Sunset Boulevard is a 1950 noir film starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, and Erich von Stroheim. Billy Wilder directed the film which he, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman Jr. wrote. Franz Waxman scored the film. Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Academy Awards—winning three—and it is listed on the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.
While William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olson are the featured players in the movie, who all earned their Academy Award nominations, look for some great cameos from Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson.
Sunset Boulevard is about the relationship between Joe Gillis, a young out-of-work screenwriter, and the much older Norma Desmond, a forgotten silent film star. The two meet at Norma’s mansion on Sunset Boulevard when Joe’s car gets a flat.
Mistaken for a mortician, Joe manages to weasel his way into editing Norma’s script so she can make her grand comeback in the talkies. Eventually, their relationship devolves into Joe becoming Norma’s kept man.
Norma’s sanity is questionable from the beginning, but is gets worse as the film progresses, and Joe finally leaves the mansion to stay with his friend, Artie. There, Joe meets Artie’s fiancee, Betty. Eventually Joe and Betty fall in love while writing a script that Joe keeps from Norma.
When Norma finds out, it pushes her over the edge that leaves Joe floating in a pool, and Norma ready for the psych ward.
Gloria Swanson steals the show in this film. How she didn’t win an academy award for her performance baffles me. Not only was her performance better than Judy Holliday’s in Born Yesterday, but it’s one of the all-time great performances by any actor/actress.
Erich von Stroheim’s portrayal as Desmond’s dutiful and proud butler, and William Holden’s Joe Gillis are also Oscar-worthy performances, but this film’s greatness comes from Gloria Swanson. I enjoyed Buster Keaton’s card-playing cameo too, but it was too brief for me.
Franz Waxman scored this one; basing Norma Desmond’s theme on tango music, and Joe’s on bebop music of the late 1940s. It’s a nice contrast between old-world class and youthful innocence of the day. As Norma lost touch with reality throughout the film, Waxman made the music surrounding her crazier, but not to the point it overtook the story. It simply complimented the dark nature the film took.
Sunset Boulevard is another in a long line of wonderful noir films with a story that is compelling and stands the test of time. This is a film that could be remade and be just as relevant today as it was nearly 70 years ago, and that is why this film is MHM’s June pick for the 12 Retro Movies Everyone Should See In 2017.
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