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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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Give It At Least Two Looks
On my first viewing, I wasn't particularly impressed with this movie but I liked it a lot more on the second and by the third - when it's magnificently transferred on DVD - I was fan, too. This is a good visual film, particularly when it shows the inside of this incredible mansion where a lot of the scenes take place.

To those who have never seen it, you are warned that it is not an easy film to view, it being a portrait of a pathetic has-been silent movie star who still thinks she can come back after a long hiatus and be a star again.

Gloria Swanson, who plays the role, overacts and certainly is not appealing, even bordering on grotesque at times, but she isn't supposed to look good. That's one of the points of the story. Anyway, a young William Holden, in his first starring role, is okay and also provides the narration.

The most interesting figure in the film to me was the ex-husband-now butler, played by Eric von Stroheim. He's amazing in this film. In supporting roles, I also enjoyed the wholesome Nancy Olsen and the young Jack Webb of "Dragnet" fame.

This combination of drama-soap opera-film noir is one of the professional critics all-time favorite films. Odd how they love movies and Hollywood stars so much, yet relish films that tear them down, as this does.
A very brave look at Hollywood when Hollywood was bullied by an absurd censorship.
Usually, Cinema is considered as the most delicate form of art because it has the biggest potential to become 'dated' one day. Once a movie thought as 'mind-blowing' can easily become a 'turkey' a decade later.

This is not the case here. Sunset Boulevard still remains as one of the most eerie film in the cinema history and still a realistic depiction because of its reflection of Hollywood. It can give you the idea of the dream land's transformation into a nightmare.

The film is about a troubled script writer 'Joe Gillis and a forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond's weird relationship and the madness that surrounds them and the people around them. Don't wanna give much of the plot, on account the fact that it is a pure gem that should be invented without knowing nothing. But I can talk about the cinematic aspects of this movie.

This movie has some very eerie moments because of using a great cinematography. The moments of burying the dead monkey and watching the old film of Norma Desmond are exquisitely presented. The movie has some one of the most innovative scripts of cinema and that is certainly justified by the unforgetable and memorable lines captured from the film. The directing is top-notch but who are we kidding it is Billy 'the great' Wilder. The end of the movie is one of the most chilling part of the movie and it can truly give you some nightmares about insanity. The narration of the movie by the head character was probably done by this movie at the first place and this influenced so many movies afterwards.

One of the reasons that this movie is still not dated is because of its courage. The Hayes code was at its peak at the beginning of fifties which manipulates the producers to limit their bad thoughts on one subject, especially on Hollywood. The movie got 11 oscar nomination but only got 3 of them. Apparently, the reason was its harsh criticism on Hollywood.

There are some arguements about Sunset Boulevard's genre. It is considered as the greatest film-noir of all time. I don't think it is a film-noir at all. For some aspects, the movie has some noirish elements such as the black and white German-expressionist cinematography and an 'on the edge of insanity', femme-fatale but these two are not enough to make a film-noir. I think this is a psyhcological drama with some horror(the end is horrifying for me) and with some very very dark comedy.

Overall, This is truly a classic and one of the best movies of cinema history that will never lose its effects on cinema. Heavily influences American Beauty and Mulholland Drive, also making those movies a must see. 10/10
Class Act
Spoilers. Sometimes lousy movies can be redeemed through means of a plenitude of epigrams sprinkled on the script. This one has all the classic tag lines. "We had faces then." "I am still big; it's the pictures that got small." "Ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille." "The audience doesn't know that someone writes the words; they think the actors make them up as they go along." And some lousy movies have little, barely noticeable touches that redeem them. Gillis storms out of Norma Desmond's house on New Years Eve after an argument, leaving his kept existence forever, but his long watch fob gets caught on the doorknob as he exits. (He'll be beck.) Norma visits a set on the Paramount lot for the first time in twenty years and, asked to sit and watch a rehearsal, the microphone on its boom brushes against her feathery hat and she shoves it away with irritation. And that last devastating dissolve.

But this movie doesn't need that kind of redemption. The script -- the entire film -- is a classic that stands on its own two feet.

Gloria Swanson's performance is overblown, as it should be. Von Stroheim -- or, let's call a spade a spade, plain Stroheim -- brings to his role the starchy oblige that he showed in "Grand Illusion." Holden will be remembered probably for three roles: "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "Picnic," and this. Brackett's script is well above average, even with its use of a voice-over, given by a dead man. Pat Olsen is mouth wateringly beautiful. She went on to make several other movies with Holden, none of them as good as this. The photography and art direction also stand out. This is one REALLY rotting mansion. Everything is out of date, from Buster Keaton to the tiny roach clip Norma Desmond wears on her finger when she smokes.

Amid the bizarre melodrama there is one quiet, simple scene I always find appealing. Holden and Olsen are on a dark, deserted city street on Paramount's back lot, and she tells him she once had her nose fixed. He playfully leans down, examines it, and kisses it lightly. Then he backs away a few inches and warns her never to let him get closer than two feet. If he does, she should hit him with her shoe. Holden never indicates more than a momentary physical attraction, combined with a realization that he'd better not push the envelope. He later tells us he's "crazy about her" but we don't believe him. But in this effective and signal scene, Olsen's expression never changes. Her smile is sweet, agreeable, alert, and curious -- without in any way welcoming more intimacy. It all sounds rudimentary but it's tough to put this kind of exchange over and both performers do it splendidly.

