feel that, despite a few disagreements she could have had with Wyler while making the film, she gave the best of herself and the result was a most memorable performance. Well, there’s that non-written rule that being in a William Wyler’s film almost assures you a place among the Oscar nominees. What I like about this performance, is that we see a bit of everything Davis. Sure, at the beginning, she’s the Bette Davis who stands up for her own rights and acts spontaneously without really thinking. She’s the 20th-century woman who is not scared to defy the opposite sex. This opening shot, of Bette David shooting Hammond is not only one of the best in film history because it happens so suddenly, but also because of Bette Davis’ acting games: she doesn’t have to say anything to make us feel her rage; her furious gaze, her determined gestures do all the job. Bette uses her usual theatricality in this role, but she manages to balance it wells and her performance remains one worthy of the cinematic world. Despite the fact that she portrays a rather ambiguous character, it’s easy to become fond of Bette Davis in The Letter. She is presented in a favourable light and the worst we could feel for her is pity. What I also like about this performance is that Bette expresses a beautiful sensibility. The way she talks, the way she reacts, her interactions with the other actors/characters are all for it.
Because yes, despite being excellent in her role, Bette is also excellent at sharing the screen with the others. We feel a strong connection between her and her husband played by the marvellous Herbert Marshall. We feel that, despite the curse of the event, they’ll be ready to fight for each other’s love, until… a fatal declaration is abruptly made by Bette. There’s an interesting opposition created by Bette and Gale Sondergaard who plays Hammond’s widow. While Bette is often the strongest woman of the lot, the one others fear, here, it’s the opposite: she is totally oppressed by Mrs. Hammond’s authority and hate for her. This adds something original and unforgettable in Bette’s career. Finally, one of the most interesting character relation could be the one between Leslie and her lawyer, Howard Joyce. Because he knows more than the others know about the murder, their interactions create a delicious suspense throughout the film. The tension is omnipresent in their discussions and we feel everything between them could change abruptly.
It’s for all these reasons, and probably many other that I didn’t think of writing, that Bette Davis gave one of her best performances in The Letter.
If I mainly wanted to focus on Bette Davis in this article, there’s one element of the film I cannot skip writing about, and this is the cinematography. It’s not surprising that the film was nominated in this category at the Oscars. Well, the competition was hard since it competed against Hitchcock’s Rebecca, who finally won the award (and that was deserved). William Wyler and cinematographer Tony Gaudio knew perfectly how to create a connection between the image and the narrative elements. For example, at the beginning, the camera shows the plantation where the Malaysian workers sleep. The night is filmed in an impressive sharpness, and these images could almost inspire a poet. Then, after Leslie has killed Hammond, the camera focuses on the sky, and what we see is an image to remember: the moon is slowly swallowed by the grey clouds. This sinister vision could easily symbolize the fact that something tragic just happened.
Let’s take a look at this scene:
For its visual dimension, The Letter could easily be categorized as a Film Noir. Indeed, Gaudio likes to play with the shadows in several shots as you can see it here:
Title: LETTER, THE (1940) ¥ Pers: DAVIS, BETTE ¥ Year: 1940 ¥ Dir: WYLER, WILLIAM ¥ Ref: LET021BA ¥ Credit: [ WARNER BROS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]
Gaudio successfully manages to transpose this idea of Film Noir in an exotic environment. Bette adds her touch of orientalist when she wears that beautiful white veil made of lace when she meets Mrs. Hammond. This veil almost seems to shine in the night but has to compete with Mrs. Hammond blinding jewels.
The Letter, despite being a dark story, is presented to us in a bright and elegant visual way.
There will be much more to develop about The Letter, but I will leave this to the experts or those who benefit from more precious free time than I do (stuuuuudent life!).
Many thanks to Crystal for allowing me to write about the spellbinding film that The Letter is. Obviously, Bette can be celebrated for many other reasons, many other roles and it’s what you’ll discover by exploring the other entries of The Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathonby clicking here.
