Jack Holt

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
R Michael Pyle
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Jack Holt

Unread post by R Michael Pyle » Fri Feb 04, 2011 1:25 pm

By most people today Jack Holt will probably be remembered strictly as the father of Tim Holt, cowboy extraordinaire, compatriot of Bogie and Huston in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), and/or one of the characters in the abortive, but still great "Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) directed by Orson Welles.

I think of Jack Holt as one of the three or four people I'd rather watch in a movie than anyone else! The man made almost 200 films! 200! How many film people today even get to 50? Harry Cohn, for whom Holt worked most of his career, considered Holt the backbone of Columbia pictures when the Great Depression hit. From 1929 to about 1937 or so Holt basically paid the bills for Columbia. At least according to Cohn.

I have about twenty or so of Holt's films, and he made films beginning back in the early 1910's and through the year of his death in 1951, so they range from silents to soundies, and he appears as everything from extra to main star to character part to - well, nearly everything. He was in early Cecil B. DeMille films like "Joan the Woman". He acted with Mary Pickford in "The Little American". He was the star of "Victory", a film version of a Joseph Conrad novel that co-starred Lon Chaney, Sr. and was directed by Maurice Tourneur. He played Michael Lanyard in "The Lone Wolf" (1924). He made a major series of Zane Grey westerns in the middle twenties, long before Randolph Scott did the same thing in the mid thirties (and Scott's films used a lot of the footage originally shot for the Holt versions). Holt's films "Submarine" (1928), a silent, and both "Flight" (1929) and "Dirigible" (1931), all three directed by Frank Capra, were considered great, great box office - and for good reason: they still play wonderfully today! His series of lead action roles for Columbia in the thirties paid the bills for Columbia, but he even appeared in the Shirley Temple film, "The Littlest Rebel"!

Holt finally expanded into serial films in 1941 with "Holt of the Secret Service", an exciting law enforcement serial. By the forties, Holt, now in his fifties and early sixties, became a character actor, appearing with people like John Wayne in "They Were Expendable" (1945). He even had an uncredited role in "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" (1948) as a bum, a film starring Bogie and Holt's son, Tim, along with the director's father, Walter Huston. John Huston directed that one.

Holt never quit. Even the year he died he appeared with Clark Gable in "Across the Wide Missouri" as Bear Ghost, a Blackfoot Medicine Man.

I'm wondering what opinions you may have of Holt. Hopefully a few of the bloggers here have seen a couple of his films and have some appreciation of him. I certainly do, and I'm just curious to see what others think.

My favorites of his films for the record are "Victory" (1919), "Flight" (1929), "Vengeance" (1930), "Dirigible" (1931), "Behind the Mask" (1932), both "The Defense Rests" (1934) and "Whirlpool" (1934), both with Jean Arthur, the first one simply superlative, and I like "Crime Takes a Holiday" (1938) and "Holt of the Secret Service" (1941), too.

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Unread post by silentfilm » Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:05 pm

Image
Norma Shearer and Jack Holt in Empty Hands (1924)

Image
Jack Holt and Billie Dove in The Ancient Highway

bradleyem
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Behind the Mask

Unread post by bradleyem » Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:08 pm

I'm a big fan of BEHIND THE MASK, a crime thriller with horrific overtones -- not because Boris Karloff happens to be in the cast, but because of Edward Van Sloan's murderous mad doctor!

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Unread post by R Michael Pyle » Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:08 pm

I've not seen those stills before. I should have, though, shouldn't I!

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Re: Behind the Mask

Unread post by R Michael Pyle » Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:09 pm

bradleyem wrote:I'm a big fan of BEHIND THE MASK, a crime thriller with horrific overtones -- not because Boris Karloff happens to be in the cast, but because of Edward Van Sloan's murderous mad doctor!
I found that one last year and watched it, and I enjoyed it greatly, too. Sloan was superb!

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Unread post by FrankFay » Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:44 pm

Very handsome good actor, sometimes stuck in thankless roles such as THE SECRET GAME where his character must be a clueless idiot.
Last edited by FrankFay on Sat Feb 05, 2011 4:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post by bobfells » Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:56 pm

Michael, it sounds like somebody ought to write a book. Your comments make an excellent book proposal so what are you waiting for? :)

You asked for comments on Mr. Holt - well, aside from watching WILD HORSE MESA a few months ago, the one film that I identify him with is SAN FRANCISCO (1936). You didn't mention that one so I assume you either haven't seen it (unlikely) or you didn't care to see Holt play second fiddle to Clark Gable. Frankly, I thought he almost stole the show from Gable. MGM seems to have hired Holt just for this film and I suspect that was because they realized they had nobody among their numerous contract players who could make a credible romantic rival to Gable.

