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  • Hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) accidentally falls in with faded screen legend Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). She lives in a crumbling old mansion with her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim). She refuses to believe that she's no longer remembered and will never make another movie. She gets Gillis to stay with her and rewrite "Salome" which she thinks will be her comeback. Gillis has no other choice and things slowly get out of hand.

    A VERY cynical view of Hollywood--especially for 1950. It shows what Hollywood does to people like Norma--it makes them stars, tells them that they're great and dump them coldly when they're no longer needed. It also takes swipes at directors, agents, screenwriters, even entire studios! It has a tight quick script, is appropriately filmed in gloomy black and white and is masterfully directed by Billy Wilder. Everybody thought this was a bad idea when it was being made. It was believed to be too cold and vicious for the public. Also Holden was warned it would ruin his career by playing a younger man kept by an older woman. But it turned out great and is now rightfully considered a classic.

    The acting is almost all good. I never thought Nancy Olson was that good. Her character is too pure and sweet to be believable. Everybody else is right on target though. Holden is just great in his role. You see the pity, anger and helplessness on his face when he realizes Norma is falling in love with him--and he's trapped. von Stroheim was equally good as Max who encourages Norma's delusions. Swanson however is just magnificent! She has a very showy role and could have overplayed it--but she doesn't. She's mad for sure--but you only see it peeking through every once in a while. When she loses it completely at the end it's frightening. If she had played it like that all through the movie it never would have worked. How she lost the Oscar that year to Judy Holliday for "Born Yesterday" is beyond me. This is a must see and a true Hollywood classic but VERY cold and cynical. A 10 all the way.

    "I am big--it's the pictures that got small". "All right Mr. deMille--I'm ready for my closeup".
  • The plot has been discussed at length in other comments.

    To me SUNSET BOULEVARD has it all. The comedy is sly, the drama is of epic proportions because it's not JUST a story about Hollywood or an aging actress. It's really about the giving up of dreams.

    Norma's dream of return, held to for 20 years, is ironic because Norma so closely parallels Gloria. That Norma cannot make a comeback in 1950 even with connections to DeMille is sad. The sadness is due to Norma's refusal to accept her aging or the politics of Hollywood that worship youth. It's ironic that Norma has no place in Hollywood (the parade has passed by) but DeMille is still working and in the scenes from Samson and Delilah we spot other old-timers like Henry Wilcoxon and Julia Faye--still working but not as STARS. The final irony here is that Gloria did make the comeback that Norma couldn't make.

    Norma has a thing about STARS.... she says at one point... "the stars are ageless." Well this is true in a filmic sense. I can still watch Gloria Swanson in THE LOVE OF SUNYA or MANHANDLED and yup, she is ageless. She is still twenty something. That screen image is forever held up like a bad mirror to the reality of being 50. On another occasion Norma says "nobody leaves a STAR, that's what makes one a STAR." True again, but it's not just Gillis who is leaving Norma, her fans have already left. Hence if one is left, one cannot be a STAR.

    Gillis also gives up his dream (temporarily) of being a writer, Max gives up his dream of directing, and even Betty gives up her dream of love with Gillis. Scary stuff.

    The film is also about LOVE. Look what these people have done for love: love of another person or love of fame or whatever. Max loves Norma. Norma loves Gillis. Gillis loves Norma and Betty. Betty loves Gillis and Artie. Artie loves Betty. And all of them love Hollywood.

    Everyone is crushed at the end of this film..... The scene of Max "directing" the scene as Norma descends the staircase is one of the all-time great scenes in a film. Norma's final speech, which sums up everything ("there is nothing else"), is devastating. Can she really be insane and make this lucid speech? If she's NOT insane then she has knowingly killed Gillis to prevent his leaving her (a STAR)....... Also the shots of Max blinking away tears as Norma descends (supposedly into madness) and also of Hedda Hopper crying are equally as devastating as Norma's speech about "being back" and "all those wonderful people out there in the dark" (which of course includes us every time we watch the film).