The story is elementary. Gillis, a failed screenwriter, is adopted by Norma Desmond, a rich but forgotten star of the silent days ("Oil wells in Bakersfield -- they keep pumping and pumping and pumping"), and he succumbs to greed, letting her buy him vicuna coats and "evening clothes" and whatever, in return for which he supplies the only thing she needs and he has to offer. But he doesn't do so without loathing himself. And when he falls for another girl, he decides to reject everything, Norma and girl friend and vicuna coat included, and go back to Dayton, Ohio. He doesn't make it. Everything about the story, Gillis's death included, is comic in a way, acerbic may be better, but very dark too. Wilder could be a phenomenally good director when the right script came his way, and this is an instance.
I had a boss who was a dead ringer for Norma Desmond.

She was as old as the hills, you could see her time has come and gone but you couldn't tell her that. She married a man who was 40 years younger than she was. She was rich. She took 'care' of him. She also lived in a house with her ex. And back in the day, she was very pretty. And one day, she snapped.

I'm talking about my ex-boss. Really.

Now about the movie.

I saw this on the wonderful Los Angeles based "Z" channel in the 1980's. This film was too much!!! It was fantastic. The music, the theme, the actors: Gloria Swanson and William Holden. It told a story and the story kept me going. Everybody kicked butt in this film...everybody -- (including a young "Joe Friday"!)

This is what DRAMA is in a film. This is what a DIVA QUEEN is in film. This is a look inside Hollywood no one wants to admit.

RUN!!! Don't walk and get this film. Buy it, don't rent it, because you'll want to own it and watch it again and again.

Drama!!! A Masterpiece!!

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.
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+
Dripping with Edgy Cynicism
Film Noir, as it was filmed in black and white in the late 40's, early 50's is divided into three distinct categories. For the lowbrow, there is the brilliant Detour, so primitive and shot so cheaply, yet delivering a massive result. Then there is The Big Heat with Glenn Ford, a middlebrow film with the dark shadows, tragedy, and cynicism of Noir. Finally, for the highbrows, we have Billy Wilder's finest film, a true landmark dripping with edgy cynicism by a man that lost his parents to the Holocaust.

In Sunset Boulevard, William Holden gives his finest performance. Holden is a very likable man and that comes through on the screen no matter which role he performs, but always that All-American persona, that likability leaks to the screen. Part of this quality is his obvious intelligence. As Norma Desmond's kept man, he knows it's wrong, at times it's downright creepy, but he works with Billy Wilder's vision and melds a bizarre group of Hollywood types into an indictment of the industry up to 1950.

Are exploitation, money grubbing, and the status quest pertaining only to the early era of Hollywood? I don't think so. Ha, ha, ask Jessica Simpson, Jana Jamison, Michael Jackson, adnauseam.

Gloria Swanson is a great actress. She lures Joe Gillis like a black widow spider. Her delirium is a cross between silent movie actress and Betty Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Perhaps Davis got the idea from Gloria's earlier film. Curiously, Betty's 1950 picture All About Eve won the Oscar. It is a fine film, but SB scared the studio heads, indeed horrified them, and the picture was passed over. Anyhow, this was a comeback for Swanson and she went for it. I don't know if she did a lot of work after this film, but it solidified her reputation as a Prima-Donna film actress. Her performance is unforgettable.

Also kudos for Erich Von Stroheim as Max, Nora's butler, ex-husband, and first director. Stroheim indeed was a fine silent film director and remarkable in Renoir's Grand Illusion. This fellow looks like he was born to wear the Kaiser's helmet.

Finally, Nancy Olsen, pulled from obscurity, a college girl from Wisconsin, she is lovely as Holden's inspiration, and love interest. Her wholesomeness certainly contrasted with all the other grubby Hollywood types in the film.

I have seen thousand's of films; many are of very high quality. I can't rattle them all off for you, but SB is in the top 25. Think about that!
The ghosts of Hollywood's ravaged past...
Hack screenwriter chances upon mansion of a faded Hollywood silent screen star who 'hires' him to ghost-write her return project "Salome", but who really wants him for her lover. Poor Norma Desmond: she's 50 years old and over the hill! Literate, but queasy black comedy has a great script and majestic performances, but creeps its way to the depressingly inevitable. The palpable aroma of vintage cigarettes and the smell of rosy perfume hanging in the air permeates this incredible Billy Wilder film; yet, the deeper it crawls into its dark corner, the more repulsive it all seems. It can easily be called a masterpiece, but is it an entertaining movie? Great to see Hollywood circa 1950, with Schwab's Drug Store still there, but it's sad to think that even in 1950, stars were being discarded, replaced by the new and the younger, and even a star like Norma Desmond couldn't get a picture made. Thank goodness she had those oil wells in Bakersfield ("Pumping...pumping."). There's a lesson to be learned from the film: invest! *** from ****
Sunset Blvd: An intense and scary film
'Sunset Blvd.' criticizes the mass media society. It is not just about Hollywood.

"Sunset Blvd." is classic Billy Wilder work. He builds a story with a voice over, which creates an intense and exciting mood.

Sunset Blvd. has many qualities. This is a tragic story about a fallen star and the inability to be a "normal" and "ordinary" human after have been some kind of attraction. This is a movie that after more than 50 years still has great power. And I think it will remain. Just the fact that "Sunset Blvd." really includes Paramount Pictures, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim makes it so real and in the same time beyond reality. And who produced this picture? Paramount Pictures! Is it an impossible thing to happen today? When Norma and Joe watches a movie you can see what it is: Queen Kelly - one of the last silent movies, directed by von Stroheim and casted by Gloria Swanson ...

Billy Wilder shows that the end isn't the only important thing in a movie. It is most of all the way to the end. "Sunset Blvd." is like a journey, and there is not only the characters in 'Sunset Blvd.' who has a development - it is most of all also a development for us, the audience, if we understand it. And I think we should.

Rating: 10 of 10.
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.
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