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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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Hollywood & Sunset
Widely heralded as a classic upon its initial release, the Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett production, Sunset Boulevard, is a superb piece of work in nearly all departments; and yet at some levels it disappoints upon repeated viewings. This is not an easy movie to love. The people in it are unsympathetic, as the leading male character is a hack screenwriter turned gigolo; and the woman he lives with is a mad former silent movie star who pins all her hopes on this third-rate writer's ability to write her 'comeback' picture. Neither is an amiable sort, but he is at least sane; and though he has an understanding of decency, he never quite achieves it. His goal is success. That he decieves two women who care for him deeply bothers him from time to time, when it is an inconvenience, but doesn't otherwise seem to bedevil him or prey on his thoughts.

As a cynical picture of postwar Hollywood the movie is flawless. It captures the moment when the the studio system was at its absolute peak as well as at the start of its decline. The secondary characters are more likeable than the major ones, notably Erich von Stroheim's butler. Yet the film is not a satisfying portrait of mental illness, as the insane Norma Desmond, while superficially credible, has no inner life, or even a hint of one, as her demons appear to come more from her neglect by others than anything to do with herself. Her gigolo, Joe Gillis, is believable as a hustler but seems, in his narration and occasional asides, to be brighter and wittier than his behavior suggests. The characters, in other words, go through their motions, as the plot dictates; and while they are very interesting in what they do or fail at, they seem to have no life outside of the story. This is a movie about Hollywood rather than people; an immoral 'moral tale', it sometimes leaves a bad taste.

For all its flaws, though, the movie works like a charm even when it is not itself charming. As Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson is magnificent, larger than life, and every inch the former silent movie queen she plays in the picture. Her final scene is priceless, and the best shot in the movie. William Holden made a new career for himself thanks to Sunset Boulevard. For over a decade he had been playing rather bland, boy next door types, and his work here was a revelation. Joe Gillis was his best performance thus far, and made Holden overnight a hot property, and shortly thereafter the biggest male star in the business. His dry, almost affectless Midwestern delivery of dialogue and, especially, narration; his mixture of good manners and ambivilant morals; and his ability to command the screen with a flicker of expression, put him immediately into the major leagues. Sunset Boulevard does not in the end tell us more about Hollywood than the Selznick-Wellman A Star Is Born, but it does its job better, with pungent dialogue, brilliant acting and a sense of style rare in movies of the time and unheard of today.
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+
You won't be able to get the closing line out of your head for weeks.
The last twitch of the silent film industry. Certainly Erich von Stroheim knew he wouldn't ever be able to make 20-hour epics any more, and the parallels of his character and that of "Norma Desmond" make this film doubly poignant. Even Cecil B. de Mille manages to put in a passable performance as himself (has any other director managed to do this?).
Way ahead of its time! pure madness!
This movie is so prophetic that it amazes me. It showed how much Hollywood has turned into a monster by chewing up people and spitting them out like yesterdays newspaper. It seems little has changed.

Gloria Swanson as the star who has been, is flawless in her role. At times you hate her for her arrogance, then Wilder makes you feel pity for her when you find out that all the doors in her 60+ room mansion have the locks removed so that she can't lock herself in a room and take her life.

The butler also does well as he atempts to shield her from the reality of her cruel world, by writing letters that she thinks is fan mail.

Wilder did such an impressive job with this film, even including actual actors in the 50's at the time (even including director Cecil B Demille as HIMSELF) to play roles. The scene where she returns to the studio and an old stage hand shines a light on her but then only for a fleeting moment. We all remain in the spotlight in the centre of attention, for only a short time.

Brilliant film

Rating 9 out of 10
Revisiting A Masterpiece.
After reading Wilder Times, one of the many biographies of Billy Wilder, just recently, I naturally revisted many of his films in the last few weeks. And today, I have just read of the death of the great Billy Wilder. This has prompted me to write my first review, on the IMDB, of my favourite of this man's long series of great films and screenplays.

Sunset Blvd is suspenseful, witty, and tragic. Brilliantly written and directed, it is a classic for many reasons, but most notably that it is possible to like the movie more each time with each viewing. It may not be possible to appreciate such a detailed and rich film in one viewing. Whether it be the real Hollywood stars in cameos(Buster Keaton, Cecil B. Demille etc), or the skillful casting of Gloria Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim, that adds such a grim reality to their, all ready, well written roles, to just how frank and bleakly honest this movie was for it's time, in it's portrayal of Hollywood.

For William Holden, a very handsome Hollywood leading man, to take on the role of a poor bitter writer,Joe Gillis, was, I consider a brave role, even by many of todays leading man standards. Gloria Swanson prevents the character of Norma becoming a ridiculous caricature and keeps her real and therefore tragic.(None the less, Ms Swanson also gives a famously delicious performance in this feisty role) And Nancy Olsen, who plays a very grounded and honest, Betty Schaefer, perfectly matches the unreality of the world of Norma Desmond.