    I cannot think of any other film (possibly CITIZEN KANE) that works on so many different levels. And Gloria Swanson gives the greatest performance in film history!
  • Until 1950, American films were strictly entertainment, some deeper than others. Studio executives were very protective of image and star-making. In essence, everything seemed perfect. Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman, Jr. created a stunning work of art that splits the Hollywood sign in two and exposed a dream factory for what it really is: a struggle to both gain and keep notoriety in the limelight. "Norma Desmond" and "Joe Gillis" are at opposite ends of this warped Hollywood mindset, with Gillis, played by that most cynical of actors, William Holden trying to pay the rent and Norma (Gloria Swanson) living a lie as a silent queen whose star burned "10,000 midnights ago". How a picture with such a snide look at the industry could come out in 1950 is simply mind-boggling, considering some of the light fodder that came out of Hollywood at the time. It has inspired many modern day disciples such as Altman's THE PLAYER, and Sonnenfeld's GET SHORTY, both of which took their vicious, hilarious parodies to the jugular of the movie capital of the world. SUNSET BLVD is the father of all socially oriented pictures regarding the movies and is by far the best.

    The images of this beautiful black and white powerhouse are fascinating and unforgettable: the dead writer floating in a pool, eyes wide open, looking right at us at the beginning; the eerie pipe organ that plays by the breeze in the middle of one of the most deep and dustiest sets ever; the funeral ceremony of the dead monkey in Norma's courtyard ("That must have been one important chimp. The grandson of King Kong perhaps." says Holden in a delightfully crisp and wise voice-over.) Holden pulls his car into a driveway off of the boulevard that will change his life forever. He is the emblem of the struggle to get notoriety. He has only a few B Movies to his credit. Swanson as Norma Desmond is the symbol of lost fame and has become the talk of legend. What is ironic about her character is that she may be playing herself in an odd way. She WAS an actual silent star whose career went down the tubes after the talkies came about. Her madness combined with Holden's last drop of naiveté combine to give us one of the most electrifying "give and take" between actors I've ever witnessed.

    Both lead parts were passed over by several actors. Holden was eventually forced into it as a contract player. How could you pass on such a script? Even "wax figures" (as Holden calls them) Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson come to Norma's to play bridge, of course being Hollywood outcasts themselves, after the invention of sound in film. Some of the dialogue takes a swing at actual movies and people (GONE WITH THE WIND, Zanuck, Menjou). This must have brought the house down in Hollywood screening rooms throughout the town. Louis B. Mayer even condemned Billy Wilder for "ruining the industry". The film is sad and darkly humorous depicting the antics of Norma, who is quite insane, and Holden who is going along with what Norma is giving him, but has plans of his own. Another wax figure still alive and kicking in 1950 appears as himself in an important role. Cecil B. Demille, who once directed Norma/Gloria back in the silent heyday, tries to set her straight, telling her pictures have "changed". They had indeed, especially after this searing comment on celebrity status. I wonder if they knew what they were creating while making this gem.

    Scenes are shot right on the lot of Paramount Studios (even the front gate), and Norma's mansion is an unforgettable piece of history and gloom with a floor that "Valentino once danced on." There is so much to discuss, but little to enlighten you on how great SUNSET BLVD is without you seeing it. Just two years later, films began to crop up with the same tainted view of Hollywood, most with varying degrees of deception. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, one of the all-time entertainments quietly had a nasty taste in its mouth regarding celebrity and the invention of sound movies. Watch these films closely and see the skeletons of the modern Hollywood bash films.

    RATING: 10 of 10
  • I have yet to see a Billy Wilder film that I haven't loved, and Sunset Boulevard is definitely one of those films. It's interesting to watch the film during different times in one's life – when I was a child watching this film, I thought the story was good and that Norma Desmond (Swanson) was a pretty scary lady. In my teens/college years, I appreciated it as a certified classic and for its commentary on Hollywood. Now, in my late 20's and early 30's I found it to have a different impact on me – I was saddened by Desmond's mental illness, and when she makes her final descent down her staircase and utters her famous line as the camera pans the faces of the people around her, so full of pity, and the care her butler/ex-husband takes to make sure she's happy for maybe the last time in her life made more of an impact on me than any other time in the 20-odd times I've seen this film. There are only a small handful of central characters in Sunset Boulevard and they are so richly written that this film will remain timeless. There are not a lot of `dated' themes in this film – the circle of life that is Hollywood isn't going to be much more evolved in 2050 than it was in 1950. If you haven't seen this film, watch it because there is something for just about anyone in this film.