When Paula, Kellee and Aurora announced that they’ll be back for a fifth edition of their famous What a Character! Blogathon, I said to myself that this was something I shouldn’t skip and that I had to choose the right subject. I was supposed to write an entry, last year, about Jessie Royce Landis, but due to a lack of time, I had to skip it. I was a bit angry at myself because I had everything prepared, but well, those things happen. But I didn’t want to make this mistake again this year. I didn’t want to pick something too obvious like Claude Rains or Thelma Ritter (don’t get me wrong, I love those two). I first thought of Jack Carson. I love Jack and I was obviously thrilled at the idea of writing something about him and see more of his films. But then I said to myself “wait, Virginie, you have to look for the other possibilities. Jack Carson isn’t the only great character actor.” Then I thought of a few others, including George Kennedy and George Kennedy made me think of ARTHUR Kennedy. I remembered enjoying Arthur Kennedy’s few performances I had seen and even putting him in the 47th place or so of my top 100 favourite actors (now he would very probably be higher). I decided that he would be my character actor for the blogathon and, believe me, I couldn’t have made a better choice. I simply grew up loving him while I was preparing this blogathon, and now I’m totally fascinated by him. For example, last Wednesday, I was working and I was so impatient to finish so I could get home and watch Arthur Kennedy’s movies! I was (and still am) thinking about him ALL the time when I was preparing this blogathon. If he has such a presence on screen, no wonder why he also has a great one in my mind too! It’s been a long time since I’ve been so motivated about the writing of an article. Feels good!
I feel there’s so much I want to say about him. I should start by giving you my general appreciation of this actor and then will focus more particularly on the films I decided to watch for the blogathon, which are: City for Conquest, Elmer Gantry, Champion, High Sierra, Bright Victory, The Man From Laramie, The Desperate Hours, A Summer Place, The Window and Murder She Said... I like that because it reminds me of the good old times when I was doing those movie stars marathons. 🙂
Well, Arthur Kennedy, dear Arthur Kennedy. Was he Jack Nicholson’s father? Could have been, but that’s something we’ll very probably never know. But, on my side, I like to think he was. It might be just a fantasy, but I like the idea that those two amazing stars could be relatives. And I have to say, Arthur does make me think of Jack! They both have this unique smile. Similar eyes too, but I’ll say that Arthur’s one are gentler, softer. Their voice is similar too, without being exactly the same. Ok, this might just be me, but I think Arthur Kennedy’s voice sounds like a mix of Jack Nicholson, William Holden, and Joseph Cotten’s voice. I know, it’s quite a mix, but it’s just an impression I have if I pay enough attention to this detail. It’s, in fact, a voice that can be at the time very kind and comforting, but also more “rough” when it is necessary. Always agreeable to hear. We don’t associate Arthur Kennedy to crazy characters like we often do with Jack Nicholson, but I could imagine him in some of Jack Nicholson’s role and vice versa, without any problem.
I’ve compared a lot Arthur Kennedy and Jack Nicholson’s physical traits. And that leads me to answer a question: YES, yes I think Kennedy was handsome. He didn’t have a typical handsome face like Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck, but there was something about him. He was handsome in his own way and what glorified him was his impressive charisma, his self-confidence. Charisma is always a winner for me. And he had a unique face. Arthur Kennedy was Arthur Kennedy, he couldn’t have been anybody else and nobody could have been him.
But of course, I don’t like him only because of his physical appearance (!), but also because of his acting skills. Before I started working on this blogathon, the Arthur Kennedy’s films I had seen were Lawrence of Arabia, Elmer Gantry, The Desperate Hours and City for Conquest. I somehow thought that he was one of these very underrated actors who never received any Oscar nomination or so. Yes, yes, like all character actors he is condemned to be underrated, condemn not to be remembered as an iconic actor and that’s the sad truth, but about the Oscars I was wrong. Arthur didn’t receive any, but he was nominated for no less than 5 of them! I think that’s something to be proud of. These were for Champion (Best Supporting Actor), Bright Victory (Best Actor), Trial (Best Supporting Actor), Peyton Place (Best Supporting Actor) and Some Came Running (Best Supporting Actor). Ok, I personally would have nominated him for all his roles, but we can’t have everything! Notice that, except for Some Came Running, all those films were directed by Mark Robson. Arthur Kennedy often played under the direction of Mark Robson and I believe this one was able to bring the best in him. So, hurray for Mark Robson!
