Atkinson hits the nail on the head in discussing the brusque anxiety and rattled melancholia that always simmered in the characters Holden played — there, obviously, because they defined Holden himself.
“Truth be told, Holden’s character-role capacities ranged only from narcissistic American jerk to self-loathing American lug,” he wrote, “but his best movies are implicit inquisitions into that personality — like Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Blvd. and Sabrina and Mark Robson‘s The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
“By the time of David Lean‘s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a big-budget production looking for a disillusioned American Everyman sickened by his own lack of heroism, David Lean needed only go to Holden.
“There was that wonderfully rough voice, often poised on the edge of cynical disillusionment. There was that physique — athletic but on the verge of dissipation. And there was that face — smooth and innocent in youth, a little weathered and circumspect in adulthood, lined with worry, regret and beleaguered wisdom as he withered. As we watched Holden age on the screen, we saw an ongoing portrait of intelligent American masculinity in progress, interrupted by his untimely accidental death in 1981 at the age of 63.
“As Holden aged, his richest vein was the bitter personification of the costs of progress and the loss of frontier — he became, almost inevitably, the angry Old Guard facing melancholy supersession by the young, by modernity, and by the press of time.”
And yet Atkinson doesn’t mention Holden’s performance as Frank Harmon, a cynical L.A. real-estate agent in Clint Eastwood‘s Breezy (’73). Atkinson obviously thinks little of the film but his “angry old guard” comments about Holden fit Harmon to a T. Breezy (directed by Eastwood 45 years ago!) is just pretty good — mature, straight, carefully measured — but Holden’s acting lends a solid gravity force in every one of his scenes.
I’m particularly fond of a moment in which Harmon and a real-estate colleague are discussing some hippy kids who are frolicking nearby, and Harmon offers a sardonic two-word assessment: “Low tide.”