  • This is such a great film on so many levels I can't really settle on where to begin. It is so beautifully shot (in that stark black/white that only nitrate negative could achieve), has a witty, clever and extremely well-written script, features some of the best acting in film's history, acrobatically balances the main plot/subplots with expert precision, contains some of the best characters on celluloid, has many true-to-life parallels (Swanson's career/real life cameos/DeMille's involvement/etc) and is peppered with such great dialogue/narration that today's film writers should take note. If that weren't enough, there's even a cameo by silent film great Buster Keaton (among others).

    One of the most appealing aspects of this film is how, in the story, an aging, forgotten star is trying to recapture a bygone era (the silent film era). What's interesting is that now, so many years later, we're looking back at her looking back. To present day viewers, Gloria Swanson of the 1950's is a long forgotten lost gem and to experience her own longing for the 1920's is especially captivating (and a little chilling, I might add). I don't think this film could have had that same effect when it debuted and maybe this added dimension holds so much more appeal for today's audiences. We all know that nothing lasts forever, but we don't often consider the abandoned participants; much like the veterans of a past war.

    In response to the famous Swanson line (while watching one of her silent films): "...we didn't need dialogue; we had faces", I'd like to also add that they "didn't need movies; they had films."

    They truly don't make them like this anymore. 10/10
  • tostinati16 September 2001
    Every time I go to L.A., which isn't too often, I look at these palm-bemused, once smart stucco facades, and wonder if a Norma Desmond from a later era might be hiding from the world inside them, buttressed by cable TV (AMC or TCM, no doubt), a poodle named FiFi or Sir Francis, walk-in closets full of leopard-print Capri pants that haven't fit in decades, and a world class liquor cabinet that has seen heads of state under the table on a good night. It is because of Sunset Blvd., for certain, that my mind could ever go there. It is one of the most indelible films you will ever see.

    This film is great for many reasons, not the least of which is because it is Hollywood's first look back at itself. In the milieu of this film, the silent era is only 22 years behind us. The people left behind by the rush to sound can still palpably TASTE the fame, the accolade, that particular past being not so very dim and distant. The sadness of their lives was real, and at that point in history, all around, if hidden. Way more has been made of the supposed "savagery" of this film vis a vis the faded star than I think exists now, or ever did. The often cynical Wilder is deeply in touch with the tragic here, as much as the grotesque.
  • Although this movie was made 8 years before I was, I saw it for the first time yesterday and I was blown away! I have spent my life missing what has just become one of my favorite movies of all time.

    The acting was superb, the storyline riveting and the characters were people you could care about. Max was my personal favorite. There was a quiet, tragic dignity to him. I expected something to be revealed about him but was not prepared for the truth.

    I've always liked William Holden but my experience with Gloria Swanson was limited to her brief role in "Airport 75". I will now look for more movies by her. What an expressive face.

    It was fun to try to recognize some of the old time actors that were portraying themselves.

    An all around excellent movie. One I truly regret having waited this long to see. But it is definitely a case of better late than never.
  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    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.
  • 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
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Sunset Boulevard" is a film for ages, since its main topic is relevant today as it was in the day when the movie was made- how to deal with the fact that one is past his peak and what a devastating effect it can have on people who are used to fame and fortune, once they face the fact they no longer front page material. Here, Swanson plays a silent film diva Norma Desmond leading a secluded life in her mansion, almost a metaphor of a princess in a tower. And lo, unexpectedly there comes a prince about to save her, in the form of a failed screenwriter Joe Gills (Holden) who is on the run from his creditors. Learning that the former diva is completely out of touch with reality, he moves into the villa pretending to help her with the script for her grand comeback. He also learns that her butler Max enables her delusions by writing the letters she believes are sent by her fans. Eventually, the charade is exposed and things get out of control.

