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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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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!
Right up there with Citizen Kane
Brilliant film that is easily Wilder's best. A true classic that deserves to be ranked alongside Citizen Kane. And comparing the 2 films in terms of acting, atmosphere, dialog, conflict, symbolism, and theme (to say nothing of depth): Sunset Boulevard surpasses Kane. The ending is unforgettable and ironic:Max gets to direct, Norma makes a "comeback" before the cameras, and Joe has a story, his own. Like Kane, Sunset Boulevard begins with the end. The first shot is of the gutter with the film's title printed on the curb,and the first shot of Joe floating lifelessly in Norma's pool shows us he has sunk even lower: the film proceeds to show us how he got there.

Sunset Boulevard is about the march of time:what time and technology does to people and what happens to those who don't or can't keep in step. And like Norma, the new Hollywood seems to be leaving Joe behind. The 2 cars in Norma's garage represent an unspoken bond between Joe and Norma; except for those cars the outside world has little use for these two. The finance company wants to repossess Joe's car and Paramount wants to use Norma's for a film.

The acting is unsurpassable;the dialog and narration memorable, and the atmosphere in that decaying mansion is palpable. One of those films, like Kane, that improves with repeated viewings. Endlessly brilliant. The film hasn't aged a bit, and Swanson and VonStroheim lend it an authenticity that would be impossible for any subsequent version to equal. Essential viewing.

The Paramount released DVD looks great and has worthwhile extras.
I've seen this film over and over on tv and video. Last week I got to see it on the big screen. WOW! GO, Drive miles and miles, walk if necessary, steal a car, whatever - any chance you have to see this film as intended TAKE IT! I've always loved this film and thought it was brilliant - NOW I know it's truly a masterpiece! Gloria Swanson's performance is unbelievable - just how DID Judy Holiday win that oscar?!?!?

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.
All is not as it seems in Hollywood
March 7, 2004

**** Excellent!

"Sunset Boulevard" ranks with "All About Eve" as one of the best written and best acted films of the 1950's. To me, 1950, ranks as high as the golden year of 1939 for Hollywood.

I have just seen "Sunset Boulevard" for the very first time. I was very favorably impressed. "Sunset Boulevard" is the inspiration for all other Hollywood inside story films that came after.

Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond who is a lonely insecure once famous silent film star living in isolation with her servant in a lavish, but neglected Hollywood mansion from the 1920's. William Holden plays the role of Joe Gillis, a down on his luck B film Hollywood writer who accidentally discovers her mansion. Erich Von Stroheim plays the loyal house servant Max Von Mayerling to Norma Desmond.

A combination film noir, satire with dark, cynical humor, "Sunset Boulevard" excels. Being narrated by a dead man is a nice dark touch. There are cameos of several famous silent film stars including Buster Keaton, who play themselves in the film. Most notably, Cecile B. DeMile plays himself, who directed Gloria Swanson (in real life) in some of her silent films.

The film has a romance substory that is done well. I believe this substory really serves as a distraction from the film's dark cynical tone.

Both "Sunset Boulevard" and "All About Eve" are two excellent films of the same year (1950). Both were nominated for Academy Awards in many categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both films had similiar stories. To decide which film was the best film of 1950 was truly difficult and shows the folly of the Academy Awards. Both are excellent films (in different ways): most notably for writing and acting. "Sunset Boulevard" has the advantage of better cinematography for it's film noir, moody look and feel. "All About Eve" does have a "stagey" look and feel to it, using basic and simple cinematography. Both films excel with similiar stories, done with different tone and mood.

"Sunset Boulevard" stands the test of time as a classic film, perhaps better understood and appreciated by film buffs, nonetheless, one of Hollywood's best films.
"Who wants real? Who wants moving?"
With a medium like cinema, which had such a distinct and holistic culture all of its own, it is bound sooner or later to lose itself in nostalgia. Either that or cynical self-parody. Sunset Boulevard is not about the way motion pictures were – it is about the way motion picture people were, and continued to be.

