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Sunset Blvd.
Drama, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Billy Wilder
William Holden as Joseph C. 'Joe' Gillis
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond
Erich von Stroheim as Max Von Mayerling
Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer
Fred Clark as Sheldrake
Lloyd Gough as Morino
Jack Webb as Artie Green
Franklyn Farnum as Undertaker - Chimp's Funeral
Larry J. Blake as First Finance Man (as Larry Blake)
Charles Dayton as Second Finance Man
Hedda Hopper as Herself
Buster Keaton as Himself - Bridge Player
Anna Q. Nilsson as Herself - Bridge Player
H.B. Warner as Himself - Bridge Player
Storyline: The story, set in '50s Hollywood, focuses on Norma Desmond, a silent-screen goddess whose pathetic belief in her own indestructibility has turned her into a demented recluse. The crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion where she lives with only her butler, Max who was once her director and husband has become her self-contained world. Norma dreams of a comeback to pictures and she begins a relationship with Joe Gillis, a small-time writer who becomes her lover, that will soon end with murder and total madness.
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THE film that speaks Old Hollywood!
The film industry obviously did not know what had hit it when Billy Wilder's masterpiece was released in 1950. Fifty years later, such mastery in craftmanship still shows by still being fresh and alive, evident from the first of the unforgettable reels when William Holden's character, an unknown writer, is lying face down and dead in the pool of an extremely possessive star of the silent screen.

Although not my favourite of Billy Wilder's works, ("Witness for the Prosecution" is my own special favourite), this was not actually the first time he had stirred Hollywood. "The Lost Weekend", a film more scarce in its circulation but just as brilliant, had five years before almost lost a release because the type of slap-in-the-face reality was something audiences were unused to. And it eventually went on to be the best picture of 1945. However, by casting light on an industry still even seen today as the perfection of life, the Paramount studios caused an uproar from coast to coast.

One of the more interesting contenders at the Oscars "Sunset" had that year was "All About Eve". The Bette Davis/Anne Baxter film did eventually take the coveted prize best picture prize, but it is obvious that "Eve" too runs along pretty similar lines, but instead of shattering the myth about the golden days of the silver screen which went for the throat, the 20th Century Fox executives gave it a gentler shape by provocatively going after the theatre.

Haunting music and even the black and white cinematography made me feel I was in for a special ride as the opening credits rolled. William Holden was in one of his best roles. This movie unfortunately made Gloria Swanson be better remembered by us as the tragic aging movie queen of the silent era, who was one of the many actors and actresses who phased out as the sound picture experiments became a sensation. Featured also are Erich von Stroheim as the first husband turned servant and Nancy Olsen as the young girl writing collaborator. All four received Academy Award nominations, though none won. Cecil B. De Mille, one of the great directors of the silent era puts in an appearance on the featured Paramount lot as himself.

The screen play, as in all great Billy Wilder movies, is gripping and fiercely brilliant. Just some of the emotions captured on film, and some of the darker imagery has made it one of the best films of the 1950s, and one of the best movies in Hollywood history. "Singin' In the Rain" may have made it better known to us with the use of colour, dance and song, but it did not even go anywhere near "Sunset" despite the bitter sweet sensation the musical gem leaves.

Deservedly so, this cinematic genius is first rate.

Rating: 10/10
This is on my top 100 list.
I have seen this movie perhaps 10 times and it never fails to get to me on so many levels. The jaded newsman played by William Holden, the star herself, Gloria Swanson who just about steals every scene she is in, William does an excellent job in holding his own. This is the ultimate comment on Hollywood by Hollywood. And it holds true even today when we observe so many has beens behaving so inappropriately (Goldie Hawn, pushing 60, giggling like a crazed 15 year old comes to mind) because they cannot let go of their days in the sun and keep projecting their younger selves to us as they have not come to terms with the people they have become. My heart aches for Gloria in this, though she is most unlovable and treats people abominably. The old bit players shine in this also, and of course Eric who continues to worship her because he knows no other life but that of sycophant. A great, great movie. 9 out of 10 ( And I was so disappointed in the stage remake a few years ago. Nobody can top Gloria.
They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore
This is such a great film on so many levels I can't really settle on where to begin. It is so beautifully shot (in that stark black/white that only nitrate negative could achieve), has a witty, clever and extremely well-written script, features some of the best acting in film's history, acrobatically balances the main plot/subplots with expert precision, contains some of the best characters on celluloid, has many true-to-life parallels (Swanson's career/real life cameos/DeMille's involvement/etc) and is peppered with such great dialogue/narration that today's film writers should take note. If that weren't enough, there's even a cameo by silent film great Buster Keaton (among others).