    This is arguably Swanson's biggest accomplishment and she deserved all the accolades she got for it. Her portrayal of a woman refusing to face the music borders on hysterical and paranoid all the time and she dominates every scene she's in. It's a lesson on character inhabiting and Holden also does his bit by giving the audience a cool, detached narrator framing the story of his own demise. Erich von Stroheim shows just how far one is willing to go to protect the woman he loves, creating a web of lies and illusions to keep his love sane. Put any other aged movie star into Norma's shoes and you'll get a similar story. The ending scene is a masterpiece.
  • In Hollywood of the 50's, the obscure screenplay writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) is not able to sell his work to the studios, is full of debts and is thinking in returning to his hometown to work in an office. While trying to escape from his creditors, he has a flat tire and parks his car in a decadent mansion in Sunset Boulevard. He meets the owner and former silent-movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who lives alone wit her butler and driver Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). Norma is demented and believes she will return to the cinema industry, and is protected and isolated from the world by Max, who was his director and husband in the past and still loves her. Norma proposes Joe to move to the mansion and help her in writing a screenplay for her comeback to the cinema, and the small-time writer becomes her lover and gigolo. When Joe falls in love for the young aspirant writer Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), Norma becomes jealous and completely insane and her madness leads to a tragic end.

    "Sunset Boulevard" is a bitter and tragic masterpiece of the genius Billy Wilder that exposes how Hollywood uses people and forgets them when they get old and are considered decadent by the industry. Further, it also shows the consequences of the lack of adaptation of a former star to the end of a successful career, being forgotten by fans and the industry, and the price that some persons accept to pay to join this business. The last time I saw this film was on 22 September 2002 and even having watched "Sunset Boulevard" for maybe five or six times, I still get excited with most of the scenes and I dare to say that it is in my Top 10 movies ever. The DVD has an interesting documentary called "Sunset Blvd.: A Look Back" (a.k.a. "The Making of Sunset Boulevard" with the presence of a still impressively beautiful Nancy Olson telling peculiarities about this awesome feature. My vote is ten.

    Title (Brazil): "Crepúsculo dos Deuses" ("Dusk of the Gods")
  • Warning: Spoilers
    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…
  • I really enjoyed this film because of its realism. The seamy and unclean underside of "Hollywood" is given flesh and blood by both William Holden in his calculating manipulation and Gloria Swanson by her cold, grasping desperation. The technique of telling the story from the viewpoint of William Holden's character, who has already paid the price of his cynicism and greed, was so effective as to be priceless. What was best, for me however, was the sympathy that both the lead characters managed to evoke in spite of their obvious and outrageous flaws. What could be more realistic, pitiful, but superbly tragic than the butler writing phony fan letters to his faded star employer? The fact that Sunset Boulevard was filmed in black and white I believe added to the power of the acting and the effectiveness of the narrative in the sense that it lent a grimy aspect to what was truly a dirty little story of personal failure. I also believe that because it was in black and white, I was never distracted by the scenery or the beauty of the sets and I was able to concentrate on the central aspects of the acting of William Holden and Gloria Swanson and the story they were portraying. This was one of the greatest movies of all time!
  • 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
  • Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim star in this Billy Wilder cinematic masterpiece about an aging essentially forgotten silent film star who has delusions about returning to pictures. Made in 1950 this film will capture the viewer each time it is seen. The references to the bygone silent movie era are somehow chilling. Much like when a person walks around ancient Rome or Egypt wondering how something so powerful and advanced could come to an end. Both Swanson and Stroheim were of course giants during the silent film years and their performances is this great movie even seem to show their perhaps real life animosity toward talking films.