I've seen this film many times over the years and keep finding new nuances in Holt's performance. MGM certainly did right by him and gave him the "star treatment" almost all the way. There's a wonderful tracking shot of Holt when he enters Gable's saloon while Jeanette MacDonald is rehearsing a song. The film just seems to stop while the camera almost reverently follows Holt walking through the room towards Mac. And unlike the Gable character, Holt really has MacDonald's best interests at heart. Gable's last minute reformation ("I'm sorry God, I really mean it") rings false and may have been necessary to please the Hays Office.

It should be some satisfaction to Holt fans that the only reason he doesn't get the girl is because he's killed in the earthquake. And thereby is the only bit that MGM let Holt down. When Gable finds him buried under the rubble, Holt seems to still be alive. There's a tell-tale jump cut that suggests Holt had some last words for Gable before expiring. My guess is that he said something like, "Blackie, take care of Mary. I know you love her." Or something noble like that. Instead he's already dead when Gable finds him. But Holt was so memorable throughout the film that this one concession to "who's the star here" by MGM is pardonable.

imdb.com has an interesting bio on Holt. He was married only once from 1916 to his death, and was one of the 36 founders of MPAAS. Sounds like Holt was much the same on and off screen.
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Unread post by Harold Aherne » Fri Feb 04, 2011 11:14 pm

I have to confess (with blushes) that I haven't seen much of Jack Holt other than Flight, Dirigible and San Francisco. He was certainly an enduring star, working from nearly the beginning of feature films to nearly the dawn of widescreen.

It's remarkable how few of his silents are in wide circulation--The Little American, The Secret Game, Victory and The Smart Set are all I can think of. A number of others do survive and have been run at conventions, including Love Me , Crooked Streets and North of 36 , but several of his more interesting titles are presumably among the missing--Nobody's Money (in which he replaced Wallace Reid), The Water Hole and of course Wanderer of the Wasteland.

Most of his talkies were made at Columbia (where he worked from 1927 to 1941, albeit with a short break in the mid 30s) and some of these have only recently begun to find audiences via TCM's deal with Sony. Another reason for his neglect might be, I suspect, the fact that he mostly portrayed upstanding gentlemen onscreen, rarely criminals or characters with inner turmoil. Actors who specialised in Holt's kinds of roles have often been dismissed when evidence for their talent is locked in vaults or they're simply out of critical fashion (cf. John Boles).

-Harold

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Unread post by drednm » Sat Feb 05, 2011 9:14 am

I really like the Capra films that starred Jack Holt and Ralph Graves. My favorite of the three is probably Dirigible which features an excellent story and effects. It also gave Hobart Bosworth a terrific role. It seems that these Capra films reworked the "formula" between Grave and Holt that worked so well for William Haines and Lon Chaney in Tell It to the Marines in 1926.

Black Moon 1934 re-cast Holt with Fay Wray in a voodoo tale that presages the 40s zombie movies.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Feb 05, 2011 9:36 am

Image

The first time I really noticed the existence of Jack Holt (other than being aware that Tim Holt had a dad in the movies) was him being caricatured in Mickey's Polo Team:

<object width="480" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/9V1MsNXm3zs?fs ... ram><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/9V1MsNXm3zs?fs ... n_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="385"></embed></object>

He's quite prominent in it from the start. I figure cartoons usually have a good handle on who audiences find especially memorable and worth caricaturing at any given moment, so that's a sign of how audiences regarded him.
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Unread post by drednm » Sat Feb 05, 2011 10:21 am

I always thought of Jack Holt has a rather grim supporting actor in talkies so it was interesting to see him has a youngish leading man in films like Wild Horse Mesa.
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Unread post by LouieD » Sat Feb 05, 2011 12:11 pm

Here's a photo of Jack from 1926's "Man of the Forest"

Image

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Unread post by sepiatone » Sun Feb 06, 2011 5:36 pm

I read somewhere that Holt rode a horse as good as Tom Mix. In VICTORY(1919) he does more profiling than John Barrymore. It was an important part of the story, a very subdued and near non-performance in wonderfully lit scenes especially the closeups. I haven't seen HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE(1941) in about two decades. Holt and Evelyn Brent, two silent veterans, snipe and quip at each other something plenty and I loved every minute of that serial. Definitely worth a revisit. He is finally suave as the pseudo villain in SAN FRANCISCO(1936). Always top notch performances from Jack Holt. I look forward to seeing WILD HORSE MESA one day.

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Unread post by Chris Snowden » Sun Feb 06, 2011 7:24 pm

Holt fans should also check out the episode of the 1940s radio anthology program All-Star Western Theater, in which he and his children Tim and Jennifer play the leading roles (9/22/46).

