#354/ 365 – ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) – 110 mins
IMDb Challenge #226 / 250 – Ranked #32 – Lovefilm
The story, set in ’50s Hollywood, focuses on Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), 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 (William Holden), a small-time writer who becomes her lover, that will soon end with murder and total madness.
Almost nothing gives me greater film enjoyment, than settling down and watching a film directed by Billy Wilder, his characters are always well-developed and interesting. It’s no different with Sunset Boulevard which is Billy Wilder‘s poison-pen letter to Hollywood. The plot is timeless, as it covers such compelling elements of success, failure, weakness, strength, ambition, greed, obsession, loyalty and betrayal.
William Holden is outstanding in his performance and narration as Joe Gillis, the hack script writer, struggling to survive in tinsel town. He also gives the film a dry wit despite the tragic circumstances. Then there’s Gloria Swanson’s performance as Norma Desmond who is the ultimate neurotic drama queen – Joe Gillis: “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.” Norma Desmond: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” Her performance alone makes for essential viewing. Erich von Stroheim is brilliantly understated as Desmond’s butler and former husband. Also watch out for the real flamboyant Cecil B. DeMille, who plays himself in the film.
Wilder is one of only a handful of director’s who truly mastered every genre. From comedy in ‘Some Like it Hot’ to insurance scams in ‘Double Indemnity’ to POW camp in ‘Stalag 17’, his film’s are amongst some of the greatest ever to emerge from Hollywood. They are never boring, all unique and always downright entertaining. Especially this one. You’re truly missing something special if you’ve never seen it.