April 17th (Friday) marked William Holden’s 91st birthday. As someone who is admittedly a fan but also admitting to not seeing films such as The Wild Bunch (1969) and Network (1976) to their completion, here in no particular order are a list of what I feel are some notable Holden performances:
Picnic (1955) – the Cinemascope/Technicolor combination makes this film feel like a big sweeping epic. Which is strange since is hails from a stage show, which in general tend to be more confined. It just looks like a “big” picture. While I do not think that this is the best of Holden’s performances, I still enjoyed the picture. A great part of my reservation stems from the fact that while Holden’s Hal Carter is a bit world-weary (much list the actor in real life) there is an immaturity in Hal that Holden does not seem to be able to capture. It truly is a compliment to the fact that by this time in his life Holden himself appeared to be a man who “got it” and would not live under such delusions.
Sunset Boulevard (1950) – one of his finer performances. As much as we are taken in by the bravura performance of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, Holden performance is a perfect foil with its nonchalant indifference to the glare of Hollywood. No wonder he received his first Oscar nomination!
Apartment for Peggy (1947) – this such a cute movie especially for slow afternoon. Truly diverting and pleasure to watch.
Our Town (1940) – I watched this movie again the other night on late-night public television. I think this film is especially noted for a fine turn from pre-WWII Holden. When referencing his performance, the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther in his June 14, 1940 review stated, “William Holden plays the boy with a clean and refreshing youthfulness.” Among the awards bestowed upon this film: “10 Best Films” – 1940 New York Times; “10 Best Films” – 1940 Film Daily; Best Acting – 1940 National Board of Review (Martha Scott and William Holden). In addition it was nominated in the following categories: 1940 Oscars – Best Actress (Martha Scott); Best Black and White Art Direction (Lewis Rachmil); Best Score and Original Score (Aaron Copland); Best Picture; Best Sound (Thomas T. Moulton); 1940 National Board of Review for Best Picture.
Stalag 17 (1953) – my personal fave and by sheer coincidence Holden’s Award-winning performance as Sefton, a cynical, self-serving POW who ends up being our hero by film’s end.
For those who are interested in learning about the life of William Holden the actor and the man, I recommend Bob Thomas’ Golden Boy: the Untold Story of William Holden is a very good biography. It tells the story straight without too many salacious details.