Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tim Holt: The movie star that wasn't

My friend Henry Kujawa is doing digital restorations of the covers of Tim Holt comic books of the early 1950s. Here's an example.

Henry's restorations remind me that in 2007 I wrote this post about Holt, an actor I thought was sadly overlooked in his time. With some editing I am re-posting it here.

Holt was born in 1919 as Charles John Holt III. He served in World War II as a lieutenant in the Air Force. He died of cancer in 1973 at the young age of 54.

Tim Holt acted in one of my personal top ten movies of all time, Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston's father, Walter.

It wasn't the first A-movie Holt had made; he'd been in Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons, for instance, but Sierra Madre should have cemented his reputation as an A-list movie star. So what happened? I’ve read the Tim Holt biographies on the Internet and they don't really tell me. I wonder if it was personal problems or enemies in the studios? Maybe contract problems? They don't say.

What I know is what I saw on the screen. In a movie like Sierra Madre it would have been easy for Holt to get lost between two scenery-chewers like Bogart and Huston. Neither of those guys was ever accused of being subtle as far as acting technique. But Holt, as Curtin, is the man in the middle. He’s the glue that holds the team of three together. It is understated as far as acting goes, but his character is as important as the other two, and in examining the themes of the movie, maybe even more so.

Bogart’s character, Fred C. Dobbs is paranoid in spades, and Bogart plays his part perfectly. While Director Huston allowed his father to emote without restraint, adding to the din caused by Bogart's character, Holt stands quietly by. He is the solid force on which the three of them depend as they dig for gold in some of the most remote and treacherous country on earth.

Then as now, maybe in 1948 the accolades went to the actors who got the most attention on the screen. There was no doubt that Bogart was the star. Why Holt’s own star didn't go on the ascendancy after this movie is one of those Hollywood mysteries. I’m sure there were reasons unknown to those of us who wonder. Tim Holt was a fine movie cowboy in the Saturday matinee tradition of Western movies...

...but he was also a fine actor with a great presence on screen who should've been a major movie star.


Henry R. Kujawa said...

Thanks for the plug!

The 1st issue of the TIM HOLT comic book has the following on the inside-front page:

"Although Tim Holt was born in Hollywood, he is as much removed from its night life and its glitter as if he resided on another planet. To RKO Radio's outdoor star, the film capital is just his workshop. His personal life is lived away from the hectic whirl of the cinema city and, between films, he tours the country with a rodeo of which he is part owner."

I think that says a lot!

More info is in the IMDB site bio:

To read the complete contents of most of the issues of the TIM HOLT comic, go to the Comic Book Plus website (recently benefitting from a MAJOR upgrade & improvement!!).

And here's what you forgot... my TIM HOLT blog page!

Postino said...

Thanks for linking us to your Tim Holt blogs.

Despite what it says in the comic book I believe that if given a choice to be a major movie star of A-movies, a step up tantalizingly close in Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Magnificent Ambersons, he would have preferred it, rodeo or not.

John Wayne had gone from low-budget programmers to the A-list, and I'm sure a lot of actors and stars of B-movies would dream of it happening to them.