Goodbye, Billy Wilder. You will be missed.

Alright Sunset BLVD, are you ready for your close up?
The movie is still big. It's the pictures that got small. There is nothing like watching Sunset Boulevard. It's a great movie that need to be in the center of attention. Name after a Boulevard in Los Angeles, this film noir was directed and co-written by Billy Wilder who destroy forever the iconic Hollywood image with his dark tale of greed, and the lust of everlasting fame. The film stars William Holden as Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful screenwriter who happen to come upon, a faded silent movie starlet, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who draws him into her fantasy world where she dreams of making a triumphant return to the screen. William Holden is great in the role as a man struggling to keep his masculinity. I like his moral decision in the end of the film. Serve them right. In a way, this movie was indeed William Holden comeback film as well as he fallen from the starlight after 1939's Golden Boys. Gloria Swanson is scary, charming and brilliant in the Femme fatale manipulative role. She does over act a bit, but that comes with the part. She's pretty much playing an extreme version of herself. Gloria, herself was trying to have a comeback with this film, after a number of fails films, include one with Director Erich von Stroheim in 1929's Queen Kelly. Art is mirroring real life, as Erich von Stroheim stars as Max Von Mayerling, her butler and the director that discovered her. There is even a chilling theater scene with all the main characters watching the film, Queen Kelly. Erich von Stroheim is just amazing in this film, and I have become a fan of his works. I didn't like Nancy Olson so much as Betty Schaefer as I felt she was way too chirpy for my taste and in your face shouting acting. I do like the silent film stars cameos like Director Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson. I do like the cameo of the set of 1949's DeMille's Samson and Delilah. It makes the film seems more real to Hollywood, to know that another real life film was really taking place there. While, the characters could had been nearly unlikeable, Billy Wilder's comedy charm gives this movie some room to breathe. I have to praise the writing. It's amazing. Yes, some of the jokes went over my head, but the film was balance well enough for the drama and the comedy, not to feel overloaded. The narrative of film noirs are usually characterized as multifaceted and often confusing. It does commonly entailing the use of flashback and first-person voice-over narration. I'm pretty glad they open the film with the shot of the swimming pool, rather than having two corpses talking to each other at the morgue. I think it does sound stupid so I'm glad they use the dead body in the swimming pool idea. The corpse floating in the pool in the film's opening scene. The desired image proved difficult to achieve, and the problem was resolved by placing mirrors on the bottom of the swimming pool and filming from above. The underwater shot was pretty impressed at the time. The visual effects are amazing. Sunset Boulevard uses a lot of high-contrast lighting in Norma's house that creates dark shadows that works well. The lighting and the setting is to show the character is suffocating in their life. Norma is ever looking for the light. I love the foggy blur that it create when people get near it. It's symbolism at its best. The film also contains some German-expressionistic element such as the oblique vertical and horizontal angles. For some interior shots, the crew sprinkled dust in front of the camera before filming to suggest dirty or unclean. The house was old, and nice. The way the photographs were surrounding. It look like some odd Gothic church. The house was later used by Nicholas Ray's 1955's Rebel Without a Cause. It was pretty interesting. The score was composed by Franz Waxman was pretty good. Nothing worth noting compare to today's standards. It was just OK, at best for me. Here are some faults in the film in my opinion. The narrating goes a little bit too long. Show, don't tell. Plus, how do dead-men can do a narration anyways? Aren't they dead? The whole blooming Gillis-Betty relationship seem out of place as well. I know it's needed for the plot, but it's seem forced. I just don't see Betty having much interested in a man, she barely sees. The story was a bit influence by the real life tragedy of Mabel Normand and William Desmond Taylor, in which William Desmond got shot and killed. This film marks the first time that Hollywood was view in a negative light on film. The theme of this movie is that Hollywood creates dreams and stars, and then leaves them with nothing but their own outdated fantasies. In the other side of the coin, some people are so hungry for the fame, that they are willing to do anything for a shot at it, even destroying lives. Hollywood still love and hate the film for its criticism of the movie industry. It's still a bit controversial, ever today. Wilder show us the real Hollywood where few people had success and many fails. People mustn't starve for fame too long, else they risk being trapped in a world of their own making, a world where they become bitter and delude.
Dead in street...
SUNSET BOULEVARD will always be inextricably linked to ALL ABOUT EVE. They both came out the same year; they both star legendary actresses playing legendary actresses; they both are cynical, sometimes savage in their estimation of show business. And, of course, they are both great films.

But they are very different stylistically and philosophically. A primary difference is that EVE is about a survivor. Bette Davis' Margo Channing in EVE accepts, perhaps grudgingly, that change is inevitable. Either she adapts to reality, or she loses all. That is what makes Margo more than just "a great star, a true star." Margo's rival, Eve Harrington, may someday end up like BOULEVARD's Norma Desmond, but Margo Channing never will.