    Holden as Joe Gillis a rapidly becoming down on his like screen writer who stumbles into Swansons world is fantastic. This is certainly one motion picture that could never and should never be remade or colorized, as the Black and White photography is brilliant. It didn't make AFI's top five of all time and perhaps should have. You can't consider yourself as one of "All those wonderful people out there in the dark" if you've never seen Sunset Blvd.
  • It so happens that as I was watching Sunset Boulevard, I was chewing gum, and Gloria Swanson's clipped, derisive tone felt more like it was directed not at William Holden's washed up Joe Gillis in 1950, but at me, sitting on my couch in 2008. I didn't throw my gum away like Gillis does, but still, I did feel a little disconcerted. Norma Desmond knew I was chewing, and she didn't like it one bit.

    But this is part of Sunset Boulevard's charm. While it's a movie about the ways movies had changed, were continuing to change, and those they left behind, it also shows us how, in some ways, they've remained the same. Its references to the WGA, popcorn cinema, and the tragicomic nature of washed-up celebrity feel oddly contemporary while simultaneously being firmly rooted in the Fifties.

    While some of the period references to actors and directors went over my head - I'm no expert on the silent era - it didn't affect my enjoyment of them one bit. The fact that Wilder and his team were brave enough to include such comments gives the film a cool, relaxed feel even as the web that binds the characters draws ever-tighter.

    It's fantastically acted too. Holden is brilliant as the struggling everyman who quickly realises that he's gotten way more than he bargained for, and Swanson is pitch-perfect as the faded screen star whose grip on reality has crumbled far quicker than the walls of her mansion, right down to the wide roving eyes and claw-like hands. They're well-supported, especially by Erich von Stronheim's eerily restrained butler Max.

    Of course, great dialogue and performances are nothing without a plot to match. Despite the fact that the beginning reveals the end, Sunset Boulevard still manages to keep you hooked from the moment Holden sits at his desk for the first time right up until the movie's cruel, haunting, tragically human conclusion.

    Very rarely do "old" movies actually live up to their reputations, but I'm pleased to say that Sunset Boulevard does, and it's a credit to Wilder's team's ability that this noir-drama stands the test of time. A truly great film.
  • majikstl21 May 2004
    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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I just watched SB again -- three times -- this past week, for perhaps the 100th time.

    The film is virtually flawless, IMHO. (Except for the distracting shadow of the camera on William Holden's back as he moves to Norma's bed to wish her, "Happy New Year, Norma . . . ," a technical flaw I've never understood: why wasn't the move re-lit and re-shot, since everything else in the film is perfect?) But what continues to haunt me is Swanson's performance. Her silent-screen "theatricality" is always remarked upon. Yet there are several moments of utterly contemporary "naturalism" that show she knew exactly what she was doing as an actress (and Wilder, as director).

    Her sweetness in her "bathing beauty" scene, where she recounts her days in the line with Marie Prevost and Mabel Normand, then leaps onto the sofa beside William Holden -- is so beguiling that you completely understand her sex appeal and warmth (for a moment). When she asks for his match (for a moustache for her Chaplin impression) and tells Holden to close his eyes, "Close 'em!" -- the "Close 'em!" is clearly an ad lib that is so real and intimate that it is almost instantly lost in the macabre sequence that follows -- all flashing eyes and volcanic eruption that C.B. DeMille himself hasn't phoned her.

    Soon afterward, believing she will be making "Salome" for DeMille, there is the astonishing montage of Norma's marathon beauty treatments in preparation for her "return." Extreme closeups of Swanson's face, without makeup, reveal a still-youthful, lovely woman with flawless skin. Even under the magnifying glass, even with the "worried" expression of Norma Desmond, Swanson is stunningly beautiful for a few moments. Ironically, for the rest of the picture, she had to be made up to look older. Yet here we get a glimpse of the real Swanson at 50-whatever, and she looks merely a few years older than Holden.

    Finally, the entire sequence when Holden returns to find Swanson phoning Betty Shaefer to tell her the truth about Joe Gillis, Swanson is in cold-cream and "wings" to smooth her cheeks and eyes -- an actress completely exposed and without vanity.

