You’ll notice that at the 24-second mark and just before he sits down with Lucille Ball, William Holden fingers his trousers and hitches them up a bit. This was a thing that my father’s generation did back in the days when they all wore baggy pleated dress pants. Why they did this I’ll never know, but I just want to say for the record that I’ve never ever yanked my pants northward before sitting down with anyone. And that I would refuse to do it if I was time-machined back into the mid’ 50s. Just not a samurai poet thing to do.
As he sat down on the couch, Holden was almost certainly saying to himself that despite his movie-star status and great wealth that he was nothing but a walking shadow, a poor player who would strut and fret his hour upon the stage and then would be heard from no more. He was probably also musing that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Earlier this year I posted a Michael Atkinson riff about Holden…about the brusque anxiety and rattled melancholia that always simmered in the characters he played, 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, 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, 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 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 [displacement] by the young, by modernity, and by the press of time.”