Starring-Gloria Swanson, William Holden
Top 100 Films-#42
Reviewed January 18, 2017
I adore films about Hollywood (good ones, that is), and Sunset Boulevard is an absolute treasure. Directed by classic film director, Billy Wilder, the film is a film noir about a legendary silent film star, Norma Desmond, unable to cope with the modern films involving sound, and living a life of instability and mental illness, as her career has long ended. Handsome Joe, innocently stumbles upon her mansion and the two form an eerie relationship ending in tragedy.
Sunset Blvd., is a famous street that runs through Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California, and is immediately featured in the film as Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, drives down the street, an unsuccessful screenwriter, whose car is about to be repossessed. Joe narrates the film and we see a man lying dead in a vast swimming pool. Ironically, this is the end of the film and Wilder interestingly then works backwards so that the audience knows tragedy will eventually ensue.
To avoid men chasing him, Joe pulls into a driveway and hides his car in a garage near a vast yet run-down mansion. He is mistaken for a coffin salesman and meets the infamous and creepy Norma and her servant, Max. The coffin is for Norma’s pet chimpanzee, who has died. Intrigued, and broke, Joe hatches a plot to re-write Norma’s terrible screenplay- and make some money from the aging Hollywood star. Norma needs companionship. The two, along with Max, embark on a weird relationship based on jealousy, passion, and rage.
The black and white style works extremely well in the film. The lighting gives off a mystique of intrigue and film noir. Sunset Boulevard combines the noir with a rich character study of Norma and we feel her pain and isolation at being cast aside as a result of the times.
I love how Wilder focuses both on the gloomy nature of Norma’s vast mansion- especially when she throws a New Year’s Eve party- isolated with just she and Joe and a hired band- interspersed with a lively party in Hollywood- filed with young, energetic, up and coming talents. The scenes mix perfectly and show the two differing worlds and perspectives.
Sunset Boulevard is a brilliant depiction of old Hollywood at its best (and worst). A study in ambition, struggle, and high hopes (Joe), and of faded success and dreams shattered in reality, where delusion is the only defense (Norma).