Arthur Kennedy is always a good support in the films in stars in. To be honest, some (many) of them wouldn’t be the same without his presence. He is a wise actor and that wisdom is shown in his subtlety, the fact that he never overacts or “explodes” when it isn’t necessary. He’s a thoughtful and reflected actor. While I was watching his movies for the blogathon, I’ve noticed that, while he knows what he’s doing, he is, at the same time, constantly looking for a way to improve himself and make a scene be as worthy as possible. He is in constable harmony with the movie atmosphere or with the other actors’ acting skills. Arthur Kennedy is an actor who observes.
This great character actor is good at playing characters that are a bit hard to size. There’s often an aura of mystery around them. Men that we don’t exactly know how they are inside. Not meaning that they are bad, but just a bit secret. This also creates an aura of mystery around the actor himself. And that’s why I would love to read the book Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters: A Stage and Cinema Biography. It seems to be an excellent one! Somehow, I could often associate myself with Mr. Kennedy. I think that “ambiguity” was a major factor. I’m a bit like that myself, creating a sort of wall so people won’t know too much about me, what I think and feel.
Arthur Kennedy apparently did some great stage work too. He started as an actor on Broadway in 1937. Too bad we aren’t able to see some of his stage work anymore… I do wish time machines would exist!
The impressive versatility of Mr. Kennedy as an actor was shown through a range of memorable films. It’s his performances in those films and the movie characters he portrayed that I am now going to explore in 10 of his films. Warning: I won’t be providing any plot summary for the simple reason that I don’t want this post being longer that it already is. I shall strictly focus on Mr. Kennedy’s performances and characters. Of course, I will prevent some plot elements if necessary.
Film 1 : City for Conquest (Anatole Litvak, 1940)
Role: Eddie Kenny
Nothing better than starting all this with Arthur Kennedy’s first on-screen role. In this film, he plays a musician and music composer, and James Cagney’s brother, who portrays a boxer. The two actors are in perfect harmony and support each other with their respective talents. The film provides some very touching scenes between him and Cagney, especially in the parts where Cagney is at the hospital after having been badly injured during a boxing match. Even if this was Arthur Kennedy’s first role and not the leading one, he certainly steals some scenes. He was young and full of life. Even James Cagney seemed impressed by him! And if I’m not mistaken, it’s James Cagney who discovered him for the role. As a music composer, he is passionate and passionating. In this concert scene, when he leads the orchestra, he is shown in an impressive glory and dynamism. Anatole Litvak did a great job at giving him scenes that would emphasize is talent and make us noticing him. Finally, we observe that the character he’s portraying is one that is often calm, but can explode. This is not only felt in his music and the way he plays piano, but also in the boxing match scene when is brother is being completely destroyed. The desperate Arthur Kennedy certainly breaks our hearts.
Film 2: Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)
Role: Jim Lefferts
I think this is one of my very favourite Arthur Kennedy’s roles and performances. In this world full of “passionate” Christians, he plays a reporter and perhaps the most normal character of the gang. What I like about Jim Lefferts is the fact that he represents the non-Christian spectators like me. Due to that, and other elements, Elmer Gantry is a film many can appreciate. I’m not religious at all, and religion is the central theme of the film. It remains a favourite and I believe Arthur Kennedy has a lot to do with it (of course I’m also a big fan of Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons). Jim Lefferts is a character that is hard to size. He is sort of a double- faced one, which makes him quite interesting. Arthur Kennedy is a great support to Jean Simmons and Burt Lancaster. He sort of adds a touch of wisdom in the film, in this crazy world! But what I appreciate the most about his performance is the fact that, while I was watching the film, me and him sometimes had the same facial expressions at the same time. That connection felt great! Due to that, he’s the character I understand the best in Elmer Gantry. Arthur Kennedy also plays a reporter in the masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. Once again, his “normality” creates an interesting contrast with Lawrence of Arabia himself, a greatly interesting man on many levels.
