31 Days of Oscar: William Holden’s performance in Stalag 17

holden_oscar.gifTCM’s 31 Days of Oscar celebration kicked off last week and on the first night they aired Love is a Many Splendored Thing as part of their salute to the Best Original Song category. I was so thrilled to see a William Holden film being celebrated and then I looked at the guide and hours later another film was shown, the 1940 film adaptation of Our Town. This is an early Holden performance I adore. He is so young and innocent in the role of George. It’s a very sweet movie.
Throughout the 31 days of Oscar programming are a number of William Holden films and I’ll be livetweeting each of them so if you have Twitter, join the conversation with the hashtag #Holden100.
Here’s the schedule for the remaining Holden films that will be shown:
Born Yesterday on February 21
Network on February 24
Picnic on February 25
The Bridge on the River Kwai on February 28
Now, to look back at Holden’s Oscar-winning performance as Sgt. J. J. Sefton, Amy from Amy’s Rib: A Life of Film has written a wonderful guest blog post about his role. It’s hard to believe Holden won just one Oscar but what a performance he gave!
STALAG 17 (1953)
William Holden is a true Hollywood Legend.  He had a career that spanned over 40 stalag17_holdenyears.  His movies jumped across the different genres.  On the screen he conveyed ruggedness, handsomeness, toughness, and cynicism.  His screen presence couldn’t be denied.  He worked with some of the best actors of the Golden Age of Cinema (Gloria Swanson, Judy Holliday,  Barbara Stanwyck, Alec Guinness, and Humphrey Bogart) and he held his own. Many of his movies are considered true classics- Sunset Blvd, The Bridge On the River Kwai, Network, and Stalag 17 to name a small few. This April will mark his centennial birthday.  As part of a birthday celebration, I am going to discuss one of his most iconic movies, the previously mentioned Stalag 17.
Stalag 17 (1953)  is the movie that won William Holden the Academy Award for Best Actor.  Set in a German Prisoner of War Camp, the movie is filled with both intrigue and humor.  Holden plays POW SGT J.J. Sefton, a cynic.  He’s a guy who has been a prisoner for some time and has learned how to navigate the ropes of Camp Life.  He’s decided the best bet for him is to sit tight and make himself as comfortable as possible. No escape attempts for Sefton; the odds are too much of a long shot.  In order to make himself comfortable, Sefton has to trade and do business with the German Guards, with the enemy.  Of course, this does not make him popular with his fellow bunkhouse mates.
The Intrigue in the movie comes by the German Guards  always being one step ahead of the Prisoners. The Guards seem to find out their plans and know of hidden contraband and tunnels.  How are the Guards always figuring things out? Is there a Spy among the group? Is an American actually ratting out fellow Americans? If so, who is this person?  Given Sefton’s ability to trade with the Guards and gain privileges and benefits, he naturally becomes Suspect #1.  Is Sefton the traitor?  Of course he isn’t, but I won’t tell you who is the actual Spy.  Watch the movie!
The humor mainly comes from two of the Prisoners named Animal and Shapiro.  Animal is obsessed with Betty Grable, and his tears and mooning over Grable never fails to bring the laughs.  Be on the look-out for a funny scene between Shapiro and Animal during the Camp’s Christmas celebration.
Although the movie has a lot of humor, it also doesn’t ignore the horrors of war.  It shows the horror in the form of a prisoner named Joey. He is a man shell-shocked who only finds comfort from playing an Ocarina.  The care and compassion that Joey receives from his bunk mates is very sweet to watch.
Stalag 17 was directed by the masterful Billy Wilder.  Along with Holden, it also features Otto Preminger, Don Taylor, and a young Peter Graves.   A great director, great cast, and a great story makes for one great movie watch.  In celebration of what would have been William Holden’s 100th birthday, pop in Stalag 17 and have a cigar on Sefton.
Many thanks to Amy for writing the above tribute. If you’d like to contribute to this year-long celebration of #Holden100, drop me a comment below or send me an email. The more, the merrier!

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