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Sunset Blvd.
Year:
1950
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.5
Director:
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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Reviews
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.
2005-08-28
By: Margaret Reines: 'Billy Wilder Brilliance'
Some observations re the film:

The frequent imageries of death:

Rats in the pool; The dead chimp; the decaying mansion; Norma's fellow 'silent-film' card – players (referred to as the 'waxworks').

The mansion possibly being indicative of an old 'Hollywood' – and all its inhabitants – crumbling. The same argument could be afforded to the old car.

The derision conferred on Norma's age of '50′ years – as compared to today's women – and the accompanying notion of what she was capable of at '50′.

The novelty in 1950 of a women 'keeping' hack actor/writer Joe Gillis. (Note the smirk on the salesman's face when Norma is buying Joe clothes).

Possibly the best imitation-cameo of Charlie Chaplin ever. – by Norma for Joe's amusement. He looks more bemused than amused-this sort of 'aside' in the film presenting so well because of Waxman's flawless score.

The impossibility of classifying this picture in to one category – (horror, film noir, social commentary?) -It's really one of a kind – a savage expose of Hollywood -possibly not receiving as many awards as it would have for this very reason.
2013-11-06
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.
2001-09-16
Like Icarus, Hollywood flies to close to the sun, its wings melt and it crashes
Sunset Boulevard represents everything that is unsaid about Hollywood. It cruelly, yet accurately represents Hollywood in the same way that Citizen Kane so cruelly and accurately represents the world of business.

Sunset waste no time. It throws us straight into the middle of what appears to be a mystery, but soon becomes a tragedy, and perhaps even an allegory of Old Hollywood meeting New Hollywood and not liking it one bit, a story of unwelcome but necessary progression.

We meet Joe Gillis (William Holden) within seconds of the opening credits. The twist? He's a dead. Shot and floating in a swimming pool - a pool that he has always wanted (perhaps even more than to be a writer). Joe then starts to narrate, telling us how he came to be in the pool. He was a down and out writer, living in a small flat with debts to pay. One day the debts catch up and he finds himself making a run for it. He winds up taking a wrong turn into the grounds of an old house. That house is owned by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a middle aged actress who is past her prime but refuses to accept it and move on with her life. This is where Joe's nightmare begins, as he is effectively held captive, desperate for money, by a woman who is desperate for admiration and love and who will give anything for it, and in the end do anything to prevent the illusion from collapsing on front of her.

This is where we see for the first time, that Norma could represent Old Hollywood (the past), whilst Joe could represent New Hollywood (the future).

Norma and Old Hollywood are stuck in their ways. They hate the idea of progression, hate new talent, hate anything that changes the status quo and could go on to destroy them. So they becomes desperate, they take more and more desperate measures, they lure Joe and us with false promises of greatness, they bribes us. They will even take cruel punishment if it means that we and Joe will still sit there and pay attention. Norma begs Joe to hit her, rather than to hate her, and will bribe him with everything - just like Hollywood will take the remarks of critics if it means that audiences will keep going back, or it will gives us the likes of Transformers 3, a Spiderman reboot or anything that can give the illusion that it still has the answers, the talent.

Because nothing scares Norma more than a lack of audience, and the same can be said for Hollywood.

Of course, Joe and New Hollywood, they want progression. They, like us, hate the lack of progression, hate the repetitiveness, hate the way they and we are left in the cold when we know that we can do better. Norma thinks she still has it - but Joe knows the truth. She has had her day and needs to bow out gracefully to allow progression. At the moment, Hollywood still thinks it has it. But we know the truth - cinema numbers have fallen, and Hollywood is relying too heavily on reboots, comebacks, sequels and prequels. There is nothing original. There is little to no progression.

