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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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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.
Classic Film Noir of epic proportions...
Joe Gillis(William Holden)is a Hollywood writer who gets himself caught up revising a script for the comeback of a silent film star named Norma Desmond(Gloria Swanson), who is obsessed with her past and suicidal.

Forget the chemistry in Casablanca, this movie has the best on screen chemistry of all time! I have always enjoyed film noir, but never really respected it as much as I would have for other movie genres, but Sunset Blvd. changed my mind. I could not find a single thing wrong with this movie. The acting, writing, and plot were all wonderful. The writing, of course, was the snazzy film noir type dialog that can be easily noticeable. The movie included famous lines such as: "I'm still big, it's the picture that got smaller" and "Mr. Demille, I'm ready for my close-up" The movie was still scary, even now, 55 years later! Overall, this is one of the greatest movies of all time and the best movie of the 50s.

I highly recommend this movie.
A film packed with unforgettable moments…
Although at that time she hadn't appeared in a film for several years and wasn't to make one for several for several more, Gloria Swanson remained a presence in the Hollywood of the thirties, the only legendary silent star to sustain an image and continue to interest the film studios, which put her under contract and announced her to star in a series of projects—none of which were realized… While she wasn't to regain her former eminence until her celebrated comeback as Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard," a scathing satire on Hollywood and the self-delusions of its former heroes, she maintained her silent-screen image as the personification of glamor, and as such wasn't the initial choice for the role of the faded silent star…

Like many small people who achieve greatness, Swanson was a powerhouse of energy, vitality, ambition and shrewdness, untroubled by insight humor to slow down her pace…

The key to her success, the charm of her personality, the glamor of her career and the secret of her survival was superbly captured by herself in one of the best autobiographies, Swanson on Swanson…
The Wild Roller-coaster of Fame
In many ways Sunset Boulevard is like the reverse side of the coin of A Star Is Born. In that film we have young Vicki Lester going through all the travails and heartache before achieving her goal of movie stardom.

Sunset Boulevard is the reverse. A Star Is Born has its tragic figure in Norman Maine who commits suicide rather than face being a has been. In Sunset Boulevard we have the character of Norma Desmond who has not taken that route. She lacks for nothing in the material world, she wisely saved and invested her money. But the acclaim of the audience is a drug she craves. She's been at the top on the celebrity roller-coaster and now is at the bottom.

Into her life comes Joe Gillis quite accidentally. Fleeing from some repo men looking to take his car, Gillis drives into the garage of what he thinks is a deserted mansion. It looks pretty run down from the outside. Gillis compares it to the house of Miss Faversham from Great Expectations, little knowing how right he was.

Billy Wilder was a casting genius though in some ways he fell into the cast he had. Gloria Swanson was not his first choice, he approached both Mary Pickford and Pola Negri for the Desmond role first. Gloria Swanson who actually had made the transition to sound well, but had gone on to stage and radio since her success in Music in the Air, drew from the experiences of many of her colleagues. At the time she was cast in Sunset Boulevard she had a radio show out of New York.

Bill Holden was sheer serendipity. Originally Montgomery Clift was to do the part, but at the last minute he said no, feeling that this was to similar a part to the one he played in The Heiress. Wilder then went through the list of contract leading men at Paramount.

Wilder saw something in Holden, God bless him. Holden had done a whole series of what he termed 'smiling Jim' roles. He was considered an amiable and non-threatening leading man. Although he had done well in a role as a psychotic killer in The Dark Past, Sunset Boulevard brought him his first real acclaim as an actor. An Academy Award nomination came with the acclaim.

Nancy Olson and Erich Von Stroheim were nominated in the Best Supporting Player categories as was Swanson for Best Actress. Von Stroheim was another inspired choice. His is a strange part indeed. He was Desmond's first director in silent films and left his career behind to take care of her. He was also her first husband.

Sunset Boulevard for it's time and with the Code firmly in place was a brutal look at the sexual needs of a middle-aged woman. Before Holden knows it, he's giving up his life as an aspiring screenwriter to be a kept gigolo. He doesn't like it, but can't leave it. When he does, it results in tragedy.

Nancy Olson plays a reader at Paramount studios where Holden is trying to sell a script. She and Holden had good chemistry and after this they did four more films together.

Casting Cecil B. DeMille as himself was of necessity for who could play the great DeMille, but DeMille. DeMille in fact was a former actor and playwright at the turn of the last century. In his autobiography DeMille lets us in on a private joke. He in fact did direct many of Gloria Swanson's early silent films and a pet name he had for her was 'young fella.' Note that when Norma Desmond comes to the Paramount lot to see him, he greets her with that same expression. Note that DeMille got a plug for his own film Samson and Delilah which was in production at the same time. It is the set of that film where Swanson and DeMille meet.

