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Sunset Blvd.
Year:
1950
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.5
Director:
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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Reviews
The dark side of Hollywood in glorious black-and-white
This picture takes the happily-ever-after myth of Hollywood stardom and shatters it for good. When talking pictures became the standard virtually overnight, the big studios turned their collective backs on most of the silent icons that had helped build them. This film offers a frequently sympathetic view of the descent of one of these icons into despair and madness - and for silent film buffs, offers a rare opportunity to see the likes of Anna Q. Nilsson and Buster Keaton in speaking cameos. Billy Wilder's genius as a director is evident in the way that the very adult relationships among the principal characters are conveyed perfectly, under the yoke of the Hays Code, without the use of nudity or profanity
2002-05-28
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.
2005-08-29
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?).
1999-07-09
Brilliant ,Brilliant
The basic plot: A hack writer lands in a huge,decrepit Hollywood palace when some people are after his car , where he meets an incredibly delusional silent actress , Norma Desmond ,and her creepy butler Max , living in a huge mansion alone. She enlists him as a ghostwriter for her terrible comeback script, but she traps him in the house and he becomes her kept man....(nararrated by Joe(the writer)from a pool,dead)

The praise: Brilliant,Brilliant.The way it depicts a woman clinging to her past stardom and narcissistic illusions of fame , in a grotesquely eerie castle of herself , with her dead chimpanzee , and her provocatively weird butler , Max . Everything is cuckoo, as Joe Gillis would say, even her Butler, Max, with the way he idolizes Norma and tries to preserve her glory with lies and deception. The simmering way it depicts Hollywood decorative luxuries is equally hot. Gloria Swanson

gives a truly brilliant performance as the obsessive silent queen, and so does Erich von Stroheim as the equally obsessed butler Max. William Holden also is great, and so is Nancy Olson as the honest Betty Schaefer. A must-see. The ending is one of the greats. I saw this parodied on "Tiny Toons" before I saw this movie!

2000-08-10
masterful, haunting and utterly brilliant
Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Number 1 - 1950

Top 5 - 1950s

Top 50 - All Time

(first lines) Joe Gillis: Yes, this is Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, California. It's about 5 0'clock in the morning. That's the homicide squad, complete with detectives and newspaper men.

From that masterful opening sequence until the tragic conclusion, Sunset Boulevard maintains an example of classic film-making at its most original and revitalising level.

This is one of the greatest works ever committed to film. I could stop right there and say no more. It would be justifiable...

The film opens on the grounds of a run down, old mansion in Sunset Boulevard, where the dead body of a young man floats in the swimming pool. All around are news reporters and journalists, trying to capture a shot. Why? Because, the body lies in the house of an ageing film star, Norma Desmond, long forgotten after the silent era passed her by. The film revolves around the story of this bizarre, disturbed woman who was deserted by fame, her faithful butler, discoverer and ex-husband and a struggling writer who accidentally falls under her wings and she slowly, and pervasively drives him to the edge, as she becomes obsessed, fixated and jealous of any other affairs that this man has. Until, in the grand finale, she shoots him as he tries to leave her false hopes and bizarre world.

This film, along with its main themes and tightly focused storyline, examines the power and corrosiveness of fame and its effects ones it leaves you. Norma Desmond is the deserted silent film queen, who spirals into madness as the world slowly forgets her day by day.

Gloria Swanson, who plays Desmond is nothing short of astonishing. One of the greatest performances I have ever seen and definitely one of the best performances to be overlooked by the Academy.

With outstanding performances from Eric von Stroheim and William Holden as the struggling writer, who initially finds refuge with Desmond, in this story about fame, madness and humanity. The direction by Billy Wilder is truly exceptional along with a great screenplay, a superbly suited score by Franz Waxman and creative cinematography by John F. Seitz, create an atmospheric film-noir.

1950 was a good year for film. Sunset Boulevard was up against the equally recognised masterpiece All About Eve and the Best Picture was awarded to the latter, although I am convinced that Sunset Blvd. was superior. Regardless a timeless achievement and a film that is grounded in the list of the greatest films ever made.

