Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The 100th Birthday of William Holden

It was 100 years ago today that William Holden was born in O'Fallon, Illinois. He was one of the biggest stars from the mid-Fifties into the early Sixties, ranking every year in the top twenty of Quigley Publishing's Top Money Making Stars poll of theatre owners. He also won won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Stalag 17 (1953).  While his career would decline in the Sixties, he would make a comeback in the Seventies. To this day he remains one of the best remembered stars of the late 20th Century.

If William Holden was so successful as an actor, it was perhaps because he was extremely versatile. He was handsome enough to be a romantic lead, but looked rugged enough that he could be equally convincing in action films. Indeed, for many people he might always be womanising playboy David Larrabee in Sabrina (1954). Although it would be his best known romantic comedy, it was not the only one in which he appeared. He was reunited with Sabrina co-star Audrey Hepburn in Paris When It Sizzles (1964), once more playing a playboy. He also appeared in The Moon is Blue (1954), in which he also played a playboy (who also happened to be an architect). William Holden was very adept at playing the sort of roles for which Cary Grant was well known, that of charming playboys who always got the girl. He also starred in such romantic comedies as Dear Ruth (1947) and Born Yesterday (1950).

Of course, not every comedy William Holden made was a romantic comedy. What is more, some of the comedies in which Mr. Holden appeared could be very dark. Stalag 17 (1954) is arguably as much a comedy as it is a drama. Indeed, it is set in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during World War II. What is more, Mr. Holden's character is a far cry from the charming playboys he sometimes played. Sgt. J. J. Sefton was a hard-nosed cynic who came from somewhat less than wealthy circumstances. As strange as it might sound, the satire Network (1976) is arguably darker than Stalag 17. In the film he plays Howard Beale, a long time evening news anchor who has a psychotic break, an event that his network takes full advantage of. Mr. Holden was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor and some might argue that he should have won.

While William Holden made a number of comedies, he is also well known for his action-adventure films. Indeed, two of his most famous movies could be counted as action-adventure films. The first was the epic war movie The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), in which he played Commander Shears. Held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, Shears and the other prisoners are forced to work on the construction of a railway bridge over the River Kwai. The second was The Wild Bunch (1969), the famous Western in which William Holden played ageing outlaw Pike Bishop. Over the years Mr. Holden appeared in so many action-adventure films that many probably identify him with that genre more than any other. He appeared in war movies such as Submarine Command (1951), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), and The Devil's Brigade (1968). He appeared in Westerns such as Texas (1941), The Man from Colorado (1948), Streets of Laredo (1949), and The Horse Soldiers (1959). He even appeared in disaster movies, the most famous being The Towering Inferno (1954).

With Mr. Holden's talent he could easily play drama, and one of his most famous films is a drama. Indeed, it could be considered film noir. In Sunset Boulevard (1950) he played ill-fated screenwriter Joe Gillis. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role. He also played Hal Carter, the drifter who disrupts life in a small Kansas town in Picnic (1955). In Executive Suite (1954) he played Vice President for Design and Development Don Walling. The Dark Past (1948) was another film noir. This time he actually played a bad guy, psychotic killer Al Walker.

William Holden was an extremely talented and versatile actor, whose many roles have definitely left their mark on film history. The characters of William Holden remain recognisable to even casual film viewers, whether as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, Sefton in Stalag 17, Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch, or Howard Beale in Network, or a few other roles. 100 years after his birth, William Holden remains one of the best remembered actors to emerge from Hollywood.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

William Holden certainly left his mark on a number of genres and classic films. I imagine each of us as that "one" we associate him with most, and then the many other great performances crowd around.