I’m writing this post as part of the 2nd Golden Boy Blogathon – A William Holden Celebration. Since duplicates weren’t allowed, I wasn’t able to write about Holden’s portrayal of Sefton in Stalag 17 (his best role of all time, I do believe). I wasn’t able to write about just how much I love and adore him in The Horse Soldiers as the brave, kind, and caring Major Kendall. I wasn’t able to write about how wonderful he and Audrey Hepburn were together in Sabrina and Paris When it Sizzles.
So, I decided to go with The Devil’s Brigade, ’cause that’s a pretty great movie on its own even though I didn’t think there was much to write about William Holden’s character, Colonel Frederick. I mean, he’s the one who gets the First Special Service Force together, but I’d say that the film focuses more on the members of the Force in general than their commander. However, going into this film determined to watch Colonel Frederick opened my eyes to just how much he does. He’s the glue that holds the force together. He’s never been in combat before the film starts, but despite that, is always at the very front of the fight, first when the Force captures a German-held town (losing no men and taking all the Germans prisoner) and then when they take Monte la Difensa. He’s the one who fights for the Force to stay together when it’s in danger of being disbanded.
And the Force loves him in return. My favorite scene in the whole movie is Colonel Frederick’s birthday party. It’s such a great little moment of happiness and joy and celebration and camaraderie in the middle of the difficult, near impossible missions the Force undertakes. But William Holden’s incredible acting comes through the most in the heartbreaking bits. Like when the Colonel goes around to several of his men as they’re prepping to take the mountain and basically he’s saying goodbye because he knows that most of them won’t make it out – and he probably won’t make it out either. Or when that Canadian officer gets shot and killed (I hate that I can’t remember his name) and Colonel Frederick just hands the radio receiver to his aide because he’s sick and tired of it all. The Colonel’s grief comes through to you in a very real way because Holden always totally inhabits his roles, making you believe, for just that moment, he’s really the character he’s playing and not actually William Holden.
Overall, The Devil’s Brigade is a great war film and William Holden does a super job portraying Colonel Frederick (who was actually a real guy and the only American serviceman to receive eight Purple Hearts in WWII – I just looked it up on Wikipedia). Plus, his character is friends with Dana Andrews’ character, which is simply splendid for screenshots. 🙂
Have you ever seen The Devil’s Brigade? What did you think of it? And what did you think of William Holden as Colonel Frederick?