And Now For Something Completely Different: William Holden in Young and Willing (1943)

If you’re a William Holden fan (and, really, how can you NOT be?), you may have enjoyed this handsome and talented actor in such noirs as The Dark Past (1948), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and Union Station (1950), but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen him in a little-known gem called Young and Willing. Released in 1943, this low-budget comedy focuses on the lives of six struggling, would-be actors and actresses who live in the same New York apartment while hoping for their collective big break on the stage. The screenplay was written by Virginia Van Upp who, just a few years later, would be named Executive Producer of Columbia Pictures, becoming one of only three female producers at the time. But I digress.

Holden is top-billed as Norman Reese, the unspoken leader of the motley crew. The group also consists of Tony Dennison (James Brown) and Marge Benson (Barbara Britton), who are secretly married – an act that’s in direct violation of Norman’s house rule forbidding romantic entanglements; Marge’s sexy and worldly wise sister Kate (Susan Hayward); George Bodell (Eddie Bracken), who’s completely obsessed with Stanislavsky’s Method acting; and Dottie Coburn (Martha O’Driscoll), a lovable airhead with an unutterable crush on Norman and a wealthy dad whose monthly check pays the apartment’s rent.

Young and Willing is a screwball comedy of the highest order, featuring a variety of wacky characters and zany situations. George, for instance, is usually fully immersed in one character or another, from Othello, to an apple ripening in a “tree,” to Napoleon Bonaparte, complete with an accent that sounds like Charles Boyer. “It certainly never gets tiresome with George around here,” Marge remarks. “You never know when you come home who he’s going to be.”

The basic plot involves the six thespians and their efforts to perform a play for Arthur Kenny (Robert Benchley), a famous Broadway producer (Robert Benchley) who keeps an apartment in the building and occasionally pops in for a visit. Their apartment is located directly above Kenny’s, and they’re known to spontaneously crowd around a hole in the floor to spy on his comings and goings.

William Holden, Susan Hayward, and Eddie Bracken

Holden’s Norman enters about three minutes into the picture. He’s clad in a buttoned-up overcoat with a cravat – very classy, very English-upper-crusty. It’s not until later that we learn he’s only wearing an undershirt beneath the coat because the week’s laundry delivery hasn’t yet arrived. When we meet him, Norman is bemoaning the outcome of his recent audition, for a role that was given to a man who was plainly too old for it.

“You should have seen that ‘juvenile’ that got the part,” he complains. “Ye gods – they had to carry him up on the stage. He must have been 40 years old!”

Norman – who dropped out of dental school to pursue his acting career – is quick-thinking and crafty, with a take-charge personality and an unflappable demeanor. These characteristics come in handy when he’s trying to fend off the apartment’s ditzy landlady, Mrs. Garnett (played to the hilt by Mabel Paige), or keep Dottie’s father from learning about his daughter’s co-ed living situation. When Mrs. Garnett questions Norman about the late rent, he coolly conjures a tall tale, telling her that the money was used to bail Dottie’s father out of jail, where he’d been taken following a car accident he caused while rushing to the bedside of his dying brother.

The film’s first-rate cast.

In another scene, when Norman answers the apartment telephone and learns that Dottie’s father is the caller, he adopts an Irish brogue, convincing Mr. Coburn that he’s the building’s janitor. (“It’s after fixin’ a little leak in the radiator that I came up about,” he improvises. “I imagine you’ll like to be speakin’ to your little chickadee. Well, Erin go Bragh, shamrock and shillelaghs.”)

Throughout the film, Holden displays a natural acting style and a flawless sense of comedic timing, totally holding his own with the showier Eddie Bracken. With his flashing dimples and his hair frequently falling over his forehead, he’s also incredibly easy on the eyes. If you only know Holden from his better-known features, do yourself a favor and check him out in this one. It’s accessible on YouTube – in English and Spanish!

You won’t be sorry.

~ by shadowsandsatin on April 18, 2021.

10 Responses to “And Now For Something Completely Different: William Holden in Young and Willing (1943)”

  1. William Holden was so young I almost didn’t recognize him!

  2. Thanks for reminding me of this movie. I had forgotten most of it but the antics of Eddie Bracken. Every time I see him I remember his schtick. I worked him once and mentioned how much I enjoyed it. He laughed and said he is told that a lot.

  3. I love Young And Willing (1943). Back in the 1960s, a collector friend of mine had a copy of it in 16mm and we used to sit and watch it numerous times. I particularly loved Mabel Paige, whose character, Mrs. Garnett, was particularly wacky.

    I wish I could get a considerably better copy of it than the one on YouTube…

    • You don’t know how happy it makes me to know that I’m not the only one who knows about and loves this movie! And you are so right about Mabel Paige — she is an absolute scream.

  4. Sounds fabulous, AND it’s on YouTube? Sign me up – and thanks!

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