In Sunset, the desperation in Norma turns to a jealous, uncontrollable rage that results in her essentially going mad and, SPOILER, shooting Joe dead to keep him hers and maintain her illusion that she is great. Hollywood, in desperation, doesn't shoot us dead, but does bombard us with explosions, special effects, promising adverts and violence that mask the fact that most films are no longer great, but just routine and are in desperate need of new, refreshed talent. Of course, even after all the trouble Norma causes, Joe tries hard to like her, to understand her, to make excuses, to protect her from the truth. He knows that she was a star, and at first even thinks there is a chance she could be again. And again, that can be said of us with Hollywood. We love Hollywood, not because of what it is, but because of what it once was and could be again in the right hands. We don't want to let a bright start fade. We want it to be great, so we put up with Michael Bay's Transformers, with a Spiderman reboot, with a poor remake of classics, because we hope that Hollywood will get its act together and make something bigger and better. Perhaps that final shot, where Norma reaches towards the camera, is Hollywood reaching for us in desperation?

I'm not sure whether Wilder wanted to make this a film about failed stardom, or a metaphor for Hollywood. But it is a true testament to he and the cast that we can take the film literally or metaphorically, and still still be touched by it.

Easily one of the best films of all time, right there with The Godfather or Chinatown. 10/10
2011-08-18
"I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille"
Rumor has it that Gloria Swanson was absolutely devastated that she didn't win the Oscar for Sunset Boulevard. 1950 was an unusually tough year for competitors, with the statuette eventually going to Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday.

Admittedly, Gloria is fantastic in this film - she's able to send up herself, while also scandalizing the business she was product of - but the acting chops must really go to William Holden, who provides the willful self-loathing thread that ties much of this noirish and twisted tale together.

Director by Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard represents classic movie making at its peak. Set in Los Angeles, it's a dark, twisted, cynical tale of love, deceit, and opportunism. The film is all about Hollywood behind the scenes and how screenwriters, directors, and actors will sell themselves out for fame and fortune at a moments notice.

Spiritual and emotional emptiness, and the price of fame, greed, narcissism, and ambition is at the heart of this devilishly stylistic film, with the somber mood beginning almost immediately when a dead man is found floating facedown in a swimming pool.

The man is hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (a very sexy William Holden). All we know is that Joe was at the run-down mansion of deluded former silent-film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Through Joe's voice over narrative it soon becomes clear that he was somehow involved with the wealthy Norma.

Down on his luck, three months behind on his rent, and with his car about to be repossessed, Joe accidentally stumbles upon Norma's faded mansion while trying to escape the police. Norma initially mistakes Joe for a coffin-maker for her deceased pet monkey, but once she figures out that he's a screenwriter, she gets him to read one of the scripts she's been working on.

Norma is an insane and faded silent-film star, who is hoping against hope to make a comeback. She's bitterly resentful of the price the "talkies" have taken on her career, so now she soaks in her own misguided and imagined greatness, in profile with the flickering projector lighting her outline in the dark.

Joe is initially hesitant to help the glamorous woman, and then asks $500 a week for his writing services. But slowly we come to realize the contract is actually the other way around. In preparing for her return comeback, Norma quickly turns Joe into a pawn - or more to the point, a slave.

Joe becomes a virtual prisoner in her rundown mansion; the moment he leaves, she slits her wrists, forcing him to come back. With minimal resistance, Joe allows himself to settle into the life of a kept man, as Norma desperately showers him with gifts and fine clothing. The house butler, Max von Meyerling (Erich von Stroheim), grimly looks on, tending to Norma's demanding whims and tolerating Joe's disruptive presence.

Joe wobbles back and forth between heedless acceptance of his strange companionship with Norma and his half-hearted pursuit of a career. He sneaks away to collaborate on a project with Betty (Nancy Olson), a Paramount script reader who is engaged to Joe's best friend. Betty is gradually falling in love with Joe, but when Norma finds out, that he's been sneaking out to meet wit her, all hell breaks loose.

The self-loathing motif is rampant throughout Sunset Boulevard. Max completely does away with his self-respect, Joe hates himself for his unwillingness to commit to a career or love, and seems to sell himself out for money and clothes almost immediately, and Betty despises herself for falling in love with Joe while she's engaged to another.

Norma, despite her haughtiness, is the most blatant case of self-disgust. When she isn't raving about her greatness, she comes across as a frightened and tortured soul – a sad and lonely woman, who is not only remarkably self-delusional, but is also trying to grasp one last chance at happiness. She thinks so little of her current 50-year-old self that she no longer acknowledges the present.

