Sunset Boulevard

"Essential"

Sunset Boulevard Review


It's the Psycho of film noir.

Sunset Boulevard starts out telling one story -- about a down-on-his-luck writer and serious financial trouble -- and ends up telling another -- about an insane and faded silent-film star who lives in a decrepit old mansion on the titular boulevard. (Sunset Blvd. just doesn't look the same these days, does it.)

Of course, the writer (William Holden) doesn't get killed in the middle of the movie like Janet Leigh. They wait until the end, torturing him along the way. (And no, I'm not spoiling anything -- the entire movie is a flashback, narrated by the dead Holden (a trick stolen to equally great effect by American Beauty), whose character is first spotted floating dead in a pool.)

Why is Sunset Boulevard so loved by film writers? Well, for starters, it's about a writer -- and everyone's a sucker for a movie about their own profession. But this is a damn fine movie as well. An expert plot, team-written by Hollywood legends Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman Jr., and Billy Wilder, makes us first think Holden's Joe Gillis is taking advantage of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) by bilking $500 a week out of her for his writing services. But slowly we come to realize it's the other way around. In preparing for her return (nota "comeback"), Norma quickly turns Joe into a pawn -- or more to the point, a slave. He's a virtual prisoner in her rundown mansion; the moment he leaves, she slits her wrists, forcing him to come back.

Then there are performances. Holden is, as always, a standout, but it's Swanson who steals the show. When I sat down to write this, I tried to think of any other movies Gloria Swanson had appeared in, and I couldn't: Her performance in Sunset Boulevard is so powerful it screws with your mind. Swanson's Norma is so over the top she makes Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest look restrained. And then there's that fateful line, one of the most-quotable ever: "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." Swanson, of course, had a life which wasn't terribly different than Norma's. The star of some 70-plus films, mostly silents, Swanson had been mostly absent from the screen for a decade. And chances are you've never seen any of the films she made before or since.

Sunset Boulevard is a demented circus of obsession, greed, and Hollywood. Billy Wilder's direction, full of wide shots that capture the depressing set and brave close-ups of our anti-heroes. It stands as a true classic.

A DVD commentary from Ed Sikov, a Sunset book author, is worth a listen, especially for his description of the gruesome original opening, which was despised by test audiences. The script pages for the scene are also included along with a few bits of film shot from them.

Aka Sunset Blvd.

Dancers in the dark.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 8 mins

Budget: $1.8M

Production compaines: Paramount Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

IMDB: 8.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Joe Gillis, as Norma Desmond, as Max von Mayerling, as Betty Schaefer, as Sheldrake, as Morino, as Artie Green, as Himself, Cecil B. DeMille as Himself, Hedda Hopper as Herself, Anna Q. Nilsson as Herself, Ray Evans as Himself, Jay Livingston as Himself, H.B. Warner as Himself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.