Indeed, the style of Sunset Boulevard was the very epitome of modern film-making – voice-over narration, fluid camera-work, crisp cinematography. These contemporary trappings really serve to deepen the contrast and sharpen the disrespectful onslaught upon the olden days. Take the protagonist voice-over, something writers Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett really made an art of. It may often be functional, cutting corners in the narrative or elucidating on screen events, but more often than not it is superfluous to the story, and acts as a kind of enjoyably wry commentary on proceedings. It's a stylistic layer as much as the overstuffed set design and chiaroscuro lighting.

Director Billy Wilder is often said (by Ed Sikov for example) to be someone who "does not call attention to the shot". On the contrary, he actually constantly grabs us with the images. While he was never fond of obvious trickery, Wilder loves the weirdness of natural effects – such as Swanson's face skull-like in her sunglasses, or the close-up on her spinning parasol which begins the bathing beauties routine. He is great at filling the shot with "clues" and reminders, bringing them to our attention at the right moment – such as those holes in the doors where the locks should be, which a line in the dialogue has made us associate with suicide attempts.

But this is really a movie about stars, and central to Sunset Boulevard is the performance by Gloria Swanson. It was incredibly brave of Swanson to play such a brazen caricature of the kind of woman she could have become. But she brings all her long-standing talent and the knowledge of experience into the role. Norma Desmond is as much a creation of Swanson as she is of Wilder and Brackett. She has the kind of sleek, animalistic movement of a silent-era vamp, but tinges it with a frank depiction of middle-aged indignity. Her acting may be exaggerated and far from realistic, but remember she is playing a woman for whom life has become an act. Swanson is hammy because hamminess is real for that character. She clearly knew exactly what she was doing and what the pictures was about. Compare that to DeMille, who really had no sense of irony, and it's amazing he agreed to appear here. His performance is assuredly naturalistic (and ironically far better than most of what passes for acting in his own pictures), although that is also perfect for the part he plays here – being himself! Whether or not he had agreed to appear, DeMille would have been a central figure to this story. He was really the sole survivor of the silent era; the only individual – star, producer or director – from that time who was still a top dog. And although Sunset Boulevard sets its sights on the Hollywood of yesteryear, it was really the Hollywood of 1950 that Wilder and Brackett were gunning for. Like Norma Desmond, the post-war industry had passed its heyday and was really living off the receipts of its past glories. The studio system was crumbling, and TV was encroaching on its territory just as sound had encroached on Norma's thirty years earlier. It was now the more modest productions by younger, free-spirited filmmakers – productions like Sunset Boulevard itself – that were beginning to rise to the surface.
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?).
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.
Sunset Blvd. (1950) ****
I think this picture was definitely more deserving of "Best Picture" of 1950 than ALL ABOUT EVE. Probably it was the more "offbeat" nature of this film in those times that worked against it, much like THE EXORCIST didn't have a chance of winning Best Picture in 1973 (I think THE STING and even American GRAFFITI were better, though). A magnificent film, with great direction by Billy Wilder, and a fine cast. Gloria Swanson initially struck me as way over the top and wild-eyed at first, but given the whole nature of the proceedings, it's kind of understandable. William Holden is perfect as the desperate house guest, and Nancy Olson is the ideal girl-next-door. Eric von Stroheim is striking as Swanson's butler. A keeper that I'll seek out for myself on DVD, I'd place SUNSET BLVD. as one of the best films ever made, and it will occupy a position in my personal Top 100. **** out of ****
Wonderful performances and edge of your seat story-telling...
1st watched 1/4/2003 - 8 out of 10(Dir-Billy Wilder): Wonderful performances and edge of your seat story-telling in this classic Billy Wilder film. What I think really holds this picture together is the well-down over-the-top portrayal of silent film star Norma Desmond by Gloria Swanson. William Holden also does a good job of standing his own as well in a quiet but effective performance. Basically, this is a story about a failing screenwriter's accidental encounter with Norma Desmond who still lives in the past with the household staff playing along at every beat. He then becomes entangled in her web and has to fight himself out of her grip, but struggles with this because he is being taken care of financially and socially. But once Norma gets jealous of Holden's encounter with another woman the inevitable happens(which I will not give away). Overall, this was daring filmmaking for it's time with only some minor annoyances but otherwise splashingly good.
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