Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Reviewed on 2008 February 8
Want a black comedy? A drama? Seen one too many remakes and want to see something that takes a shot at Hollywood? Just in the mood for a vintage movie? This should do the job for any mood.
This movie starts with a corpse, floating in a pool… and narrating he got there. Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a jaded, down-on-his-luck screenwriter that has a flat tire in front of an old, ostentatious mansion, the kind of thing that calls to mind monstrosities like Pickfair. The owner is Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a has-been silent screen star, and since she’s just rattling around in that huge castle with a loyal servant (Max von Mayerling), he might as well stay in a spare room while his car is being repaired. This is especially appealing to the old girl because Joe can help her write the script that’s sure to launch her back into stardom, plus he’s easy on her eyes.
As they work on the screenplay, the days stretch into weeks, and we see the depths of Norma’s instability. Scary as she is, she is pathetic, and I think that’s one of the factors that keeps Joe staying with her, though I’m sure the money and vicuna coats and other expensive gifts make it a little harder for him to leave too. We see why his staying is a bad idea on every level.
Billy Wilder co-wrote and directed something ahead of its time, showing the best of Hollywood with Cecil B. DeMille’s cameo along with the worst. Norma was even one of the first cougars on celluloid, and I think Gloria Swanson had a lot of guts making this movie. The script is wonderful too, giving us some of the most quotable lines in movie history. It is very dark, and the first time I watched it I was actually taken aback by that. I watched it a second time, and I’m very glad I did.
Four chocolate morsels.