Release Year: 1950
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman Jr.
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Jack Webb, Franklyn Farnum
Sunday Classic #294, week 6 2020
A cynical screenwriter down on his luck (William Holden) is drawn into a dangerous relationship with a faded movie star (Gloria Swanson) determined to make a triumphant return to the big screen.
There are several great films about Hollywood, but few are as mesmerizing and horrifying as Sunset Boulevard. Billy Wilder (The Apartment, 1960), the man behind so many great comedies here delivers one of his masterpieces; not a funny (at least in a conventual way) nor a light-hearted film, but a bleak and frightening look at the flipside of fame in Hollywood. Gloria Swanson (Sadie, 1928) stars as Norma Desmond, a former star of the silent era who now withers away forgotten in her gigantic mansion under the tentative care of her man servant (Erich von Stroheim). Her growing mental instability comes to a head when she meets a cynical and indebted screenwriter looking for a place to hide his car from his creditors. William Holden (Stalag 17, 1953) is the screenwriter who finds himself drawn more and more into Norma Desmond’s claws, first as a ghostwriter for her great comeback script, later as more than he bargained for as he becomes entangled in her carefully maintained illusion that she is not forgotton and still matters. It is a mystery story, a great character-driven drama, a tale of old and new Hollywood, of fame and downfall, and so much more. Endlessly quotable, rewatchable, and marked by great and memorable performances, this masterpiece from Billy Wilder is a must-see classic.
Several Hollywood personalities appear as themselves in this film: Cecil B. DeMille (legendary producer-director and one of the founding fathers of Hollywood), Hedda Hopper (actress and notorious gossip columnist), Buster Keaton (legendary writer, director, producer, actor, comedian, and stunt performer), Anna Q. Nilsson (Swedish-American silent film star), and H.B. Warner (English film and theatre actor who was very popular during the silent era.
Unlike her movie character, Gloria Swanson had accepted that Hollywood no longer wanted her and had moved to New York to do radio and later television. She was, however, intrigued by the offer and so ironically had the comeback that her character is so desperate for.
Sunset Boulevard is one of the most quoted films of the classic Hollywood period. The line “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” was voted the #7 movie quote by the American Film Institute. It is also one of the most frequently misquoted movie lines, usually given as, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” The other line, “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small,” was voted #24, out of 100.
Picture Copyright: UIP