Sunset Blvd.Director: Billy Wilder, William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich Von Stroheim
Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard ranks among the most scathing satires of Hollywood and the cruel fickleness of movie fandom. The story begins at the end as the body of Joe Gillis (William Holden) is fished out of a Hollywood swimming pool. From The Great Beyond, Joe details the circumstances of his untimely demise (originally, the film contained a lengthy prologue wherein the late Mr. Gillis told his tale to his fellow corpses in the city morgue, but this elicited such laughter during the preview that Wilder changed it). Hotly pursued by repo men, impoverished, indebted "boy wonder" screenwriter Gillis ducks into the garage of an apparently abandoned Sunset Boulevard mansion. Wandering into the spooky place, Joe encounters its owner, imperious silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Upon learning Joe's profession, Norma inveigles him into helping her with a comeback script that she's been working on for years. Joe realizes that the script is hopeless, but the money is good and he has nowhere else to go. Soon the cynical and opportunistic Joe becomes Norma's kept man. While they continue collaborating, Norma's loyal and protective chauffeur Max Von Mayerling (played by legendary filmmaker Erich von Stroheim) contemptuously watches from a distance. More melodramatic than funny, the screenplay by Wilder and Charles Brackett began life as a comedy about a has-been silent movie actress and the ambitious screenwriter who leeches off her. (Wilder originally offered the film to Mae West, Mary Pickford and Pola Negri. Montgomery Clift was the first choice for the part of opportunistic screenwriter Joe Gillis, but he refused, citing as "disgusting" the notion of a 25-year-old man being kept by a 50-year-old woman.) Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical version has served as a tour-de-force for contemporary actresses ranging from Glenn Close to Betty Buckley to Diahann Carroll.
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Cast & Crew
|Charles C. Coleman||Asst. Director|
|Sam Comer||Set Decoration/Design|
|John Cope||Sound/Sound Designer|
|Hans Dreier||Art Director|
|Farciot Edouart||Special Effects|
|Edith Head||Costumes/Costume Designer|
|Gordon Jennings||Special Effects|
|Harry Lindgren||Sound/Sound Designer|
|John Meehan||Art Director|
|Ray Moyer||Set Decoration/Design|
|Arthur P. Schmidt||Editor|
|John F. Seitz||Cinematographer|
|Richard Strauss||Score Composer|
|Franz Waxman||Score Composer|
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All we need is the first glimpse of Norma Desmond played by a then middle aged Gloria Swanson (perfect casting) in a setting once certainly considered both opulent and decadent. Shot in black and white, scenes in this movie take on an eerie almost scary atmosphere. Norma Desmond gives us a look at what Hollywood was like during the golden years. As the film progresses we begin to feel almost sorry for the pathetic has-been aging movie queen. More sadly we realize that Norma lived in a fantasy and never accepted her has-been stardom falling out of the sky.
There isn't much that hasn't already been said about the greatness of this film. I am personally most impressed that a film like this could have even been made in 1950. This is The Autobiography of the Hollywood golden era, and it does not paint a pretty picture. While certainly humorous and very entertaining, this film presents a scathing commentary on the film industry and the depths to which people will sink to "make it" in tinseltown. Most surprising to me is that Billy Wilder somehow convinced real Hollywood icons like Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton, and many others to participate in this production that must have so eerily mirrored their own lives. How do you get a forgotten diva from the silent era to play the part of a forgetten diva from the silent era? I can just see Billy Wilder calling up old leading ladies from yonder years, "Hey, I'm doing a film about a pathetic, forgotten star from the silent era, and I think you would be great for the part...." I wonder how many times he got slapped in the face by the Mary Pickford and Clara Bow types that he courted for this part? It was certainly courageous for Swanson to jump onboard, and, as we know, her work here is so great that she should have gotten ten Oscars (for whatever they are really worth). Erich Von Stroheim is great too in a part that he must have realized mirrored his own career (and not in a pretty way either). See it once. See it twice, and then see it again. It improves on repeat viewings. Also, don't skip the special features on the DVD. The "making of" featurette is very nice and there is a cool Hollywood "map" that gives little tidbits about the different locales seen in the movie.
...give it 5 minutes and you'll soon forget...one of the best movies about Hollywood, life, ambition and the true cost of all. An astounding movie to be made in any era, I predict before your popcorn cools you'll be immersed in Hollywood that could just as easily be the Hollywood of "Entourage". Just don't miss the beginning for it sets up the entire film.
After the Academy Award-winning "The Lost Weekend", released in 1945, Billy Wilder and his collaborator Charles Brackett held such exalted positions at Paramount that they were able to begin production on a film without giving the studio a copy of the script. All that Paramount executives knew about the project was the working title, "A Can of Beans", and the terrific-sounding plots Wilder spun at the story conferences. Little did the studio honchos know that Wilder's stories had absolutely nothing to do with the movie he was actually shooting. Wilder went to such lengths to protect his privacy he locked the script up every night before leaving the studio. The characters in "Sunset Blvd." are the faded, psychotic silent movie-queen, Norma Desmond, played viciously without regard for sympathy by Gloria Swanson, and the younger writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) whom she traps. Both are washouts, she a morbific and ageing movie idol, now forgotten and completely passé, and he a self-admitted failure who cannot write a worthwhile script. He makes one fruitless attempt to sell a bad script before succumbing to the humiliation of being her kept man, and later makes one last stab at writing a story, with a young studio reader, a hopeful girl (Nancy Olsen), but that too, is doomed. The film is a great story of Hollywood rooted in the locations and people of the industry. Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning script makes reference to real studios, places and stars. We see Cecil B. DeMille working on the set of his film "Samson and Delilah". Norma's ghost-like bridge guests (silent stars Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and H.B. Warner), are classified by Joe as "the waxworks". In the role of Max von Mayerling, Norma's butler-chauffeur and former director-husband, Wilder cast Eric von Stroheim. Like Max, von Stroheim was once a major film director, whose career also ended with the silents. In the film we see clips from Gloria Swanson's "Queen Kelly" (1928) which the star also produced and von Stroheim directed. In the film, Wilder finds striking ways to make the verbal and visual high points coincide. When Norma and Joe screen some of her silent classics (actually a clip from "Queen Kelly"), she rises, announces the sureness of her return to the spotlight and is caught by the projector beam as she turns imperiously to Joe. In another example, Joe's brief narration of how he ended up dead in Norma's pool is highlighted with the famous shot looking up at him from the bottom of the pool. We hear his explanation while we see him floating face down, the reporters lined around the edge, their flashbulbs popping. "Sunset Blvd." was a world-wide success, with critics far removed from Hollywood seeing an exact self-portrait, and those closer to home applauding a story on Hollywood's workday fringe. It brought the American 'film noir' to its peak. Also in 1950, John Huston cut up a poor anti-hero in "The Asphalt Jungle" Elia Kazan examined a raw-nerved underworld in "Panic in the Streets" Joseph Losey probed the prejudice against poor Mexican-Americans in "The Lawless" and Jules Dassin, exiled in London as one of the 'Unfriendly Ten', sketched the pestilence behind professional sport in "Night and the City". [filmfactsman]