One of the most appealing aspects of this film is how, in the story, an aging, forgotten star is trying to recapture a bygone era (the silent film era). What's interesting is that now, so many years later, we're looking back at her looking back. To present day viewers, Gloria Swanson of the 1950's is a long forgotten lost gem and to experience her own longing for the 1920's is especially captivating (and a little chilling, I might add). I don't think this film could have had that same effect when it debuted and maybe this added dimension holds so much more appeal for today's audiences. We all know that nothing lasts forever, but we don't often consider the abandoned participants; much like the veterans of a past war.

In response to the famous Swanson line (while watching one of her silent films): "...we didn't need dialogue; we had faces", I'd like to also add that they "didn't need movies; they had films."

They truly don't make them like this anymore. 10/10
Reel Life Gothic
Every time I go to L.A., which isn't too often, I look at these palm-bemused, once smart stucco facades, and wonder if a Norma Desmond from a later era might be hiding from the world inside them, buttressed by cable TV (AMC or TCM, no doubt), a poodle named FiFi or Sir Francis, walk-in closets full of leopard-print Capri pants that haven't fit in decades, and a world class liquor cabinet that has seen heads of state under the table on a good night. It is because of Sunset Blvd., for certain, that my mind could ever go there. It is one of the most indelible films you will ever see.

This film is great for many reasons, not the least of which is because it is Hollywood's first look back at itself. In the milieu of this film, the silent era is only 22 years behind us. The people left behind by the rush to sound can still palpably TASTE the fame, the accolade, that particular past being not so very dim and distant. The sadness of their lives was real, and at that point in history, all around, if hidden. Way more has been made of the supposed "savagery" of this film vis a vis the faded star than I think exists now, or ever did. The often cynical Wilder is deeply in touch with the tragic here, as much as the grotesque.
The end of one film era in a film about the end of another film era
With Sunset Boulevard film noir hit it's crescendo. The genre would linger on, but only as an echo of it's former self, like wind blowing through an old pipe organ. This story of a down on his luck Hollywood screenwriter and his peril fraught associations with a fading silent film star plotting her return to the big screen has all the things a noir fan loves; dark mysterious places, a near constant sense of looming danger, rapid and smart dialog and great narration by William Holden. But the film is about more than that. It is about the rough and perilous life that goes with any work in a business as tumultuous as Hollywood, and the unpredictable nature of celebrity. This is Hollywood shining a spotlight on itself and when the cameras aren't rolling, and the makeup isn't on, it can be a very ugly place indeed.
very special look at Hollywood
Not a romanticised view of Tinseltown at all, this Billy Wilder movie was more or less ignored on release - the year that All About Eve took all the awards and the kudos. It is a bitter pill to swallow since it takes a kick at Hollywood's guts and has one of the bleakest endings in the whole of cinema.

Joe Gillis, a struggling writer, finds himself in the drive of a Hollywood palazzo when he wants somewhere to hide his car. The house belongs to Norma Desmond, who 'used to be big' in pictures, and Joe gets drawn to Norma and drawn into her weird world of flickering shadows.

The acting honours in this movie go squarely to Gloria Swanson, herself a 'star of yesteryear' as Norma, who is superb as the actress living in the past. Not that she plays Norma as exclusively tragic(the scene where she impersonates Chaplin is priceless) but perhaps no one could get to grips with the demands of this part better. William Holden plays Joe, his breakthrough role, and he does the part very well, while Erich von Stroheim plays faded Hollywood director Max von Mayerling (naturally a reflection of himself), and newcomer Nancy Olson plays Betty, a girl too nice to become submerged just yet in dreamland's poison.