But if EVE is about life, SUNSET BOULEVARD is about death. Even their titles suggest this: "Eve" being the first bearer of life and "sunset" being the approaching night. In BOULEVARD, Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond is to some extent already dead by the time the film starts, locked away in a haunted house, coming out only for the funeral of her pet monkey. She is bound by reputation and profession to a type of film-making that is long dead and nearly forgotten. Her life, like her career, is based on illusions of life.

The prevailing interpretation of SUNSET BOULEVARD assumes that Norma is one of Hollywood's victims; that the town and the industry turned its back on her when she was no longer a star, her career sabotaged by the coming of sound in motion pictures. I don't buy that. The film clearly shows us that at age 50 Norma is still vibrant, still beautiful, still energetic and eager to make movies. Plus, she is filthy rich. This is not a woman who would walk away from movie making because she is afraid of her own voice. Indeed, her voice is magnificent; sultry, insinuating and theatrical. I don't think Norma went mad because Hollywood turned its back on her, rather Hollywood turned its back on her because she went mad.

I don't think we are getting the full story here. Something may have drove Norma mad, but it wasn't talking pictures. Indeed, she may have been unstable all along, but I think there is something in her past that destroyed her, and I suspect that involves Max (Erich von Stroheim). In his "Great Movies" essay, Roger Ebert suggests that the love between Norma and Max, her ex-husband/ex-director/butler, is the heart of the story; that it's Max's love of Norma that validates her continued existence. I don't see that. I suspect that Max is less a servant than a caretaker or even a jailer. Max (like Joe Gillis, Norma's erstwhile boytoy) may be trapped in Norma's web, but it is a web of his own making. He appears subservient, but he is the one in control, he perpetuates her delusions and enables her madness. I even suspect that he only allows Joe into the situation because he knows that Joe is weak and no real threat to his power; and that he suspects that it will help placate Norma by feeding her fantasy of a comeback. There is more than adoration that cements the relationship between Max and Norma; perhaps guilt, jealousy, desperation -- who knows? All I know is that it is best kept as a subtext, a part of the film's impenetrable mystery. The less we understand Norma, the more intriguing she is.

However, if I were to be so bold as to make one major change in SUNSET BOULEVARD, it would be to replace William Holden as Joe Gillis. I respect Holden as an actor, but his screen persona has always been one of strength and -- if not integrity -- confidence; he is not one who plays vulnerable with any conviction. Plus, he doesn't play the part of Gillis with any gentle shadings. The "romance" between Norma and Joe is the least convincing aspect of the film. Joe treats her with barely concealed contempt and a bit of occasional pity, which makes it hard to believe that a self-absorbed diva would even tolerate him, let alone make him the house pet. The role of Joe was originally intended for Montgomery Clift, an actor with a proven ability to appear passive, even as he plays sinister. His work in THE HEIRESS and A PLACE IN THE SUN illustrate this point. I see Joe Gillis, not as a bored hanger-on, but as sycophant who is in awe of Norma, even as he exploits her, and therefore he doesn't realize that he actually is the one who is being used (sort of a younger version of Max). I think Joe should be someone who is cunning, but naive about his own limits, not someone who is already bitter, corrupt and cynical as the story begins.

Maybe I am wrong, but I get the feeling that Holden was very uncomfortable playing the part of, well, a mistress, and especially one kept by such an older woman. Perhaps his manhood was threatened and that uneasiness shows. Clift, or an equally rakish young actor like, say, Farley Granger or Robert Wagner, would enliven the story and make the romance with the perpetually needy Norma more credible. I don't think it is enough that the film shows that Norma enjoys manipulating Joe, I think it has to also be implied that to a certain extent Joe loves being manipulated. The relationship is after all a romance and to be credible as long-term there has to be the spark that it is mutually enjoyable. Holden's interpretation that Joe is just doing it for the money just doesn't ring true. While a pairing of the aging diva with an ambitious -- and yes, probably gay -- younger man is practically a show business institution.

Yet, even with these reservations, it is undeniable that SUNSET BOULEVARD is quite a film. A little bit Hollywood satire, a little bit moralistic fable and whole lot of Gothic melodrama. And Swanson's just-not-quite over the top performance is mesmerizing. It was assumed that BOULEVARD would revitalize Swanson's career. It didn't. But apparently, it didn't matter to her: she dabbled in acting now and again, when the part amused her, but she had better things to do with her life. Swanson played Norma Desmond, but she lived life as Margo Channing.
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.
One of the ten best of all time!
I thought I had seen all of the important movies made during the past fifty years, but somehow I had missed Sunset Boulevard. I had seen parodies of the characters and was familiar with the story line, but I was really not prepared for this gem. Wow! When it comes to great acting, it just does not get any better. I really couldn't care less about the film's commentary on Hollywood; I watch this film to be mesmerized by Gloria Swanson. The premise of a kept man is creepy enough, but Swanson really takes this movie to another plane. If you have never seen this classic, do yourself a big favor and rent it. You will enjoy every minute. Very few movies can be called perfect, and this one may not be, but it is awfully close.
See Also
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