Sunset Boulevard. fulfills my Film Noir portion of the draft.
I didn’t find this movie until the 90s. In the late eighties I was watching and reading about every silent movie and artist that I could. Clara Bow, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin were at the top of my list.
In a Keaton book I saw this as a film credit. I then read some about the great Billy Wilder, director, screenwriter, and producer, and I had to watch it. The movie did not disappoint. Buster’s part was nothing more than a cameo but the movie more than made up for it. It’s funny how we find some movies.
Just a little of the plot… Within two minutes of watching you see the end of the movie in front of you…then you see the harrowing journey there.
Screenplay writer Joe Gillis was desperately trying to sell his stories but Hollywood did not want to listen. Joe had talent but he wasn’t trying to write something great…just something that would sell. He was going to have to return to home to Dayton Ohio a failure if something didn’t happen and soon. His car was getting repossessed and he was trying to hide it just for a little while. While being chased by creditors he parks it in a decrepit old mansion. Little did he know that former silent movie star Norma Desmond still lived there. She used to be a big (“I am big it’s the pictures that got small”) star.
Joe Gillis ended up being invited to stay to edit Norma’s film screenplay that she wrote. That screenplay was going to be her return to film. One thing leads to another and Joe ends up being a kept man and he doesn’t like it one bit. As time goes by life at Norma’s mansion…it gets darker and darker. Joe is stuck there working on Norma’s horrible screenplay while playing the good boy. He gets new clothes, perks, and is not wanting for anything…except freedom. There is a price to be paid for being kept by Desmond. He sneaks out and sees a young girl who he writes with and falls for but cannot break Norma’s grip.
The star of this movie without a doubt is Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. When we first meet Norma we think she is just an over the top egocentric former silent era actress. Slowly we see what a psychotic existence she lives and it only gets worse.
Norma still thinks she is adored by millions. Her chauffer Max Von Mayerling helps perpetuate this lie. We find out why as the movie goes along and it is shocking. It will blow up in his face but he never quits building her up.
The final scene is chilling. Norma Desmond in a catatonic state asking for a closeup. Her eyes alone will send a shiver down your spine.
The movie is full of great actors and actresses. The focus is on William Holden, Gloria Swanson, and Erich Von Stroheim. Holden was a great actor who appeared in movies such as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Stalag 17, and the Wild Bunch.
Erich Von Stroheim plays Max and in the twenties Erich was a silent movie actor but best remembered as an avant-garde director in the 1920s.
Gloria Swanson was a very successful silent movie actress who made a successful move to sound pictures. She also appeared on Broadway in the 40s and 50s. She started many production companies in the 1920s and 30s.
The movie was released in 1950. By 1950 the first great silent film stars of the 20s were aging and there was interest in knowing what happened to them. The Norma Desmond character was thought to be a composite of Mary Pickford who lived her life in seclusion, Clara Bow who had a mental illness as well as some other silent greats. The name was a combination of silent-film star Norma Talmadge and silent movie director William Desmond Taylor who was mysteriously shot and killed…and unsolved to this day.
The movie was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. It was directed by Billy Wilder and released in 1950.
I’ve never been a fan of the powerful Louis B. Mayer, the co-founder of MGM. He mistreated a number of artists, one being Judy Garland. After screening this movie he berated Billy Wilder in front of a crowd of celebrities, saying, “You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!” Upon hearing of Mayer’s outburst, Wilder strode up to the mogul and told him “I am Billy Wilder, Go f**k yourself.” My respect for Wilder grew from there.
This movie is one of the greats. It’s a movie that anyone who is a film fan must watch.
“Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”
Yes she was indeed ready…she spent years getting ready for her final starring role. Just not the role you would think.
- William Holden – Joe Gillis
- Gloria Swanson – Norma Desmond
- Erich Von Stroheim – Max Von Mayerling
- Nancy Olson – Betty Schaefer
- Fred Clark – Sheldrake
- Lloyd Gough – Morino
- Franklin Farnum – The Undertaker
- Larry Blake – Finance Man
- Charles Dayton – Finance Man
- Cecil B. DeMille – Himself
- Creighton Hale – Creighton Hale
- Arthur Lane -Arthur Lane
- John “Skins” Miller – Hog Eye
- Billy Sheehan – 2nd Assistant Director
- Archie Twitchell
- Jack Webb – Artie Green
- Sidney Skolsky – Himself
- Eddie Dew – Assistant Coroner
- Tommy Ivo – Boy
- Kenneth Gibson – Salesman
- Ruth Clifford – Sheldrake’s Secretary
- Bert Moorhouse – Gordon Cole
- E. Mason Hopper – Doctor/Courtier
- Virginia Randolph – Courtier
- Al Ferguson -Phone Standby
- Stan Johnson – 1st Assistant Director
- Julia Faye – Hisham
- Gertrude Astor -Courtier
- Frank O’Connor – Courtier
- Ralph Montgomery – First Prop Man
- Eva Novak – Courtier
- Bernice Mosk – Herself
- Gertrude Messenger – Hair Dresser
- John Cortay – Young Policeman
- Robert E. O’Connor – Jonesy
- Buster Keaton – Buster Keaton