Sunset Boulevard 1950 Directed by Billy Wilder. If you missed this classic you’re not a real film fan. Struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) is drawn like a fly into the web of demented Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a faded silent screen star living in a fantasy world. Belief in a comeback is perpetuated by butler/ex- husband, Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim – wonderful). Joe leaves his work, friends, and a girl behind to play Desmond’s gigolo (with no hint of sex), ostensibly rewriting a script for Salome, reaping gifts. Telling Norma the truth results in tragedy.
Regarded as a fictional composite inspired by such as Norma Talmadge, Mae Murray and Clara Bow. Best Story and Screenplay Academy Awards. Free with Amazon Prime.
Born Yesterday 1950 Based on the stage play by Garson Kanin. Directed by George Cukor. Eminently witty. Crass, bullying tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) brings his ditsy, chorus girl lover Billie Dawn (Judy Holiday – Best Actress Academy Award) to Washington, D.C., in hopes of masking illegal business. To keep her occupied and improve manners helpful in higher social circles, he hires ambivalent journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to educate Billie. Surprisingly, she becomes an adept student. Unsurprisingly, she falls in love with Paul. Eventually, her own street smarts come to fore helping her defy an astonished Harry.
Actors rehearsed the screenplay for two weeks, then performed it before an audience drawn from studio employees to develop “dimensional characters,” (George Cukor) and gauge laughs from reaction before filming. Censors went after the term “broad” referring to Holiday’s character, made sure she had a separate suite entrance than her obvious lover, and covered her cleavage. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Sabrina 1954 Based on Samuel L. Taylor’s play Sabrina Fair. Directed by Billy Wilder. Simply lovely. Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is the daughter of widower chauffeur, Thomas Fairchild (John Williams). She grows up over a garage at the posh Long Island estate of the Larrabee family, besotted with younger son, playboy David (William Holden). When Sabrina attempts suicide for unrequited love, Thomas sends her to Paris to attend Le Cordon Bleu cooking school hoping to provide a profession. She returns stylish and confident, immediately catching David’s eye.
David, however, is engaged to the daughter of a Larrabee business associate primed to merge with them. Conservative, type-A, older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) cleverly incapacitates his sibling, temporarily filling in with Sabrina in hopes of stalling and ultimately preventing romance he equates with business disaster. Awkward love unexpectedly finds them both.
During production, Hepburn and Holden had a brief, passionate, much-publicized love affair. Cary Grant had turned down the role of Linus. Humphrey Bogart felt miscast but ultimately made his character more credible. This film marked the beginning of Hepburn’s lifelong relationship with Hubert de Givenchy. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Executive Suite 1954 Based on the novel by Cameron Hawley. Directed by Robert Wise. When the CEO of Tredway Furniture Company unexpectedly dies, board members jockey for the position, revealing ambition, character, and lack of scruples. Votes are clandestinely negotiated. Wives get involved. Terrific ensemble cast: William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pigeon, Shelly Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Country Girl 1955 Based on Clifford Odets’ 1950 play. Academy Award Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. Directed by George Seaton. Taut and powerful. Director Bernie Dodd (William Holden) insists alcoholic, down-and-out actor Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby) be offered the lead in his next play despite objections from the producer. Frank’s wife Georgie (Grace Kelly – Academy Award Best Actress) props him up and keeps him clean for the comeback.
Unwilling to take any responsibility, Frank convinces Bernie she’s to blame for his drinking as a result of which, despite his attraction to her, the director is horrible to Georgie. Frank comes through opening night, but nothing ends as it seems it might. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Picnic 1956 Based on William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize Winning play. Directed by Joshua Logan. Former college football star, now drifter, Hal Carter (William Holden), returns to his home town in hopes of securing a job with the company owned by the father of rich fraternity brother Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson). Doing chores at the home of kindly Mrs. Potts, he meets her neighbors, the Owens family: mother (Betty Field), younger daughter Millie (Susan Strasburg), older daughter, Madge (Kim Novak), and their boarder, middle-aged school teacher Rosemary (Rosalind Russell – terrific).
Everyone is drawn to the good looking, spirited young man. Rosemary harbors fantasies and tries to seduce him; MIllie pines after Hal. Though Madge is Alan’s girl, she recognizes a kindred soul in the stranger. The town beauty, she feels no one values anything but her appearance. A wrenching breach develops between Hal and Alan. Madge takes an enormous risk.
Holden was 37 and, to many, too old for this role. He shaved his chest and was so nervous about the “Moonglow” scene, Logan took him to Kansas roadhouses to practice dancing to jukeboxes. The film is said to have made Kim Novak a star. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Network 1976 Written by Paddy Chayevsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Four Academy Awards. Politics, knife-in-the-back power struggles, obsession with ratings and a free for all attitude towards amoral programming. Forced out of an anchor job, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), declares he’ll commit on-air suicide his last day. He rails about corruption of the news to division president/friend Max Schumacher (William Holden).
Programming head Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), who literally finds viewer statistics an aphrodisiac (remember the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally?), convinces the head of the network to re-slot news under entertainment. Diana begins a steamy affair with long married Schumacher who doesn’t fully see what’s coming. Howard Beale is now “The made prophet of the airwaves.” His vaudeville-like show offers real terrorists, an evangelist and a soothsayer. Incendiary editorializing is encouraged. Sound familiar? Schumacher quits.
Ratings soar until Beale discovers the network is clandestinely controlled by a vast conglomerate. His message then starts to make the viewing audience uncomfortable. It’s determined he must be eliminated. Network arrived two years after the first on-screen suicide in television history by reporter, Christine Chubbock, but presciently Chayevsky started writing the film years before. Rent on Amazon Prime.
S.O.B. 1981 A black comedy directed by Blake Edwards. Hugely successful film director Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suicidal after his first major flop. (Successive attempts are satirically deft.) Drugged to prevent another episode, Felix has an epiphany during a party that becomes something of an orgy: his film lacks sex! He persuades the studio and his wife of squeaky-clean image, Sally Miles (Julie Andrews, Edwards’ wife), to reshoot it as a pornographic musical. (Think Springtime for Hitler excess.)
They go forward, but both the studio and Sally have second thoughts. The film is confiscated. When Felix tries to steal it back, he’s shot by a guard. His friends steal Felix’s body from the funeral home and…With William Holden, Robert Preston, Robert Vaughan, Larry Hagman, Shelly Winters. “S.O.B.” (in the film) stands for “Standard Operational Bullshit.” The story parallels the experiences of Edwards and Andrews in their infamous failure, Darling Lili, intended to reveal Andrews’ heretofore unseen sexy side. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top: Public domain press photo of William Holden and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950 film)