    She plays the entire sequence "naturalistically" and in complete contrast to her theatrical, "I AM big. It's the pictures that got small," style.

    Here, in her bed, caught by Holden, realizing she's going to lose him, she begs him, "Look at me!" The desperation and helplessness, the momentary admission of reality as Norma acknowledges her fears and insecurities and pleads with Holden, are heartbreaking. Swanson's playing in the scene is astonishingly courageous for any actress, and deeply true to the character.

    Finally, as Joe packs to leave her and Swanson pleads with him to stay -- grabbing his luggage and begging, "What do you want? Money?" -- again her playing is ratcheting up emotionally into madness, yet is still as contemporary as any Stanislavski method.

    Everyone tends to remember Swanson's over-the-top stylized performance: yet her total control as an actress, and her naturalistic moments and emotional nakedness, however fleeting, are something to behold.

    Swanson's is truly one of the most astonishing performances on film. Her range here is jaw-dropping.

    Watch her transitions in the Chaplin scene alone, in one continuous take, from heart-rending comedy to blind rage. No cutaways. Amazing.

    I happened to see Swanson live at the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Hollywood, on Vine, in the late sixties, in a stage show written especially for her, called "Reprise." This piece-of-fluff comedy about a famous movie star returning to her home town was hardly Tony-Award winning. But from her first entrance, you were in the presence of a great actress.

    Barely five feet tall, she swept in and immediately established a bodily "line" that commanded attention from then on.

    Her performance was delightful. Even more so when, after intermission, the second act began with her character giving a Q&A session at the local Rotary Club.

    Swanson walked down steps and into the actual audience, greeting "old friends" (that night's audience members), reminiscing about her career -- even sitting in a man's lap and "teasing" him for not remembering when they "dated" -- as real film clips from her silents played on a giant screen onstage.

    She was outrageous and girlish (she was approaching 70 at the time) and delightful, poking fun at herself and her "character's" career.

    It was a brilliant bit of stagecraft and an impressive revelation of the "real" Gloria Swanson.

    Audiences were captivated and irresistibly charmed by this still-stunning-looking yet down-to-earth "young fellow" -- over fifty years after she first took the world by storm.

    Swanson was the antithesis of Norma Desmond. She was entrancing, magical, adorable, and everybody wanted to take her home.

    Honestly, perhaps the only other two live theatrical performances I've ever seen (and I've seen hundreds) that could compare to Swanson's sheer talent and charisma were Maggie Smith in "Lettuce and Loveage" and Vanessa Redgrave in "Orpheus Descending." Believe it.

    Not every actor understands the difference between film and stage performance, nor can every actor deliver that difference vocally and physically (this was WAY before the days of amplified body mikes). Swanson did.

    I was in first grade when "Sunset Boulevard" was released. I was in my 20s when I saw Swanson onstage in "Reprise" in Hollywood.

    You could still see the magic that had made her the global phenomenon she had been in silents. You could still see the technique that astounded audiences with "Sunset Boulevard" three decades later.

    You could understand where Billy Wilder got his line: "She was the greatest star of them all." Every time I watch SB, I think: "She probably damned well was."
  • telegonus30 October 2001
    Widely heralded as a classic upon its initial release, the Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett production, Sunset Boulevard, is a superb piece of work in nearly all departments; and yet at some levels it disappoints upon repeated viewings. This is not an easy movie to love. The people in it are unsympathetic, as the leading male character is a hack screenwriter turned gigolo; and the woman he lives with is a mad former silent movie star who pins all her hopes on this third-rate writer's ability to write her 'comeback' picture. Neither is an amiable sort, but he is at least sane; and though he has an understanding of decency, he never quite achieves it. His goal is success. That he decieves two women who care for him deeply bothers him from time to time, when it is an inconvenience, but doesn't otherwise seem to bedevil him or prey on his thoughts.

