Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman Jr.
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson
Joe Gillis (Holden) is living the reality of Hollywood. Running out of money and hiding from creditors, Gillis stumbles upon the home of fading star Norma Desmond (Swanson). This chance meeting puts Gillis into Desmond’s employment, working on the script that will revive her career. As he begins working on the script, he’s also given an insight into who Norma Desmond was, and who she has become.
In one of the iconic pieces of American film-making, Billy Wilder (The Apartment, Double Indemnity) creates a new kind of reality for the fading star in Hollywood. Writing alongside Charles Brackett (The Lost Weekend) and D.M. Marshman Jr. (Second Chance), Wilder was able to fine tune this wonderful story. This movie earned immediate critical acclaim. After the film was released, Time magazine described the film as “Hollywood at its worst told by Hollywood at its best”. This praise also translated with the Academy Awards in 1951 where Sunset Blvd. was nominated for eleven awards. These nominations included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Set Decoration, and Best Screenplay. Of these nominations, this one took statuettes for Best Score, Best Set Decoration, and Best Screenplay.
The film also featured four Oscar nominated performances from the talented cast of actors. Gloria Swanson (Queen Kelly) was nominated for Best Actress for her powerful and haunting portrayal of Norma Desmond. As an actress who had been past her prime, there is real emotion in the way Swanson took on her role. William Holden (Network) earned a nomination for Best Actor, for his great skill in bringing the struggling screenwriter to life. Erich von Stroheim (La Grande Illusion) and Nancy Olson (The Absent-Minded Professor) were both nominated in the Supporting Actor categories. Along with a number of other great actors, this movie offers tons of wonderful moments. This film also features a number of cameos that are brilliantly written into the context of the story.
All of this great acting benefited from the screenplay put together by Brackett, Wilder, and Marshman Jr.. The story seems to pay attention to the biggest and smallest details of the characters. There is also a strange and eerie nostalgia that seems to long for the early years of Hollywood. Thanks to the authentic nature of the story, this nostalgia is not based on myth as much as it’s based in history. The dialogue is especially beneficial for Swanson. The development of Norma Desmond throughout the film is amazing. Her character carries around the past glories of life, as well as a longing for another chance to succeed. This pain and intense desire come together and give the story the grit it needs.
Visually, this is a great film filled with wonderful visuals. The set design work is great, and it’s helped along by the great choices in location. The filming was done on the actual locations being portrayed when possible. In other instances, the film used carefully recreated sets, designed to look like the real locations. All of the camera work and other technical aspects combine for a memorable cinema experience.
Adding to the authenticity of this film was the use of real Hollywood history. In addition to the locations, the film also found some of the greats of early Hollywood to take part in the film. This includes performances by Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner, and Hedda Hopper. Each of these icons of Hollywood played themselves in this film. It’s fitting that Keaton, Nilsson, and Warner played as Norma Desmond’s inner circle since they were all past the primes of their careers when this movie was made. It’s also fitting that DeMille took his role in this film since he’s often credited for making Gloria Swanson a star.
This is a classic piece of Hollywood film-making from one of the great directors of his era. If you’re a fan of classic cinema this is a must-see film with a powerful story that’s still relevant today. I would also suggest this to fans of film noir since this film features some of the great elements of the genre. This is a great choice for fans of drama, suspense, and even mystery. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.