Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Billy Wilder Blog-A-Thon

Billy Wilder's big middle finger pointed right at Hollywood...

Genre: Drama Romance

Starring: William Holden (Network The Bridge on the River Kwai), Gloria Swanson (Queen Kelly Airport 1975)

Directed By: Billy Wilder (The Apartment Ace In The Hole)

Overview: A down-on-his-luck writer stumbles upon the home of a Silent film star, agreeing to work on her script. The pathetic aging starlet decides to keep him as a kept man.


Looking into Gloria Swanson's career, you can see that she was as true a victim of the talkies as there ever was: a whole string of Silents, followed by five talkies, then nothing. In Sunset Boulevard, Gloria has this way of playing her part so far over the top that it goes beyond hamminess into a histrionic, silent-era overzeal.  It's so obvious that her character's grip on reality is fading as she overplays dramatic scenes that are merely her life without an audience, but without any of the grace and style that we know she had in her heyday. It's embarrassing to watch her prance around, acting bigger than she is. 
It's perfect.
Rating: 9


Set design went the naturalistically fake route that the acting did, a perfect mirror of subtext that brings the film dangerously all too close to the real thing. When we see it for the first time, the very real mansion is donned by a dust of age, covered in vines, the backyard has an empty filthy pool filled with rats. The very real Hollywood set the characters visit was actually being used by Cecil B. DeMille for a film he was producing at the time. To see the real Hollywood in this fashion adds a nice contextual backdrop that certainly serves to enhances the grim reality of the tale.
Rating: 8


You are writing words, words, more words! Well, you'll make a rope of words and strangle this business! But there'll be a microphone there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the red, swollen tongues!

The more I see it, the more I get excited when I see "Written and Directed by". Those films just seem better to me, visions being followed through from script to screen by the same person and all. Billy Wilder and his co-writers not only made two of this script's lines into AFI's most memorable Top 100 quotes, but as Wilder did with Ace in the Hole, he also does here, playing up the cinema of the thing, going just a touch beyond the natural spectrum of realistic dialogue into an exploration of Hollywood falsity. There's even a scene between two writers where they improvise a period love scene, cheesing it up as they mask their conversation in melodrama, making it endearing while still showing us the lives they live everyday. 
Rating: 8


I will agree that the pathetic sadness expressed by our aging starlet was perhaps shown a little too frequently, but it's still a very entertaining constant throughout the film. My favorite scene has got to be the first meeting between the star and the writer. He enters her boudoir where she is deciding how best to lay to rest her chimpanzee. She explains to him how truly the ape must be honoured, and giving us a clear bright gaze deep into the psyche of her present. You know that it's going to be one hell of a crazy ride.
Rating: 8


Well Billy Wilder did it again, treating an open nerve of a subject with grace and dignity, all while sticking it to the industry at the same time. If it's one thing you walk away with for certain, it's that Hollywood is a dirty mistress. With cameos by Silent film stars like Buster Keaton as bridge partners, sarcastically named "the Waxworks", with sad truths like Erich von Stroheim playing the butler once director, and with the washed up star being played by someone who lived that very experience, this is a tale of subtext so near the surface that it doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to see the pain behind the veiled mirror that is Sunset Boulevard.
Rating: 10

 Close up!
My favorite silent stars are the ones that go right batty!

Overall Rating: 86% (You'll Be Seeing Stars)

Not only do we find this film in AFI's favorite movies, as well as 1001 Movies and IMdB's #30 from their Top 250, but this also won three Oscars (Best Writing, Music and Art Direction), and eight other Oscar nominations besides. It's also the winner of the Golden Globes for Best Picture, Actress, Director and Score.  The list of awards and praise goes on and on. You already know this is one you should get around to seeing to rightly be able to call yourself a film buff.  I must thank Jeff Duncanson over at Filmscreed for pushing me to get to know Wilder a little sooner than I normally would have.
If you want to immerse yourself a little deeper in the Wilder fare, I actually preferred Ace In The Hole, and of course, just click the link below to jump to the Wilder Blog-A-Thon main portal!

Billy Wilder Blog-A-Thon


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Squish: A very fine overview of what of my favorite Wilder pieces.  This film is one of those comfortable ones that I have watched over a dozen times.  It doesn't matter where I enter it, I'm hooked with it until it ends.  Wilder's skill with static images is particular noteworthy in the sequence where Holden is floating dead in the pool.  My understanding is the image is reflected on a mirror and that's how he achieved the shot.  With Holden's voiceover from beyond the grave, it sears the consciousness.

The Paramount Collection edition has a special feature showing the original, cut after first viewing, opening.

Why Billy Why would you cut this prelude?

A tad long perhaps; but silently introduce us to the story, make us watch the black back end of a coroner's van (Charion's boat), drag us chest deep scarringly along the rough asphalt streets (Styx), show that we are in for a bumpy ride.

Exit after the "men in white" wheel a gurney, around the corner, into oblivion where someone belongs. Re-enter via; his street, his apt, his white robe and his dialoge.

imho Neah

"There's nothing else.  Just us... and the cameras... and those wonderful people out there in the dark."

It's quite funny to think that Andrew Lloyd Webber made Norma Desmond sing in his S.B. musical, she who says: "Now they put some talentless unknown beneath their sacred microphone, ne didn't need words: we had faces!"
But the musical is very striking, after all. Especially if you listen to Glenn Close's recording...

Poor Norma... so happy, lost in her silven heaven...

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