    As a cynical picture of postwar Hollywood the movie is flawless. It captures the moment when the the studio system was at its absolute peak as well as at the start of its decline. The secondary characters are more likeable than the major ones, notably Erich von Stroheim's butler. Yet the film is not a satisfying portrait of mental illness, as the insane Norma Desmond, while superficially credible, has no inner life, or even a hint of one, as her demons appear to come more from her neglect by others than anything to do with herself. Her gigolo, Joe Gillis, is believable as a hustler but seems, in his narration and occasional asides, to be brighter and wittier than his behavior suggests. The characters, in other words, go through their motions, as the plot dictates; and while they are very interesting in what they do or fail at, they seem to have no life outside of the story. This is a movie about Hollywood rather than people; an immoral 'moral tale', it sometimes leaves a bad taste.

    For all its flaws, though, the movie works like a charm even when it is not itself charming. As Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson is magnificent, larger than life, and every inch the former silent movie queen she plays in the picture. Her final scene is priceless, and the best shot in the movie. William Holden made a new career for himself thanks to Sunset Boulevard. For over a decade he had been playing rather bland, boy next door types, and his work here was a revelation. Joe Gillis was his best performance thus far, and made Holden overnight a hot property, and shortly thereafter the biggest male star in the business. His dry, almost affectless Midwestern delivery of dialogue and, especially, narration; his mixture of good manners and ambivilant morals; and his ability to command the screen with a flicker of expression, put him immediately into the major leagues. Sunset Boulevard does not in the end tell us more about Hollywood than the Selznick-Wellman A Star Is Born, but it does its job better, with pungent dialogue, brilliant acting and a sense of style rare in movies of the time and unheard of today.
  • Rumor has it that Gloria Swanson was absolutely devastated that she didn't win the Oscar for Sunset Boulevard. 1950 was an unusually tough year for competitors, with the statuette eventually going to Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday.

    Admittedly, Gloria is fantastic in this film - she's able to send up herself, while also scandalizing the business she was product of - but the acting chops must really go to William Holden, who provides the willful self-loathing thread that ties much of this noirish and twisted tale together.

    Director by Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard represents classic movie making at its peak. Set in Los Angeles, it's a dark, twisted, cynical tale of love, deceit, and opportunism. The film is all about Hollywood behind the scenes and how screenwriters, directors, and actors will sell themselves out for fame and fortune at a moments notice.

    Spiritual and emotional emptiness, and the price of fame, greed, narcissism, and ambition is at the heart of this devilishly stylistic film, with the somber mood beginning almost immediately when a dead man is found floating facedown in a swimming pool.

    The man is hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (a very sexy William Holden). All we know is that Joe was at the run-down mansion of deluded former silent-film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Through Joe's voice over narrative it soon becomes clear that he was somehow involved with the wealthy Norma.

    Down on his luck, three months behind on his rent, and with his car about to be repossessed, Joe accidentally stumbles upon Norma's faded mansion while trying to escape the police. Norma initially mistakes Joe for a coffin-maker for her deceased pet monkey, but once she figures out that he's a screenwriter, she gets him to read one of the scripts she's been working on.

    Norma is an insane and faded silent-film star, who is hoping against hope to make a comeback. She's bitterly resentful of the price the "talkies" have taken on her career, so now she soaks in her own misguided and imagined greatness, in profile with the flickering projector lighting her outline in the dark.

    Joe is initially hesitant to help the glamorous woman, and then asks $500 a week for his writing services. But slowly we come to realize the contract is actually the other way around. In preparing for her return comeback, Norma quickly turns Joe into a pawn - or more to the point, a slave.

    Joe becomes a virtual prisoner in her rundown mansion; the moment he leaves, she slits her wrists, forcing him to come back. With minimal resistance, Joe allows himself to settle into the life of a kept man, as Norma desperately showers him with gifts and fine clothing. The house butler, Max von Meyerling (Erich von Stroheim), grimly looks on, tending to Norma's demanding whims and tolerating Joe's disruptive presence.