10/10
2008-01-28
arguably Wilder at his very best; Swanson, Holden, and von Stroheim are about perfect
I was a little speechless after I first finished watching Sunset Blvd. I had an idea of what to expect, but I didn't expect that a film made over half a century ago would be so sharp, so artistically compelling, and so tragic while still containing a blistering sense of humor. In some ways it was ahead of its time with its satire, ironically in a film that looks to the past with a sense of sad, but honest nostalgia. Gloria Swanson, the star of the film, plays a woman who is a star still in her old mind, Norma Desmond. There are a handful (how big the hand is depends on the particular viewer) of films where you have a character or characters that are not only unforgettable, but become so trenched in the public consciousness its hard to think of mistaking it for anything else. Even as a kid and knew that line "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille" was a basic, but dead-on swipe at ego, or at least stardom. That it was in this context makes it all the more comic/tragic. That Sunset Boulevard also has the distinction of being in the film-noir tradition along with having some satirical grounding solidifies it one of the really unique films of the Golden Age of post World War 2 America.

The story starts with our protagonist and past-tense narrator, Joe Gillis, who is a struggling B movie screenwriter in Hollywood. Fate, or maybe just odd luck, pits him into the driveway of a big, almost archaic estate that almost looks haunted to him on first sight. He meets Norma Desmond, whom he doesn't recognize as once being a big silent movie star. "I am big," she says in one of her trademark lines, "it's the pictures that have gotten small." She confides in Gillis, after he tells her who he is and why he's there (hiding out as it were), that she has a screenplay she wants DeMille to direct as her 'comeback'. He very reluctantly agrees to do it, and very soon gets sucked up into her world, becoming disconnected to his small circle of Hollywood friends. But he still has one, as a kind of secret almost, Betty Schaefer (the beautiful Nancy Olson), who is an aspiring screenwriter. One can maybe guess what might happen as this goes on, but like with Wilder's other great films, the unexpected moments and keen revelations/coincidences are the best parts; Erich von Stroheim as Max, Norma's 'butler', is surprisingly good.

I've seen Sunset Blvd. several times now, but I can't forget how much I laughed the first time around; I wondered why it was even considered in the 'film-noir' tradition (not that it didn't have its stylistic or character bearings, but compared to Double Indemnity it didn't seem as pumped up). I really took it as a kind of pioneering black comedy, with Norma Desmond as the delusional, self-fulfilling has-been. For example, when Gillis first arrives and Max and Norma bury her pet monkey- it's not just the image of the dead monkey and the reverence paid to it, but also as they bury it Gillis' wry narration. The narration in this film is another great trademark, with that kind of snappy later 40's/early 50's wit that helped move from the kind of wit that was in earlier Hollywood films. And of course there are some other absurdities that bring out a few good laughs, in particular when Norma visits DeMille in the studio, and gets suddenly by some surreal miracle all the attention she's been having in her head.

In repeated viewings, the film does show itself as darker, with a lot more thought put into the themes and real problems in the characters. Not just Norma, but also Joe, who little by little becomes more like the sneaky son of an overbearing mother than a real collaborator. The final scenes, which link up to the "end scene at the beginning", and then the sort of crazy, classic epilogue of Norma on the staircase, more of the film-noir elements come through. The 'average Joe', so to speak, in over his head; the sinister elements that are around him (more so here psychological than criminal); and of course the 'black widow' in Norma Desmong. Swanson, in what should've been her Oscar winning role, never misses a beat. Through her delusions of grandeur and overwhelming nostalgia for the old days (another great scene is when she makes him watch all her old silent films), there is also a vulnerability that doesn't make her a totally hateful character.