Sunset Boulevard is a must see movie for cinema buffs. There are lots of treasures to be had here, including Nancy Olson's strangely under appreciated performance as Betty, whose misguided love for Joe spirals the film to its grisly conclusion. There's also the hilarious appearance of a skinny and madly grinning Jack Webb as a happy-go-lucky assistant director, and viewers will get a kick out of the excessive exuberance that Norma displays when she towels down a hunky and hairy-chested Joe at poolside.

The funniest scene in the movie is when Norma rolls on top of Joe while he is reclining on a couch, and then does an imitation of Charlie Chaplin in order to cheer him up; the scene is an uproarious mixture of the sad, the funny, and the pathetic.

Billy Wilder's accomplished direction is full of wide shots that capture the depressing set and brave close-ups of our anti-heroes. But in the end, Sunset Boulevard stands out, as one of the finest examples of the frenzied circus of obsession, fixation, and greed that is oftentimes symbolizes Hollywood. Mike Leonard September 05.
2005-09-09
A film that I would put in my Top 10 Best list.
I love this film and can't believe I never got around to reviewing it until now, as I've seen it many times. I think I just assumed that I'd written a review for it or neglected to do one since it already has so many good reviews. Regardless, it's one of the best films ever--and possibly the best film Hollywood has to offer--it's THAT good.

I think part of the reason I love this film so much is because it has perhaps the best opening scene in movie history. I adored the film's style and originality here. You hear William Holden narrating--narrating in a wonderfully cynical manner. And, as the camera pans down, you see a corpse floating in a pool. Suddenly, the camera is under water--and you see that the dead man is the narrator himself!! What an amazingly daring scene! And, to seemingly top it off, Norma Desmond's entrance is just sublime. But then you see that the film then works BACKWARD to explain how all this came to be--a truly wonderful style of storytelling! I could talk more about the film, but to me the beginning was THE film. Sure, Holden, Swanson and Von Stroheim were wonderful as well as Jack Webb in an interesting supporting role...but all you will probably remember is the introduction. And the directing and writing is wonderful...but you still keep coming back to the wonderful scene.

The bottom line is that all would-be film makers should be forced to watch this film and learn from it. And, if such a thing COULD be done, let's also force them to watch "12 Angry Men", De Sica's "Children Are Watching Us", Majidi's "The Color of Paradise", and.......
2010-09-10
Cruel and Unusual
Sunset Blvd is certainly one of the best movies I've seen, and I enjoyed it immensely. The mother of all Anti-Hollywood movies is still the best.

It is unusually abstract for a 1950s movie (even for a modern movie) and any arthouse lover would enjoy this it.

But what I did not like about it is that it is a very cruel movie. But I guess it's part of the movie's theme: Hollywood is cruel and don't have anything to do with it.

It works on the same concept of the Coen Brother's "Barton Fink" that says warns you that "if you want to win in Hollywood you'll have to be willing to loose your soul."

Scary though.