    Joe wobbles back and forth between heedless acceptance of his strange companionship with Norma and his half-hearted pursuit of a career. He sneaks away to collaborate on a project with Betty (Nancy Olson), a Paramount script reader who is engaged to Joe's best friend. Betty is gradually falling in love with Joe, but when Norma finds out, that he's been sneaking out to meet wit her, all hell breaks loose.

    The self-loathing motif is rampant throughout Sunset Boulevard. Max completely does away with his self-respect, Joe hates himself for his unwillingness to commit to a career or love, and seems to sell himself out for money and clothes almost immediately, and Betty despises herself for falling in love with Joe while she's engaged to another.

    Norma, despite her haughtiness, is the most blatant case of self-disgust. When she isn't raving about her greatness, she comes across as a frightened and tortured soul – a sad and lonely woman, who is not only remarkably self-delusional, but is also trying to grasp one last chance at happiness. She thinks so little of her current 50-year-old self that she no longer acknowledges the present.

    Sunset Boulevard is a must see movie for cinema buffs. There are lots of treasures to be had here, including Nancy Olson's strangely under appreciated performance as Betty, whose misguided love for Joe spirals the film to its grisly conclusion. There's also the hilarious appearance of a skinny and madly grinning Jack Webb as a happy-go-lucky assistant director, and viewers will get a kick out of the excessive exuberance that Norma displays when she towels down a hunky and hairy-chested Joe at poolside.

    The funniest scene in the movie is when Norma rolls on top of Joe while he is reclining on a couch, and then does an imitation of Charlie Chaplin in order to cheer him up; the scene is an uproarious mixture of the sad, the funny, and the pathetic.

    Billy Wilder's accomplished direction is full of wide shots that capture the depressing set and brave close-ups of our anti-heroes. But in the end, Sunset Boulevard stands out, as one of the finest examples of the frenzied circus of obsession, fixation, and greed that is oftentimes symbolizes Hollywood. Mike Leonard September 05.
  • Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket got the definite ghost story about Hollywood broken dreams. There's something vicious about the place and, on the other hand, this movie means the end of an era: Hollywood up to 1950. That year means, in my opinion, the last curtain for the so-called dream factory. And in that dream Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis become crazy. She becomes a fiend and he a pimp. The horror is that after 1950 Hollywood would never be the same and we can say that it's the end of the modern era and the beginning of postmodernism -what with the idiocy of the 50's era-? ABEL POSADAS
  • rmax3048234 October 2002
    Warning: Spoilers
    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.
  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A movie filled with heart-ache, love, tragedy, and ambition, Sunset Boulevard is one of the most interesting to have ever been on screen. It's plot is one of the rare ones that takes the viewer behind the scenes and into the Hollywood realm, albeit probably not painting the most accurate of pictures, but still adding to our, as viewers, limited knowledge of the Hollywood world. This movie is about desires and wants. There is the desire of the penniless writer to make it big and then there is the desire of the actress to know that she is still beautiful and wanted.

    Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, is a glamorous film star whose career abruptly ends with the introduction of talking pictures. And sadly enough, she is caught in her memories of a time when she was viewed as beautiful and glamorous not realizing that the world around her is still moving on. In Norma's lifetime, being a film star was all about the cinematic gaze and how it showed her. There was no sound to tell if an actress was good or not. The camera can make or break a person. She knew what made her popular and that was being under the constant scrutiny of the camera, of having it always on her. Sadly, when that phase of her life ended, she didn't know what to do with herself. Most women are objectified on film by the camera, the director, the audience, etc. and most would try and distance themselves from that but oddly enough Norma wants to be surveyed. She wants to be scrutinized or praised or whatever else, as long as she is getting the attention she craves. I suppose Norma feels that this attention is what she needs to be happy. Attention and approval from others is what kept her going and without it she became a pitiful woman. And the littlest bit of approval she gets makes her feel that much more important but when its revealed the fan letters she receives are from her butler, once her husband, you can't help but feel sorry for her. Overall I think that you will love this movie. The cinematography is incredible and creates an amazing setting and atmoshpere. The movie shows the worst sides of what some view as the most glamorous lifestyle and way to live.
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