You will never forget the finely etched characters of Sunset Boulevard. You can see it many times as I've done, but if you see it only once you will have it burned in your memory. Especially that last scene before the newsreel cameras where Swanson loses whatever sanity she has left. She descends down the stairs of her mansion and descends into the comfort of insanity.

I've often wondered should a sequel have been done covering the trial of Norma Desmond. I'm sure Billy Wilder wanted to move on to other projects. Still that would have been a film to see.
Swanson Levitates.....In A Perfect Performance
Yet another magnificent motion picture directed by the great Billy Wilder. The magical performance by Gloria Swanson will be analyzed and deeply appreciated for ever. William Holden as the young novice writer also is great here. The play between the two "stars" is tactful and completely convincing. The movie is full of memorable lines (the writing is flawless) ...its such a great pity movie writers to-day simply CANT do it. I wonder why that is...but its true. Swanson gambles everything on her ability to go for broke....without looking fake. She does it with an amazing piece of breathtaking acting. Watching her is almost like watching a tight rope walker....without the net. This can be viewed multiple times...a real Classic. Gets an automatic 10 / 10.
Hollywood Gothic
With the spotlight on Norma Desmond, one of the greatest movie characters of all time, played majestically by Gloria Swanson, "Sunset Blvd." oozes Hollywood Gothic, in a story that is as bleak as it is timeless.

Although the script's protagonist is Joe Gillis (William Holden), unsuccessful screenwriter and opportunist, the heart and soul of the film resides in the character of older woman Norma Desmond, a reclusive movie star of years gone by, living in the past, vain, egocentric, yearning for a return to the camera.

What makes Norma so memorable is her singular strangeness ... those over-sized hand gestures, eyes bugged-out, ghastly makeup, grandiose emotions, and living with her servant Max (Erich von Stroheim) in that overblown, creepy mansion, antiquated, baroque, and " ... out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion." Norma and her world are bleak beyond words. And yet, there's a humor in all that bombastic eccentricity.

And the film's theme runs deep, as it turns on its industry overlords with a stinging indictment of Hollywood suits, cruel and heartless, spitting out actors and writers when they no longer generate money. Hollywood insiders are portrayed thusly as desperate, vain, egocentric, opportunistic, shallow, and delusional, much like Norma and Joe. Indeed, the Hollywood savagery of 1950 looks very much like the Hollywood savagery of today. Thematically, the film has not aged at all.

B&W cinematography captures the story's bleakness well. Sets and props are suitably specific and detailed. The film's score is at times as grandiose and majestic as Norma. And Wilder's stylistic and flamboyant directorial flourishes add to the film's supremacy.

My only complaint pertains to the script. The voice-over narration is a bit overdone. And the second half plot gives a little too much attention to the Betty Schaefer character. It's Norma Desmond that I want to see and listen to.

These quibbles aside, "Sunset Blvd." is one of the great classic films of all time, a noir drama, wonderfully dreary and grim, yet funny, too. And that final sequence with Norma descending the staircase, addressing those around her in a mannered whisper, head tilted back, all bug-eyed and never blinking ... then as she looks into the camera ... Just terrific!
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.
Among the best ever made
Joe Gillis, a failed writer played with an efficient cynicism by William Holden, blows out a tire escaping the repo man, limps into the driveway of an old Sunset Blvd mansion to hide, and thus enters a decadent world that traps him like a babe in a sticky womb. In this morality-tale, a la Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, we learn that even an accidental gigolo earns his keep, and then some.

The voice-over and frame are appropriately reminiscent of a Forties' radio show, perhaps "Inner Sanctum" or "The Shadow." The images, from Gloria Swanson's greasy face and spidery fingers, to Eric Von Stroheim's wheezy organ, to the lighted pool with Joe's face down in it, ("This is where you came in") are indelible.

This is a great movie, built on character and story, well-crafted amidst the haunting atmosphere of an "undead" Hollywood. They don't make them like this anymore, truly.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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!!

"Madam is the greatest star of all."
Sunset Blvd. could be looked at as a thesis on what fame does to certain people. For Norma Desmond, fame created a fantasy world that forever trapped her. Living alone in that giant house on Sunset, save for her servant Max, Norma whiles away the hours planning her magnificent return. Her fame kept alive by fan letters, and her hope of return kindled by Joe Gillis. For Norma, there is no other life than standing before cameras and acting out lives of characters that are larger than life. Of course, no one knows who Norma Desmond is. Gloria Swanson gives a magnificent performance. She runs from melancholy, to unbridled joy, to complete mental breakdown. William Holden is the ultimate cynic. He plays Norma like a fiddle but gets ensnared in her web of decaying glory. In the end, Joe pays the price for enduring Norma's insanity. As she descends that staircase in the final scene, you can see that she is completely lost in her own world. A world where no one grows old, where she is forever young, and where she is the greatest star of them all. After all, stars never age.
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