THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG   (PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR   ( PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT) 

BREEZY   (UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO)

William Holden's career can be divided into five distinct phases: Phase one: though hilariously miscast in the title role of GOLDEN BOY(1939), his very first film, the role did lead to constant, though unspectacular, smiling and vapid male ingenue roles in a series of second-rate films for Paramount and Columbia, who shared his contractual commitments. Phase two began with THE DARK PAST (1948) with a complex performance as an escaped killer which surprised many, and revealed a hitherto unseen dark and complicated side to the Holden personality, and his tight and witty performance in the same years RACHEL AND THE STRANGER further confirmed that an actor of considerable depth and insight was emerging with a surprising degree of consistency. Indeed, it was those two performances that convinced writer-director Billy Wilder to give Holden a try (when Montgomery Clift dropped out at the last minute) as the male lead in 1950's SUNSET BOULEVARD, and it was here, through the role of Joe Gillis, that Holden's brilliantly sharp and cynical performance forever altered critical and public perceptions of him, though it would take three more years for Holden to become a superstar . Phase three began with his Oscar-winning performance in Wilder's STALAG 17, and after a few forgettable trifles (FOREVER FEMALE, ESCAPE TO FORT BRAVO, etc.) Holden would be firmly entrenched as one of the world's most popular actors until roughly 1961, when Holden began Phase four, a nine year span of empty and dispiriting walk-through performances in films so uncommonly poor (PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES, SATAN NEVER SLEEPS, etc.) that he was considered washed up by 1969, when phase five began, commencing with the leading role in that years THE WILD BUNCH and a performance of such ferocious vigor and intensity that he was regarded, shockingly dissipated looks notwithstanding, with renewed respect by critics and public alike. (His Oscar-nominated performance in 1976's NETWORK is arguably his greatest performance.)

Having created a box-office sensation in the 1955 East-meets-West romance LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING (available on dvd in terrific anamorphic shape from Fox Home Video) Holden returned to the genre with THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG (1960) which would be his last box-office success until THE WILD BUNCH. WONG works for two reasons : the fantastic Hong Kong locations beautifully photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth, and Holden's inate skill at investing a fantastic degree of varied and interesting colors into what, in other less skilled and charismatic hands, could be a dull and vacuous role. 

Paramount's widescreen dvd (which is enhanced for 16:9 TV's) is a thing of great beauty, which fully recreates the captivating colors that so enhance this lustrous film, and the English mono sound is as good as mono can be, though one wishes that this particular title, with its myriad of exotic sights and sounds, would have been chosen for Paramount's excellent 5.1 Surround replication process.             

Holden plays the real-life role of Eric Erickson, an American businessman blackmailed by British agents and forced into the dangerous arena of World War 2 espionage in THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR (1962), an absolutely riveting, (and, sadly, little-known) thriller that rivals the very best of the genre, and prominently showcases Holden's mature and deeply-felt abilities to the fullest in what would, unfortunately, prove to be his last great performance until THE WILD BUNCH. 

The spectacular location photography of Berlin, Hamburg, Stockholm, and Copenhagen has always been somewhat compromised by the inferior color stock used in this film (Print by Technicolor is NOT Color by Technicolor!) but Paramount's widescreen (enhanced for 16:9 TV's) dvd is a completely accurate rendering of the way it looked in first-run engagements, and the English 5.1 Surround enhancement does a great deal to bring the power of Alfred Newman's excellent score to one's attention.                               

Taken for what it is, BREEZY (1973) is a January/May romance that works primarily because of the amazingly strong and committed performance that Holden delivers in his role of a 50 year old man who has a steamy romance with a highly improbable geezer's wish-fulfillment teen-ager. Indeed, so starkly believable is Holden here that he manages to make one forget that he looks more like 60 than 50, and, through the power of his gritty and unsentimental acting, is miraculously able to disguise the fact that this Clint Eastwood-directed film is really a thinly-disguised fantasy for the Geritol and Prune Juice set. That's how good Holden is here!    

I first saw BREEZY at a Director's Guild pre-release screening, and Universal Home Video's 1.85:1 Anamorphic dvd  makes this BREEZY look every bit as young and fresh as she did then, and the English 2.0 mono is crystal-clear and free of distortion. 

--DICK DINMAN

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