Film 3: Champion (Mark Robson, 1949)
Role: Connie Kelly
For his performance in Champion, Arthur Kennedy received his first Oscar nomination. Here, he, once again, plays a brother, and, once again, he is a boxer’s brother (Kirk Douglas’s one this time)! It’s with this film that I noticed how Arthur Kennedy was excellent at playing men with a certain concern, who often worry about what is happening around them. In Champion, Arthur Kennedy is again the most “down to Earth” character, unlike his brother whose fame isn’t doing any good. When he tries to reason him, it doesn’t seem to really work and we wish we could be here to help! Arthur Kennedy has a great chemistry with all the actors in this film, but what particularly struck me were his scenes with Ruth Roman. Those are simply beautiful. If we are good watchers, we can see, from the beginning of the film, that Connie is in love with Emma (Ruth Roman). I personally think he is the one who deserved her the most. The film also contains some memorable scenes between him and Kirk Douglas, especially the final one: just before Midge Kelly (Kirk Douglas)’s 2nd boxing match against Johnny Dunne, the two men are having an argument which ends in a fight. Arthur Kennedy puts an impressive range of emotion in this scene as the desperate men who doesn’t know what to do anymore to reason his brother. Once again, he “explodes” at the perfect moment. Finally, Champion is a film that can be praised for his impressive black and white cinematography. Due to that, Kennedy is as much filmed in a glorious way as Douglas is. One of my favourite shots is when he walks in the dark corridors that lead to the ring. The only light is focused on him and we can see the despair in his face and that he knows that [spoiler] all this won’t end with a happy ending… [end of spoiler]
Film 4: High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)
Role: Red Hattery
Arthur Kennedy’s role in High Sierra was a smaller one. As a matter of fact, it was his second on-screen role. But small or not, just because it’s Arthur Kennedy we appreciate any of his roles. I like the fact that one of the first things we see from him in this film noir is a smiling Arthur Kennedy. The film was, of course, much more Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino’s one. Arthur Kennedy simply plays one of those typical criminal “assistants” that are too often overshadowed. And I think that’s too bad and it would have been interesting to see more of him in the film. His acting shows potential and it would have been great if his character would have been more well-developed.
Film 5: Bright Victory (Mark Robson, 1951)
Role: Larry Nevins
Finally a leading role for Mr. Kennedy! An another Oscar nomination too. 🙂 We must admit that the competition was high at the 1952’s Oscar for the Best actor category: Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen (the winner), Marlon Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire, Montgomery Clift for A Place in the Sun, Fredric March for Death of a Salesman (ok, that’s the one I haven’t seen, but I bet he deserved the nomination!) and, of course, Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner, but, in my heart, they all are! 😉 When I started watching the film, Arthur Kennedy made me smile immediately. Not that he is doing anything that could voluntary make us smile, he’s just driving a car, but simply the fact that he’s here and that I was beginning to know him more and more. You know, just as if he was a friend. 🙂 In Bright Victory, he plays a man who becomes blind after being injured in the war. The moment when he receives the bullet and closes his eyes to express the pain is just perfect. Because he plays a blind man, Arthur Kennedy had to express a lot his emotions with his mouth, his voice, his gestures, and he did it right. I’ve noticed how he uses a lot his hands to show the tension his character is feeling, and this, especially after the heartbreaking scene when he learns that he won’t ever be able to see again. The scene where he tries to see his reflection in a mirror after having learned the bad news shows an emotional Arthur Kennedy, but, this time, emotional for what is happening to him and not what is happening to his relatives like in City for Conquest or Champion. Arthur Kennedy often shows an impressive energy and dynamism in this film, but can be calmer too. For example, when the lieutenant wants him to inform his family about his blindness, he looks at him like a little boy who has done something wrong. Poor Arthur! That telephone scene with his mother certainly is heartbreaking. Another great example would be this scene when he dances with Judy (Peggy Dow). There’s a lot of softness in him and it’s nice to see a romantic Arthur Kennedy! The evening ends with a kiss (and that was the first time I was seeing Kennedy is a kissing scene. Very worthy. *sight*….). You know that I love when Arthur Kennedy smiles, so, of course, that