The script is its moments of OTT-ness, but it is never less than interesting and draws in the viewer to the point when you are with Norma when she visits her old studio and talks of the joy of coming home; you are with Joe and Nancy as they fall in love among the cardboard settings of movie sets; and you are in the hall with Hedda Hopper watching Norma's last descent into madness.

The musical version which appeared in the 1990s had the heart and soul of this movie in mind, and was an excellent tribute to it.
The films that SHOULD have won Oscar for Best Picture: 1951
This was the first of Billy Wilder's work I've even seen, sure I've heard of him, just not seen any of his movies. Made in the fifty's "Sunset Blvd." is simply timeless & it's easy to see why this movie of a washed up writer/ turned gigolo to a washed-up has-been actress is rated so highly. A superb indictment of everything that's wrong and distasteful about Hollywood and probably even truer now that it actually was when it was made. This film is also crammed with in-jokes and references that practically beg for multiple viewings. The acting by everyone is perfect & this movie is such a wonder to behold.

DVD Extras: Audio commentary with author of "On Sunset Boulevard: The Life And Times Of Billy Wilder" Ed Sikov ; Three featureless ("The Making Of Sunset Boulevard"; "The Music Of Sundet Boulevard", and "Edith Head: The Paramount Years") ;Morgue prologue; "Hollywood Location" map;Photo galleries; Theatrical trailer

My Grade: A+
Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket got the definite ghost story about Hollywood broken dreams. There's something vicious about the place and, on the other hand, this movie means the end of an era: Hollywood up to 1950. That year means, in my opinion, the last curtain for the so-called dream factory. And in that dream Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis become crazy. She becomes a fiend and he a pimp. The horror is that after 1950 Hollywood would never be the same and we can say that it's the end of the modern era and the beginning of postmodernism -what with the idiocy of the 50's era-? ABEL POSADAS
Says Holden: "I sure drove into an interesting driveway..."
WILLIAM HOLDEN really hits his stride in the role of Joe Gillis, the down-on-his-heels writer who just happens to be drowning in debt before he comes upon a secluded and decaying mansion that is about to change his life. Wilder's script gives him plenty of opportunity to shine. His typically witty quip to servant Erich Von Stroheim is: "I sure drove into an interesting driveway" (after realizing Swanson intends to hold a funeral for her pet monkey). It's the kind of remark that stays with you through the entire story.

Holden inhabits the role so perfectly that we can be thankful Montgomery Clift turned down the role at the last moment. And the screenplay by Billy Wilder provides plenty of other cynical and observant wise cracks that give his character of Joe Gillis such depth, conviction and truth.

And, of course, GLORIA SWANSON, as Norma Desmond, in what has to be regarded as her film swansong (she did very little thereafter), is every inch the faded silent screen star who lives inside her rich imagination, inflating her ego with self-important phrases like: "It's the pictures that got small." With her cat-like eyes and claw-like hand gestures, she gets every nuance out of a role that is theatrical and larger than life, right up to the fantastic ending. One can almost sense why Andrew Lloyd Webber would fashion this into a terrific Broadway musical.

Her meeting with Cecil B. DeMille on the set of a Paramount costume epic is priceless for the way it is written and played. When, at the conclusion of the film, she says: "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille", it's a truly poignant moment.

All of the supporting players are excellent, including NANCY OLSON, as the writer girlfriend that Holden shields from the truth until that final scene where he invites her to come over to the Sunset Blvd. mansion and exposes the sordid truth of his relationship with Swanson.

As the man servant who is Swanson's loyal protector and was once Swanson's first husband and director of her early films, ERICH VON STROHEIM easily matches Holden and Swanson with a fine characterization of the patiently devoted butler.

Swanson plays the demented star like a more glamorous version of Miss Havisham in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, the woman who lived among the cobwebs because of a bitter disappointment when a lover jilted her on her wedding day. And like Miss Havisham, she refuses to deal with the reality of her situation when the going gets rough--as it does when it turns out nobody wants her at the studios any more, they were only interested in her antique auto.

Some old time Hollywoodians get some cameos (Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner) which give the film added interest and even Hedda Hopper is on the scene as a brusque Hollywood reporter. All of the technical details are perfect. Franz Waxman's score has a Salome-like flavor, especially toward the end when Swanson is in the full throes of her delusions.