And through all of this is one of the best screenplays that's ever come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. As I mentioned the narration is sharp and observant, as in a sort of Pulp-noir novel, and the dialog for the time isn't very unconvincing. The relationships, like the one between Joe and Betty, is handled gently, so that the punch that's given to the viewer at the end has more of an impact. Max, as well, is maybe even more a complex character than Norma; why stay as a butler for a woman who is almost in a time warp? Perhaps he is too. Maybe that's one, perhaps subtle, message to the film- as much as it is fascinating to look to the past, to get locked into it is something very detrimental. But the film may not have a very clear-cut message, as it is a dense film with different appeals to different people (like a Kubrick film)- it's funny, it's romantic, it's sly, and at times very weird. I can't wait to see it again.
2005-08-25
Still great after all these years. A classic full of suspense!
Director Billy Wilder probably at his best. Shot in black, white and shades of gray; the screen sparkles with the brilliance of the script and very good acting. William Holden plays a once successful script writer down on his luck. He finds himself at the mansion of an aging silent movie star played by Gloria Swanson. She was kind of spooky and a whole lot crazy. Her butler and former husband is played by Erich von Stroheim. A true classic worth watching again.
1999-12-07
She Doesn't Want To Be Alone
"Sunset Blvd." is the funniest movie ever made about the saddest of human conditions, loneliness.

Struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) bounces around Hollywood like a pinball, flipped at every turn by the big wheels who ignore his attempts to latch onto their world. Only the repo men want his company. Then he finds himself in the mansion of forgotten screen legend Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), decked out as a memorial to someone not yet dead. Norma believes the world awaits her return ("I hate that word," she says of "comeback"). In her effort to elude time's heartless march, she abandons sanity and bids Joe join her.

Billy Wilder's film is a satire of Hollywood with a nod in the direction of Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved One" (Norma initially assumes Joe is here to help bury her pet chimp). As a satire it scores points, but it's as a twisted love story that it makes its mark as a cinematic masterpiece. Norma fantasizes about her comeback, but it's her love of Joe that destroys her. Everyone talks about Joe's self-loathing as a foregone conclusion of his finding himself in Norma's presence and turning himself into a gigolo, but I think he's always carrying that dislike around, his self-inflicted price for failing to achieve what he wants from life and a prison of loneliness every bit as desolate as Norma's mansion. One might wonder to what extent that, more than Norma, serves as his ruin.

It's also a marvelous black comedy, both of tone and out-and-out belly laughs, whether it's Joe getting unsolicited advice in the men's clothing shop ("As long as the lady is paying for it, why not take the Vicuna?") or his narrating how gentle people get with a person after he's dead. Holden's especially great in his voice-over work, letting every line stick with just the right amount of emphasis, and no hint of actorliness.

Swanson's all actorliness, of course, in that magnificent way of hers which provides so much of the empathy and madcap zaniness to the film. Like Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein," she draws you in with her amazing eyes and makes you laugh and cringe simultaneously at her most emotive outbursts. It's a comic showcase from one not known for comedy, or for working in sound.

Was Norma always this affected? A glimpse of her in one of her old movies (Swanson again, in her unreleased "Queen Kelly") shows a retrained, luminous presence not at all like the Norma we meet in the story. If this Norma played anyone on the silent screen, it would have more likely been Nosferatu. Just watch those hands of hers twist and pull, especially when she's drawing Joe deeper in her web.

Norma doesn't mean to harm Joe. She just has no idea how real relationships work. To her, like mad Max her butler (Erich von Stroheim, a curiously shifting centerpiece whose true nature drives the point home), keeping people around is all that keeps her from a chasm of despair. When she talks to Joe, or addresses her imagined audience, it's not with the coldness of a user but real heart and soul. Unlike Garbo, she most emphatically does not want to be alone, and we can't help but like her for it.

"Sunset Blvd." makes a subtle, brilliant case that staving off loneliness to such a degree makes for a sickness all its own. I'm not sure whether or not that's the most depressing thing about the film, but it certainly adds to the power of its singular sting.
2006-10-10
Pretty much one of greatest movies ever!
I just saw Sunset Blvd. for the first time as it was aired on finish channel two. I was amazed! Totally brilliant! Billy Wilder is a superb director and William Holden a terrific actor. And the plot. Very good indeed. As a whole the movie is a perfect combination. Actors, screenplay, music and all key elements are all very close to the best I've ever seen on film. I can on only wonder about the imagination of Billy Wilder. Of course I have give credit to the other writer Charles Brackett as well. And Gloria Swanson plays the neurotic and psychotic has-been movie star with so much authenticity that it is quite scary. What more can I say? Probably quite a lot, but I'll just end by saying that Sunset Blvd. is in my opinion one of the greatest movies ever.
2004-06-13
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.
2001-03-26
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