Review by Rebecca J Madrigal
NARRATION by a dead man, humiliation, ambition, self-preservation, and a stab at the politics of Hollywood in the late 1940's and early 1950's - all this combines to make, probably, Billy Wilder's best film.
The story of Sunset Boulevard is told in flashback and takes in two tales. Firstly, the lengths a man will go to further not only his existence but also his career and, secondly, how an older woman will attempt to grasp at an unstable relationship with a younger man in an attempt to regain her past and youth.
The result is a descriptive, cold and very dark movie, with little sentiment not only within the story but also with the casting.
Gloria Swanson plays a once-respected star of the silent screen, destroyed
by the advent of sound; while Erich Von Stronheim is the once great director
during the silent era, now reduced to acting as chauffeur for the eclipsed
The similarities to the actual actors' lives are remarkable; Swanson is seen watching the film 'Queen Kelly', which she actually starred in, with Stronheim as director. Though a potential masterpiece, the film remained unfinished and nearly destroyed both their careers.
William Holden serves as the movie's writer (and narrator). He becomes the
lover and writer of a movie script that Swanson believes will mark her glorious
comeback. His connection to her world will ultimately destroy all around them.
Holden plays the pretty boy well and his performance is perfect for the movie, but at no time does he steal Swanson's light and that's how it needed to be.
Swanson, meanwhile, is electrifying and delivers some of cinema's greatest lines. Her madness is all-consuming and suffocating. She looks amazing on screen, and the story goes that lines had to be painted on her face to age her. This is her movie, and she devours Holden, completely stealing every scene she has with him.
Keep an eye open for cameos from two greats from the silent era also - actor
Buster Keaton and director Cecil B. de Mille.
Sunset Boulevard received eight Oscar nominations and walked away with three; but it unfortunately marked the end of Wilder's partnership with collaborator, Charles Brackett.
Wilder wanted this movie to be a dark, cruel, bleak offering, while Brackett envisaged a light-hearted comedy. Wider won, but lost a friendship in the process. It was a clever gamble that really paid off for Wilder.
MAIN CAST: Gloria Swanson; William Holden; Nancy Olsen; Erich Von Stronheim;
Fred Clark; Jack Webb; Cecil B. de Mille, Buster Keaton
DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
PRODUCER: Charles Brackett
SCREENPLAY: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett
Running time: 110 minutes B&W
Click here to buy the video...
PREVIOUS DVD CLASSICS: Some Like It Hot. Click here for review...
His Girl Friday. Click here for review...