But still I can't wait for the DVD of Sunset Blvd.
2002-08-21
weird, bizarre, fascinating, great
This movie deserves all the accolades it has gotten here, as well as "Maltin's" four stars. It certainly ranks up there as one of Hollywood's greatest achievements. Seeing it again only reinforces my opinion that William Holden was one of the truly great actors of the last [!] century. Gloria Swanson, however, steals every scene she's in; you can't turn away from watching her, even though she makes you really uncomfortable - it's like watching a train wreck. I don't know if the black & white was an economic or an artistic choice, but the film would never have been as effective in color. The opening shot - the floating, dead body of Joe Gillis, eyes wide open, shot looking up from the bottom of the pool - is one of the great shots, and an unforgettable opener, matched perfectly by the unforgettable closing closeup of Norma Desmond. To have Cecil B. deMille actually play himself was an inspired touch. Throw in Eric von Stroheim and you have an unbeatable combination. Truly one the all-time must-see films, although I don't know how to classify it - film noir? black comedy? Hollywood fable ? horror story? psychodrama? Who cares; just see it.
2001-03-26
Greatness Boulevard.
Generally considered as Wilder's peak,it lives up to its reputation.Fifty years later,it remains the best movie about movie world,not only hollywoodian .One hundred times plagiarized,never surpassed. First of all,there 's the Swanson/Von Stroheim couple.He directed her in the famous "Queen Kelly"(another must of the silent movies).Von Stroheim was too ahead of his time,his movies scared the censors ,so he was not allowed to pursue a career that would have been stunning in the talkies.Here he became (supreme downfall),Swanson's butler ,while we see one of his former colleagues,Cecil B. De Mille,playing his own role,still directing.Von Stroheim's character is called "Max von Mayerling" ,probably one of Wilder's private jokes: Stroheim once said he was the son of a lady in waiting of Austrian Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) whose son Rudolph committed suicide in Mayerling!And Wilder was Austrian too. Swanson is impressive too.The comeback myth is the dream of every actor whose star is slowly but inexorably fading.that she continues viewing her old -and real!- triumphs like "Queen Kelly,that she's writing an extravaganza shows that her comeback desire has reached the point of no return and that her only place in this world is the asylum.What Swanson did not achieve in the movie,she did it for real:she really could come back(as Lilian Gish),her performance,particularly in the last scene ,has stood the test of time. Wilder as a scriptwriter outdoes himself here;lines like "I'm still big;it's the pictures that got small" could be pronounced today ! 25 years later,he would try to update "sunset blvd" with "Fedora":the latter suffered by comparison,but it's a very worthwhile work that every fan of this great director should see.
2001-08-07
Superb and disturbing
You know when occasionally you watch a film, and you think it sounds okay, but then it totally exceeds your expectations and you're just blown away by it? Well, Sunset Boulevard (aka Sunset Blvd.) was just such a film for me.

William Holden – who also narrates the film – plays Joe Gillis, a small-time screen writer, down on both money and luck; as we find out right at the beginning of the film, Gillis won't be alive by the end of it. He meets former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who cannot and will not accept the truth that her star has long since faded into obscurity and she has been all but forgotten by both the film industry, and movie-goers. Determined to have another hit film, she hires Joe to help her edit her self-penned script, but she soon becomes obsessed with him, and Joe finds himself less a guest, more a prisoner, at her dilapidated home, with only Norma and her mysterious butler Max for company.

As you may have guessed, I loved this film. The storyline is a caustic and witty dig at a fickle Hollywood. The fact that viewers are informed by Joe's voice-over right at the start of the film, that he will not survive to the end, fills the ensuing scenes with a bitter sense of doom, and the contrast between Joe the narrator, who knows his fate, and Joe the character who we see on camera, who is unaware of what will befall him, is very effective (A similar idea was used years later in American Beauty, also with excellent results, although Sunset Boulevard was, for me, a much better film.)

Gloria Swanson was excellent as Norma Desmond, and at times was difficult to watch. I disliked her character, but couldn't help feeling great sympathy for her. Deserted by her fans and her colleagues, she is losing her grip on reality. At times, she was manic and unpredictable; at other times, she showed tenderness and extreme vulnerability (the scene where she entertains Joe by dressing up as Charlie Chaplin is both sweet and disturbing, as her happy mood turns to anger). Swanson was nominated for an Oscar for her performance; the same year Bette Davis was nominated for her role in All About Eve – both lost out to Judy Holliday for her role in Born Yesterday, which also starred William Holden. He was also nominated for Sunset Boulevard.

William Holden shows his real talent for acting here. A not altogether likable character at the beginning of the film, he nevertheless gets the audience on side, as he and they come to realise the untenable situation in which he has found himself. He imbues his character with passion, tenderness, ruthlessness, and resignation – oh, and he's darkly funny too.

Eric von Stroheim is perfectly cast as Norma's taciturn and mysterious butler – this role could easily have been a caricature in different hands, but he plays the part brilliantly.

The main cast is rounded out by Nancy Olsen as Betty Schaefer, a young writer who wants Joe's help on a script; she is perfectly cast as a feisty but tender young woman who is dragged into Joe's nightmare world.

In short, my opinion for what it's worth, is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this film. It's gripping – I felt unable to turn my eyes away from the screen; it's sad, it's tragic, and it's bleakly funny. It was a real victory for director Billy Wilder, and it's the best film I've seen in a long time. Very highly recommended.
2013-12-04
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