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Unread post by drednm » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:00 pm

Just watched tonight Whirlpool (1934) in which Holt plays a circus owner who accidentally kills a troublemaker in a brawl. He's sent to prison for 20 years just as his wife (Lila Lee) becomes pregnant.

After he leaves the pen he changes his name but is found out by an enterprising reporter (Jean Arthur) who happens to be his daughter. But because he wrote his wife he was dead (long story) he can't admit he's still alive because the wife remarried (bigamy).

Far-fetched story but Holt and Arthur are quite good in this Columbia film. This is one of Holt's last starring (billing above the title) vehicles.
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Unread post by radiotelefonia » Wed Feb 09, 2011 12:28 am

Somebody tried to repair this image.

Image

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Unread post by Shaeffer_Holt » Sun Apr 24, 2011 4:47 pm

Howdy,
I'm Shaeffer Holt, the grandson of Tim and great-grandson of Jack. I'm glad people still enjoy Jack's work. After my great-aunt Jennifer passed away she gave my family her photo collection (and many other things). I wanted to post some pictures on here but I guess they can't be uploaded from a private computer.

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Harold Aherne
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Unread post by Harold Aherne » Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:33 pm

Welcome! You can find information on how to post images in this info sheet from Mike G.:
viewtopic.php?t=5

I'm sure that all of us would love to see anything that you feel like sharing.

Incidentally, I watched part of Stella Dallas on TCM a couple of weeks ago and noticed what a graceful young actor your grandfather was--he worked perfectly with Anne Shirley and the rest of the cast, and at just 19 he seemed like a seasoned pro.

-Harold

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Unread post by mndean » Sun Apr 24, 2011 7:00 pm

Here's an indication of how much a draw Jack Holt was, the film is the 1929 Sunset Pass:

Image

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Unread post by CliffordWeimer » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:22 pm

James Horne is frequently knocked for the silliness in his serials; with Holt of the Secret Service (1941), he went back to the more serious approach he used in The Spider's Web (1938), and the result is one of his best chapterplays.

Jack Holt and Evelyn Brent comprise one of the most unusual tandems of heroes in serial history, long in the tooth but also plenty long on toughness. Masquerading as "Nick Farrel", escaped tough guy, and his wife, Holt and Brent infiltrate a gang of counterfeiters. The setting is surprisingly widespread for a chapterplay, as the action moves from the gang's hideout in a lost canyon to a gambling ship on the high seas to a small island country where the gang hopes to escape U.S. extradition. The main villain is a fellow named Arnold, but he hides behind the facade of one of his men, Quist, to shield himself from the Secret Service, and lets another one of his men, Valden (frequent serial henchman Tris Coffin), do most of his dirty work. The island nation has its own pocket dictator, who is also trying to rub out our boy Jack.

Jack Holt is, simply put, the toughest leading man in serial history, the type of guy who could swallow nails and crap thumbtacks. When he gets in a fistfight with four of Arnold's boys and beats the hell out of the entire quartet, you can believe it.

As mentioned, there is little of the funny stuff that you’ll find in such Horne classics as Terry and the Pirates or The Spider Returns, unless you count the occasional "undercranking" that makes everybody look like they are rushing out of a burning house, or the fact that, unlike the Republic serials in which bands were used to keep the Fedoras on during fights, Columbia apparently just instructed their actors and stuntmen to crush their hats down tightly on their heads, making everybody resemble two-fisted Buster Keatons.

I give Holt of the Secret Service a solid *** and recommend it highly. (And no, I’m not just saying that because I wrote the bios of Holt and Horne that are served up as extras on the VCI Entertainment disc; you’ll find a bunch of serial trailers, too.) As a companion feature, why not watch Monster That Challenged the World (1958), starring Jack's son Tim?

Oh, and a little trivia for you movie buffs: Jack Holt is the only actor to get his name in the title of a sound serial -- well, the only HUMAN actor, anyway (unless you count Red Grange's serial THE GALLOPING GHOST, naturally).

Also, when I watched 100 movies from 100 years in 100 days, my choice for 1917 was a little something called THE SECRET GAME, a top-notch Great War thriller with Holt and Sessue Hayakawa. Recommended (it's on DVD from Image).

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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:09 pm

drednm wrote:Just watched tonight Whirlpool (1934) in which Holt plays a circus owner who accidentally kills a troublemaker in a brawl. He's sent to prison for 20 years just as his wife (Lila Lee) becomes pregnant.

After he leaves the pen he changes his name but is found out by an enterprising reporter (Jean Arthur) who happens to be his daughter. But because he wrote his wife he was dead (long story) he can't admit he's still alive because the wife remarried (bigamy).

Far-fetched story but Holt and Arthur are quite good in this Columbia film. This is one of Holt's last starring (billing above the title) vehicles.

You mean, apart from the other 31 starring vehicles he made for Columbia between WHIRLPOOL and HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE in 1942.

