May 26, 2000 (Updated Mar 4, 2007)
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:This has it all -- Story, Acting, Cinematography, Score!
Cons:A little too close to the truth! Swanson was a has-been...
The Bottom Line: As good as it gets, Sunset Boulevard is recommended for all fans of classic films
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Recommend this product?
A harsh dose of reality, for those of us who believe the publicity ground out by Hollywood, was administered by director Billy Wilder in this candid look at the seamy underbelly of Tinseltown.
Wilder can only be classified as a genius with a resume that includes Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, The Seven Year Itch, Stalag 17, and Witness for the Prosecution. Very few directors were able to make their impact felt in so many genres.
By digging up the dirt in Hollywood's trash heap, Sunset Boulevard exposes the seedy treatment so often dealt out by the studios to their once great and near-great stars.
Gloria Swanson stars as the charismatic Norma Desmond, a once legendary star of the silent screen who was unable to transition to talkies. Now reduced to living on her memories in a decaying mansion filled with her still photographs, and abetted in her insanity by her faithful butler who secretly sends her fan mail and rolls her silent pictures for her enjoyment in her own home theater. The butler is played by none other than legendary silent director Erich von Stroheim (another victim).
Desmond's plight was all too common and seldom mentioned, but such huge stars as Valentino, John Gilbert, Vilma Banky, Mabel Normand, and Douglas Fairbanks had been victims of the same disease, inability to change with the times.
Bill Holden does a fine job as a has-been writer who finds himself in Desmond's driveway trying to elude car repossessors. He quickly finds himself a kept boy-toy for Desmond, who wants to make a screen comeback with a horrible script she has written herself. Holden also provides the voice over for the narration of the film. Despite appearances Holden plays the bad guy to Swanson's good guy, she is out of her mind - he knows exactly what he's doing.
For diversion, Desmond plays cards, surrounding herself with real Hollywood has-beens, including Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilson, and H. B. Warner. Cecil B. DeMille also plays himself, as the director who discovered Norma and subsequently discarded her as he transitioned from silent to sound pictures. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper also plays herself.
Swanson's performance is riveting, and is Oscar-caliber in every way. A person with too much time on their hands, money to indulge their every whim, and delusions of grandeur.
Jack Webb plays a bit part as an aspiring assistant director, quite different than the gruff Sergeant Joe Friday we all know from his Dragnet series.
Sunset Boulevard works on a number of levels, on face value alone it is a great motion picture; but by populating his story with real has-beens (including Swanson) playing themselves, Wilder brought to viewers everywhere a smashing indictment of the destructive Hollywood system that had destroyed so many lives.
Cinematography, haunting musical score, lush, decadent sets, and captivating story all combine to make this an unforgettable film.
You will want to see this one!
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