scene when he discovered that he has a sort of “natural radar” that allows him to “feel” the obstacles that are on his way is one of my favourite. He seems so happy and we know that his life will be alright after all. To continue with the touching scenes, I like the fact that Arthur Kennedy is very good with the girls in this film. That scene when he discovers Judy is crying is forever touching and almost made me cry. Or the fact that there’s always a lot of tenderness when he hugs Chris (Julie Adams), or when [spoiler] he hugs Judy in the final scene at the train station: the emotion! Simply beautiful! [end of spoiler] Arthur Kennedy was very thoughtful in this role. He somehow manages to make us feel his emotions and the emotion of his partners, with whom he always has an excellent chemistry. He is an actor who listens, who pays attention to his environment. If the feeling of anxiety is well expressed by Arthur Kennedy is this film, it’s also the case for the feelings of hope and happiness. The only thing I would have appreciated more from this film, and that’s not Arthur Kennedy’s fault, would have been to see more close-ups of his face. There’s one scene that does justice to that: when he’s on the balcony and opens and closes a light. There’s something sad in this scene, that is not only shown by his solemn face, but also by the light itself, as we know that, open or closed, it doesn’t make much difference for Larry Nevins’s eyes…
Film 6: The Man From Laramie (Anthony Mann, 1955)
Role: Vic Hansbro
The viewing of this film was a special one for me as Arthur Kennedy was starring on the sides of James Stewart, my favourite actor. It also was the first (and only one so far) western starring Kennedy that I was seeing. And the man is great in every type of role. Kennedy makes his first appearance in the film when he arrives to stop James Stewart’s aggressors. He warns Jimmy to not cause trouble in the town, and when Jimmy doesn’t “respect that” he has a fight with him. :O But strangely, unlike Jimmy he is quite calm after the fight. Arthur Kennedy still is a very “attentive” actor in this film. He has so much presence, even when he isn’t saying or doing anything. While he remains a very “relax” character (at a certain point) his unique love scene with Cathy O’Donnell (as Barbara Waggoman) is more aggressive and shows a more savage passion than the scenes with Peggy Dow in Bright Victory for example. Kennedy often proves is great acting abilities at many moments of the film. When he has a confrontation with Alec Waggoman (Donal Crips), toward the beginning of the film, he is angry, bitter and convincing. He NEVER overacts, but that doesn’t mean he has a lack of dynamism and good theatricality. He’s always very natural when he’s angry. When Dave is making a fire to attract the Indian’s attention, his “he’s completely crazy” face is just perfect. Kennedy shows a certain authority and remains [spoiler] and ambiguous villain. [end of spoiler] We just don’t see him coming. In the final confrontation with James Stewart, is desperate “What did I do to you!” makes us realize that he’s not the worst villain there is, mostly a misunderstood man. He then becomes the victim. He is “controlled” by James Stewart and we are not used to see Arthur Kennedy, the one who always stands up, the one who is so independent, receiving orders. That scene has one of my favourite Arthur Kennedy’s moment: his ” what the hell did we just do” face after he and James Stewart pushed the wagon full of rifles down the cliff simply cracks me up with laughs!
Film 7: The Desperate Hours (William Wyler, 1955)
Role: Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard
Just like City for Conquest and Elmer Gantry, this was not my first viewing of The Desperate Hours. But I was impatient to see it again to pay a better attention to Kennedy’s performance. In this film directed by my third favourite movie director, William Wyler, Arthur Kennedy plays a deputy sheriff and he’s just perfect at it. He is greatly involved in his role and shows an impressive concentration. Depending on the situation, he knows perfectly how to choose the right facial expressions. Kennedy was a natural. If he loses his patient, it’s always in the appropriated circumstances, but he knows how stays reasonable. Kennedy stands tall in every scene of the film and always owns the screen. When I came at the point of watching this film, I was recognizing Arthur Kennedy’s voice more and more, and that’s something I always like. As a “detective”, he couldn’t have been better. With his long grey coat, his hat, his cigarette he is highly convincing. Jesse Bard is a man who knows what he’s doing. Never he will put the victims in danger, despite the very delicate situation. He makes the right decisions and saves the family in a wise way. Finally, the final shots of Arthur Kennedy in The Desperate Hours shows some great close-ups of his profile, which allows us to see his very “typed” face.