Expertly photographed, written, directed and acted, this is a film that has to be watched closely to fully appreciate every detail. With its superior script, it mixes film noir, black comedy and dark melodrama with a nice blend of shadowy noir B&W photography, that has that Paramount sheen. A viewer is immediately drawn into the story which gets off to a brilliant start with Holden's brittle narration, the kind that strips all the phoniness away from any Hollywood pretension of glamor.

Summing up: Highly recommended for mature adults. Holden's corpse floating face downward, eyes open in the water of the lighted swimming pool, is the stylish stuff that film noir addicts dream of.

And Swanson's brief moment mimicking Charlie Chaplin is priceless.

Trivia note: Holden's performance is right on target--the perfect degree of cynicism, disdain and self-loathing. He should have won an Oscar here.
Living In The Past
The advent of the talkies created possibly the biggest-ever upheaval in the history of Hollywood and the impact it had on the careers of a large number of the industry's popular stars at that time was enormous. Many whose voices seemed unacceptable because they were incompatible with their image or because of a heavy foreign accent, found themselves out of work as did others who were simply unable to adapt to the demands of the new era. Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" provides a fascinating insight into some of the more ruthless and unpleasant facets of the Hollywood system in a style that's witty, cynical and realistic and also features a number of actors whose careers were profoundly affected by the arrival of the talkies.

Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling Hollywood screenwriter with more debts than he can handle becomes involved in a high-speed chase when he tries to avoid the attentions of a couple of guys who are intent on repossessing his car. When one of his tyres blows out, he swiftly turns into the driveway of a run down mansion and successfully evades his pursuers. After parking his vehicle in the garage, he's surprised that the occupants of the mansion seem to be expecting him. It soon transpires that they'd assumed that he was the mortician who was due to deliver a coffin in which the lady of the house's dead chimpanzee was to be buried. Joe recognises the lady as Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) a former silent movie star.

When Norma discovers that Joe's a writer, she seeks his opinion of a script she'd written for her comeback movie ("Salome") and then hires him to edit her work. In his financial circumstances the offer of this lucrative job is too good to refuse and at her request, he agrees to stay at her mansion to complete the task. Joe recognises that Norma is a delusional has-been who lives in the past and discovers that the fan mail she receives every week is actually written by her devoted butler, Max (Erich von Stroheim). The very wealthy Norma buys Joe expensive new suits and coats and together they watch her old movies a few times each week. Even more bizarrely, on New Year's Eve, she holds a party at which there's an orchestra but no other guests! Joe feels he needs to escape from Norma who's obviously fallen in love with him and so goes to a friend's party instead.

Artie Green (Jack Webb) agrees for Joe to stay over at his place and Joe soon gets into conversation with Artie's girlfriend, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olsen). Joe already knew Betty who worked as a script reader for Paramount and the two of them subsequently start to work together on one of Joe's unfinished scripts. When Norma discovers what's going on, she becomes incensed and determined to bring their association to an end.

The most striking feature of "Sunset Boulevard" is its sharp dialogue and numerous quotable lines which vary from the purely witty to the deeply sardonic. The fact that these lines are delivered by a screenwriter and a particularly flamboyant retired actress makes their exchanges seem perfectly credible as both characters would naturally have developed a way with words during their careers.

The film's opening scene in which Joe is seen dead and face down in Norma's swimming pool is brilliantly shot and the off-beat device of having a dead man narrating the story is typical of the cynicism and dark humour that runs through everything that follows. At this point, when objectively talking about himself, Joe in typical style remarks "the poor dope. He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool".

The casting of Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim who both had careers in silent movies, invests the events depicted with a great deal of realism as do the cameos in which Cecil B DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton and others are featured. Shots of Paramount studios and Schwab's Drugstore and the inclusion of an excerpt from "Queen Kelly" (1929) in which Swanson starred and von Stroheim directed also blur the lines between fiction and reality and add greater authenticity to the whole production.

"Sunset Boulevard" focuses on some of the more unglamourous aspects of Hollywood and must've made uncomfortable viewing for some people in the industry at that time. Its blend of biting humour and tragedy is very effective and the performances of its exceptional cast are consistently good from start to finish.
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