Lucy Meets Bill Holden in TV Classic

DATELINE:  Down Memory Lane

holden William Holden

When a friend bet me that the funniest TV show ever was on Amazon Prime, we could not resist to ask what it might be: she told us it was the old Lucy show with William Holden as guest.

Of course, we remembered it instantly, so indelible was its memory. It had to be fifty years since last we saw it on some endless loop of reruns that the show enjoyed for decades.

And, there it was listed as a 1954 episode on the third season of I Love Lucy. Free on Amazon Prime.

For those youngsters who have missed the wacky moment of one of the biggest stars of the 1950s showing up on a half-hour sit-com, it was something special back then. Holden was big.

William Holden had worked with Lucille Ball several times over the years earlier in their careers—and were good friends off-screen too.

So, his appearance was anticipated as much as John Wayne or Richard Widmark, who also did guest appearances that season—but Bill Holden’s was distinctive and truly the epitome of the crazy red-head’s “Hollywood adventures” when she went with her husband Ricky Ricardo for three months that year into celebrity heaven.

Her encounter with Holden at the Brown Derby restaurant turned into a spaghetti fiasco, with Holden winning a staring contest with the adoring fan. Upon embarrassment, Lucy beat a hasty retreat out of the restaurant, but knocked a waiter with a tray of cream pastry into William Holden.

Later, Lucy’s husband (Desi Arnaz) brings home a surprise guest—none other than Holden. Lucy must don a disguise to avoid recognition. Her putty nose astounds as it twists one way and then another, ultimately aflame up when Holden tries to light her cigarette.

holden & lucy

Yes, we counted about a dozen goodly guffaws, even years after knowing what was about to happen.

We can envy anyone who is about to see this little laugh-fest for the first time. Other episodes have been celebrated, but this Lucy episode was the one we truly loved.

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Our Town Too Close for Comfort

DATELINE:  Thorton Wilder Classic

the deadDoro Mirande, Fay Bainter, and Martha Scott, stand out among the dead.

With music by Aaron Copland and set design by William Cameron Menzies, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town of 1940 is an emotional wallop, despite Hollywood’s interfering new-fangled ending. It’s the sort of thing that gave Hollywood a black eye for years.

Once the staple of high school reading lists, Our Town has fallen out of favor being the work of a dead white guy. Of course, that was the point of the play: but we now agree that Our Town is wasted on anyone young. And wisdom is never an easy lesson.

If you are beyond middle-age, seeing this again will be chilling. Instead of a homespun tale of Americana, this is a cynical and downbeat tale of birth, life, and death.

Though it starts out with amusing details of a 17-year old boy (William Holden, looking adolescent) and his next door girlfriend Martha Scott, as George and Emily. Set in 1901 until 1913, it seems like a quaint Mayberry in New England story.

Grover’s Corners was fictional, of course, set on the border of New Hampshire. Well, that’s where we live now—which certainly gave us pause. We are in the midst of the world of Our Town (exteriors filmed nearby). Wilder wrote the play while staying in Peterborough at the writers’ colony.

The setting feels more like Rindge or Jaffrey, NH, than artsy Peterborough.

The final third of the film takes place in the graveyard, brilliantly depicted with the dead (most of the cast) standing in solitary, morose fashion. It is a frightful depiction of what death means, and what life becomes.

According to this story, you have one day to re-live, as a ghost in time travel. These are trendy concepts today, let alone in pre-World War II America.

The ghosts debate that you should choose the most unfortunate day to re-live because happy times will be unbearable.

Performances are powerful—realistic and distressing. This is not a story for young people, but in 30 years they may be drawn to the play’s extraordinary insights, even those scornful diverse young critics of today.

Death is a great equalizer. The film is not tragic, only whimsical.

 

Sizzle Fizzle Melt Down for Holden & Hepburn

 DATELINE: Paris When It Sizzles

melt down Holden & Hepburn

With the godawful title of 1964’s Paris When It Sizzles, you have two glorious stars of the 1950s on the cusp of making lesser films.

William Holden plays his patented, jaded screenwriter (shades of Sunset Boulevard) with a drinking problem made light (though Holden went into detox during filming).

Hepburn hardly fits the role of a typist secretary in a Givenchy wardrobe, but the film is spritely written in Noel Coward witty style and gives us a bad movie within the less bad movie, using the play-within-a-play device.

Genres of grade-B films are broadly satirized, including Holden in the Dracula role for a few laughs. It’s an insider laugh, but we thought he should have costarred with his pal Lucille Ball as the secretary, but Hepburn is lover-ly.

Noel Coward actually is in the film as a movie producer, and he does have a marvelous scene with Holden. The cast is populated with unbilled names like Marlene Dietrich, Mel Ferrer, with Sinatra singing the fake movie title song, and Fred Astaire singing for a Hepburn scene.

Why did Audrey Hepburn hate it so? It probably was fun to make, and it is fun to watch when she calls Holden a well-preserved middle-aged man, or when he compares the movies Frankenstein to My Fair Lady.

Another notable star of the ‘50s plays “the second policeman,” in the fake movie and is reminded he is not an important character. He too is delightful, though we won’t spoil it by naming him.

George Axelrod’s script is flippant, and Paris is definitely there in the background. We enjoyed it, but it falls into the category of a most guilty pleasure.

 

 

Hurricane Clint Eastwood Downgraded to Breezy

DATELINE: Better to Stay Lost

breezy

In his third directorial effort, back in 1973, Clint Eastwood took up the challenge of a romantic comedy.  It probably sounded easier than he expected because he had William Holden, even aging and falling apart, as his charming, cynical leading man.

This atrocity is called Breezy, rhymes with easy, named after the hippie free spirit who haunts William Holden. It might have been more hilarious if Breezy was a teenage boy. But Clint doesn’t eat sweets.

However, the moribund script features one fantasy hippie girl who believed in free love of the era. Perhaps it was realistic back in the early 1970s in L.A., but Kay Lenz presents one of the most annoying, anachronistic versions of a promiscuous teenager we have seen in decades.

We cannot figure out why Holden’s well-to-do businessman didn’t toss this annoying and cloying girl out on her keester when she first appears to panhandle and try to con him. Are all men victims of their sex drive?

That Holden falls in love with her seems to stretch credulity for a character who never has fallen in love with any woman.

On top of all this, we are then faced with the embarrassments of May-December romance being denigrated by every other character Holden knows in the movie script. Really, Clint?

We almost hoped Holden would turn into Dirty Sex Harry and shoot the whole lot of slut hustlers. Of course, it’s not that kind of film, alas.

If the saccharine hippie girl isn’t enough to rot the script, you have an overlay of Michel Legrand music. Apparently, Clint gave himself plenty of challenges to overcome. You may drown in movie sweetness, not typical Eastwood.

Clint fans knew better than the novice director—and ran away from this clinkeroo. This was not even a good character-driven story, though you can see how Eastwood wants to develop it. The film wastes William Holden– and Eastwood too.

Many critics in hindsight think this was Clint’s most “personal” film. We doubt it. He was still learning his craft by directing in an unusual setting and genre.

Destroying the film negative might be a better challenge to undertake. Clint likely chose to ignore the movie as time passed as an experiment in directing. This movie is a freak of his oeuvre.