Classic Movie Legend Tribute: William Holden


Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend, William Holden, born on April 17th, 1918!

William Holden, the Golden Boy

I’ll be honest with you, (hopefully) loyal reader, it took me a while to ‘get’ William Holden. My first experience with Holden was in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, and I found myself much more smitten by Bogart even though I freely admit Holden gave a better performance.  After watching that film, I began my quest to watch any and all Bogart films I could get my hand on, while Holden slipped further and further from my mind. Of course, I had watched more Holden movies but my reasons were never to simply watch Holden. I watched The Bridges at Toko-Ri because of my love for Mickey Rooney and Grace Kelly, and saw Picnic while on a brief Kim Novak kick. It wasn’t until I re-watched my favorite movie, Sunset Blvd, for probably the 5th time, that the appeal of Holden hit me.

William Holden with Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. (1954, Billy Wilder Director)
How could I not understand?

You see, even though Sunset Blvd is my favorite film; I never initially paid too much attention to Holden. Sure, I knew he gave a stellar performance, but I was also too distracted by the larger-life-performance of Gloria Swanson or the perfectly paced direction of Billy Wilder to truly notice Holden. But now, well; now I get it.

When I finally paid attention to Holden, I saw the sardonic whimsy he added to his performance. In world such as Sunset Blvd – a world of over the top characters and surreal situations – Holden’s attitude remained humorously observant. Although he participated in the riff-raff that was Norma Desmond’s life, he never becomes all-consumed by it. Even when he had given into Desmond’s personal affection, he remains sardonically aloof.

William Holden at his aloof best in Sunset Blvd (1950, Billy Wilder director)

And that is the essence of the Holden persona. Although grounded by reality, he never lets it dictate how he participates in the world. Rather than allow the seriousness and heaviness of life consume his behavior, he sees and points to the absurdities that exist within said seriousness. He floats through life, meandering from one situation to another, allowing himself to experience whatever absurdities are thrown his way before they throw him in a completely new direction.


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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