Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olson and Erich von Stroheim
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Synopsis: A down on his luck script writer (William Holden) is literally running away from his financial problems when he enters the decaying home of silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Soon, he learns that Norma is a lonely soul looking for a way to return to the glory days of filmmaking and be a star once more, creating a suspenseful story of love, betrayal and the harshness behind Hollywood's glamour.
Review: If "Some like it Hot" is considered to be one of the best comedies of all time, then Sunset Boulevard deserves to be praised as one of the most elegant thrillers in Billy Wilder's career. Like Orson Wells did with Charles Kane in "Citizen Kane", Wilder has created a captivating but enigmatic character in Norma Desmond, played splendidly by Gloria Swanson. The moment you see her you are captivated by her beauty and madness. But, you are left wondering, "Who is she exactly? Is she a winner or a loser? Should we feel pathos or fear towards her? Should she deserve a grand return to pictures or die in her rotting palace?" As the film continues you keep wondering about her, all while being enthralled by her enormous screen presence.
William Holden also does a good job in his role as the desperate straight guy. Even when he has a performer as hypnotic as Gloria Swanson in his scenes he creates a believable character out of Joe Gillis, a man who just wishes to earn money writing stories, but is captured by the wrath of Norma's desires. Never losing his cool, he handles his role like a true gentleman.
The story doesn't hold back in its crude portrayal of Hollywood. It shows that not everything is nice and glamorous, and that even the greatest artists that have ever lived don't get the respect they deserve. From beginning to end it tells a mysterious yet engaging plot that never slows down or goes too fast. The pacing is simply perfect in this picture. Never do you feel like its dragging along or going by way too fast. You are left satisfied and spellbound by it. It also features some of the best and most quoted lines ever spoken by a character… But I'll you find that one for yourself.
While Billy Wilder was never known for Orson Wells like cinematography (Wilder explained once that he didn't like to use creative shots because he felt it would detract from the storyline), Sunset Boulevard does feature some amazing scenes, like the opening scene at the pool and the famous final shot.
But perhaps what's most interesting about Sunset Boulevard is its authenticity. You never feel as if you are watching performers acting on a soundstage. These are real places with real sceneries and locales. It makes the story feel as if you are watching a true story unfold right on your very eyes. Even the usage of the Paramount studios lends a magic to the film that is unequaled.
In closing, Sunset Boulevard is a film that shouldn't be missed. It's nearly perfect in every way. To its glamorous but lunatic lead character to the locales that adorn her descend to madness; Sunset Boulevard is a testament to how movies can leave us spellbound, all while we walk out of the theater with a smile on our face.
Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5