Speaking of HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE, Weimer as usual must be missing the jokes, because it is another delightfully funny James W. Horne serial just like all of his other Columbias. Two of the best running jokes are the fact that Holt, no matter whether he is blown up, beat up, dropped off a cliff, going over a waterfall, etc etc, he never once loses his hat, and the other is the fact that Evelyn Brent never changes her outfit in the whole darn serial. It has all the usual Horne henchman gags, though perhaps not on the level of THE SPIDER RETURNS (1941), but they are there.

Anyone who dislikes the Horne serials because of their humor needs to have their heads examined, thats exactly what makes them so fun and easy to take today. They have been a favorite of our weekly movie nights for years.

I will agree that Jack Holt is one of those "solid" actors who always manages to be entertaining and interesting and makes it look effortless. I think that's why he was a small-town favorite for so many years, and like Harry Carey, became an equally effective character actor when his stardom finally faded. He's another one whos name in the cast list will make me sit down and watch it whatever the film is.

One of his better late roles is as himself in TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950) with Roy Rogers, who helps Holt get his Christmas trees to market and fights the evil corporate Christmasn Tree concern who tries to stop him. It s a fun Holiday western and Holt looks like he's having fun playing himself.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Unread post by Shaeffer_Holt » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:49 pm

Harold, thanks for the pic posting help. Here are a few of the pictures I've scanned.

Image
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Unread post by Richard Finegan » Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:23 am

Shaeffer,
Welcome, and thanks for the nice pictures.
Feel free to keep 'em coming!
By the way, in case you don't have identification for them, the two polo stills are from the 1932 Columbia feature THIS SPORTING AGE.

By the way, I'm a big Jennifer Holt fan, too!

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Unread post by CliffordWeimer » Mon Apr 25, 2011 8:09 am

Yes, Jennifer is wonderful. And note that in serials EVERYBODY kept their hats on (for stunt double purposes) and wore the same outfits throughout (to match footage shot). Horne has been criticized for being sloppier than other serial directors in not re-dressing sets, etc., but he was almost always working alone, whereas in the pre-war period a team of directors were the norm. The guy just worked VERY fast. I've seen all 10 of the Horne serials, and HOLT and SPIDER'S WEB are the least "crazy".

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Apr 25, 2011 8:19 am

I think the wearing the same clothes throughout thing is sort of like the fact that on 24, no one ever had a cup of coffee, even though they were working 24 hours straight. You start introducing little signs of mundane reality, it could unravel the whole thing...
If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at twenty-two, the history of music would have been very different. As would the history of aviation, of course.― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing

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Unread post by Jim Gettys » Mon Apr 25, 2011 8:50 am

Here's a page devoted to Jennifer Holt:

http://www.b-westerns.com/ladies3.htm

Jim Gettys

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Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:26 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:I think the wearing the same clothes throughout thing is sort of like the fact that on 24, no one ever had a cup of coffee, even though they were working 24 hours straight. You start introducing little signs of mundane reality, it could unravel the whole thing...
I've always wanted to see the eight episodes of 24 that are just Kiefer Sutherland sleeping.

Those little mundane signs of reality are one of the things Horne puts into his serials that make them silly and great. In THE SPIDER RETURNS, somebody obviously asked "what do henchmen do when they're not henching?", and it gradually becomes a running gag through the serial as we see henchmen sleeping in the henchman dorm, playing pattycake while they're waiting for someone to show up, having parties that the Gargoyle has to break up to get them back to work. In fact, Horne does do some great running gags through many of his serials like the patented shock stance good guys and bad guys take when they first meet, which in THE GREEN ARCHER Horne builds on by having one good guy/bad guy do it, then two good guy/bad guys do it, on and on until at some point all the good guys/bad guys meet, shock stance back and forth at each other in perfect synch, and run off.

Horne just realized that he had Columbia budgets, and no special effects department like the Lydecker Brothers at Republic, so he took the mickey out of the standard serial conventions and made a joke out of his low budgets, which is why his serials really delight adult audiences today. THE SPIDERS WEB was his first serial and he was most likely following Ray Taylor's lead, so no , it is not as fun as his other serlals, and HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE may be slightly less crazy than his others, but the sense of fun and silliness still permeates around Holt's more humorless lead performance.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Unread post by Shaeffer_Holt » Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:04 am

One of the few of all three of them together.
Image

JACK
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TIM
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At Culver Military Academy
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JENNIFER
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Aunt Jennifer at one of her weddings.

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Unread post by Richard Finegan » Tue Apr 26, 2011 3:17 am

Thanks again for the pictures, especially the beautiful Jennifer.
I believe that one of her wearing the large dark tie is from the 1943 Republic feature RAIDERS OF SUNSET PASS.

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