This is my contribution to the Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please visit and read the other postings, about a wide range of films starring William Holden.
One of William Holden’s earliest roles was as George Gibbs in a poignant screen adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about American small-town life, Our Town. This is a film well worth seeing, with a good director, Sam Wood, and a cast including Martha Scott and Frank Craven, who had starred in the original Broadway production, as well as character actors such as Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi and Guy Kibbee. It also has a stirring and atmospheric score by Aaron Copland. However, there is a big but!
Before getting into discussion of the film itself, I’d urge anybody setting out to watch it to learn from my mistake and be very careful about the print you choose. Unfortunately, this is one of those movies which has fallen out of copyright and into one of the lowest circles of public domain hell. There are dodgy copies around where the picture is grey and shaky and the surface noise is so loud you can hardly hear the dialogue or music. Worse still, some of these duped copies have huge chunks of the film missing. After initially starting to watch a truly dire copy, I belatedly realised it had a running time of only 75 minutes instead of 90 and gave up. Fortunately, I then found a complete version in reasonable condition, free to watch, at The Video Cellar YouTube channel, but I’d be interested to hear if anyone has seen a good DVD or Blu-ray of the film.
After watching this powerful and haunting Korean war film, I belatedly realised it wasn’t really a good choice for a Grace Kelly blogathon. Kelly’s screen time is all too limited and her part doesn’t give her much scope as an actress. However, her character, Nancy, is important, giving a glimpse of the life that the reluctant hero, her husband Harry Brubaker (William Holden) has been wrenched away from.
Based on a book by James Michener, whose work also inspired South Pacific, this film has hints of the musical’s mood of disillusion over war. Despite being released only a short time after the end of the Korean War, and made with the co-operation of the US Navy, it isn’t the gung-ho propaganda piece I was half-expecting. The movie pays tribute to the courage of the individuals caught up in the conflict, but suggests that many of them didn’t really know why they were there. Although there are many exciting and stirring scenes, which won the film an Oscar for best special effects, they are often undercut by the sadness and weariness of the central character. This element gives this glossy action picture a surprisingly downbeat feeling at times.