In this melodrama, Arthur Kennedy plays an alcoholic family father. What I like about this film is the fact that he is one of the first actors we see. He is here at the very beginning. Yes! Bart Hunter is a man with a certain sense of humour. That unique smile of his and those cheekbones are obviously always welcomed. 😉 Bart Hunter is a very daring man. But he’s quite patient and constantly trying to calm the atmosphere (for example, when Molly and Johnny are missing). But he can also lose his temper. For example, in this confrontation with his wife (played by Dorothy MacGuire): this scene is very interesting as it shows a different face of Bart Hunter. He becomes a broken man from a broken family. There’s a long part in the film where we don’t see Kennedy, but his “comeback” is a powerful one. Molly and Johnny find him, drunk, and announce him their engagement. It’s impressive how he’s staying very calm and patient while he’s expressing his disapproval. In this scene, Bart has a moment of physical weakness and the feeling of pain is very well acted by Arthur Kennedy. A Summer Place was a great opportunity for Arthur Kennedy to show his versatility as an actor in a very complex and, I believe, very misunderstood role. At some points, he really made me think of Jack Nicholson, but I can’t really explain why! Finally, one thing I love about Arthur Kennedy in this film is this moment when he says something in French. Of course, as this is my first language, it’s always something I appreciate. When Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford) says that the bedroom is “très, très jolie” he replies ” Votre approbation touch mon coeur madame.” That was too charming and this accent was too sweet, I had to play the scene a second time. The funny thing is that Mrs. Jorgenson doesn’t understand what he’s saying so Molly (Sandra Dee) has to do the translation. It’s always nice to have a sort of connection with our favourite actors! 😉
Film 9: The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949)
Role: Mr. Ed Woodry
The Window was a very interesting film about a boy who witnesses a murder, but that nobody believes due to his reputation of always telling stories. Here, Arthur Kennedy once again plays a family father. He was young and handsome in 1949 and had a lot of style. Mr. Woodry is a very patient man who first listens to his son’s stories with a certain amusement. But after he tells him about the murder, he tries to reason him and convince him that what he saw probably was just his imagination or that he is telling another story. We feel he becomes irritated by his son at some point, but he remains always very patient. Ok, I must admit there’s a moment in this film that really frighten me for a moment: after his son has run away from the house by his bedroom’s window to go tell the police about the story, Arthur Kennedy tells him “There’s something I will have to do, even if I don’t like it” or something like that, and he takes what looks like a wooden stick in a drawer. When I was watching that I was thinking “NO! No, he’s going to beat his son with this wooden stick. Please, Arthur Kennedy, don’t break my heart!” And the most frightening thing about it was the fact that he was staying very calm, just like a psychopath, you know. You can’t imagine my relief when I realized that this wooden stick was just the handle of a hammer and that he was only going to use it to close the bedroom’s window. Ouf! Don’t worry, Ed Woodry is a good father!
Film 10: Murder She Said… (George Pollock, 1962)
Role: Dr. Paul Quimper
We finally come to our last film. In this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel starring Margaret Rutherford as the notorious Miss Marple, Arthur Kennedy plays a family doctor. He is a gentleman, quite agreeable. I’ve noticed that Arthur Kennedy’s voice in this film seems a bit more low-pitched than in the previous ones. But that might just be an impression! Anyway, it’s just a small detail. Dr. Quimper has a secret romance with Emma: we like that! The way he pronounces the name “Emma” is soft and beautiful. We, however, notice a certain tension in him when [spoiler] Miss Marple discovers that he is the murderer. But he handles this in a brilliant way, without any unnecessary rage. [end of spoiler]. Murder She Said… certainly is a fun film and it was a great way to end my little marathon. However, as Arthur Kenned is the second actor credited, I would have expected to see more scenes with him. That’s the only thing that disappointed me a bit about the film.
My viewing of Arthur Kennedy’s films certainly won’t stop here. I know I still have a lot to see, including his other Oscar performances. But this marathon made him an absolute favourite of mine, and as I’ve said in the beginning of this article, I couldn’t have chosen a better subject for the What a Character! Blogathon! I would have liked to talk also about his performance in Lawrence of Arabia, but I didn’t have time to re-watch this very long film in time for the blogathon. However, Monday I’m going to see the film on the big screen! 😀 Jealous? 😉
The wisdom of Arthur Kennedy impressed me much and the very thoughtful and calm character he plays in those 10 films sort of made me a better person. Arthur Kennedy has a great influence on me, because, since I’m watching his film for the blogathon, it seems that I am more patient myself. I’ve learned a lot from Arthur Kennedy and I’m forever grateful.
I hope that with this quite long article (!) I was convincing enough on why Arthur Kennedy is such a great character actor and deserves more recognition.