For the fourth year running, Virginie at The Wonderful World Of Cinema is honouring the actor William Holden. She is joined this year by co-hosts Emily at The Flapper Dame, and Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I LOVE William Holden. He is one of my favourite American actors from the classic film era. He’s such a likeable actor and makes his acting look effortless. He is also someone who I will watch in any kind of film. I like how he could so easily switch between dramatic and comic roles and convince in those varied roles. He could be suave, smooth and funny in one film, and then in the next he could become someone much darker and far more complex.
I’m going to talk about my five favourite William Holden films. Not only do I love these films and his performances in them so much, but I also think that these five films highlight his range as an actor.
5 – Sunset Blvd (1950)
This masterpiece is really where William’s career took off big time in my opinion. He is superb as Joe Gillis, the struggling screenwriter desperate for money. I love how he conveys to us how conflicted and desperate Joe is.
William makes sure that Joe has our sympathy for much of the film, but when Joe becomes just another user of the damaged Norma, he loses much of my sympathy.
All of the characters in this film are complex and fascinating. Joe Gillis is one of the most fascinating characters of them all. Does he feel something for Norma? Is he filled with some self loathing at what he is doing to her? Does he hate the profession through which he earns his living? These are the questions that William makes us ponder as we watch him in this film. He more than holds his own against the mighty Gloria Swanson, who it is fair to say is the real highlight of the film as the deranged and damaged Norma Desmond. William delivers one of his best performances in this film.
4- Sabrina (1954)
This is the film that made me a fan of William Holden’s for life. He is perfect as the suave and dashing David Larrabee, the charming playboy who is the object of Sabrina’s affections.
I like how David starts off as this fun figure, but then later in the film becomes much more mature. This change allows us see that there is so much more to him than first meets the eye.
William makes David quite an irresistible character. It is not hard to see why so many women fall for this guy. He is charming, he is classy, he is fun, and he has that ability to make each of the women he dates feel special and as though they are the only woman in his life. We may not approve of how he moves on from woman to woman, but we can’t hate him because he is not a callous or cruel man. I’m sure that is the way David was written to be, but William makes it very clear to us that David is a nice guy despite his faults and flaws. I can’t imagine anyone other than him in this role.
3 – Breezy (1973)
I think that William shows a vulnerability here that audiences had never seen in him before. He is terrific as the middle aged Frank Harmon, a man very much set in his ways, who learns to love life and be more chilled out.
The reason for his transformation is Breezy, an older teenager who falls in love with him. Despite their age gap, the pair develop genuine romantic and emotional feelings for each other. Frank struggles with what other people will think of their relationship, while Breezy doesn’t care and doesn’t understand why there has to be such a fuss made about age in relationships. I agree with her; if a relationship is consensual on both sides and the couple are happy, then why should anyone else care if there is an age gap between a couple?
William plays Frank as being quite tentative and not the one in control during the course of the developing relationship. This tentative and vulnerable quality is the complete opposite of many of the romantic characters William had played before this; men who were charming ladies men and who knew just what they were doing, both romantically and also sexually. I think it was quite a brave role for him to take really, because he’s showing us an inner vulnerability and really changing his screen image quite a bit in the process.
2 – Stalag 17 (1953)
In the film that won him his first and only Acdemy Award, William Holden delivers one of his very best performances. He is terrific as the cynical and watchful J.J. Sefton. You can’t take your eyes off him when he is in a scene. He has your attention even when he is doing nothing more than lying down or looking at someone.
Set in a German POW camp during WW2, Sefton is an American prisoner who barters openly with the guards for things like food. His fellow prisoners are suspicious of him, and become even more suspicious when they believe he told the guards there was an escape attempt being carried out, an attempt which resulted in the murder of the two escapees. Sefton however certainly isn’t the traitor and he has no love for the Germans. I love how William plays this role. His performance is subtle(watch his eyes when he’s watching other people)and it’s interesting to see him playing a much tougher and colder character than he had ever played before.
1 – Paris When It Sizzles (1963)
We finally come to my favourite William Holden performance. In this hilarious, and seriously underrated spoof about making films, William gets to play quite a wide variety of different characters.
William plays a weary and cynical screenwriter, a spy, a criminal and even a vampire! He gets to be romantic, tender, serious, a man of action, cynical, weary, funny and very mysterious too.
I think it’s great to see him get the chance to show so much acting range, and to do so all in one film too! I love that this film allows him to show how funny he could be. I think it’s a shame that he didn’t get offered more comic roles.
I also like that there is an added poignancy in the scenes where his main character, Richard Benson, longs for Audrey Hepburn’s character. William and Audrey had an affair when they made the film Sabrina. Bill never stopped loving her. It must have been agony for him to be around her again during this film. I believe that his sorrowful and tender expressions/gestures in their romantic scenes are his real feelings for her showing through to us.
What are your favourite William Holden performances?