203. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) #32 in IMDB top 250
In a dramatic attempt to squeeze in a few more from the IMDB top 250 before the close of the challenge I decided to have a watch of this. It’s a stone-cold classic from one of the all-time great Hollywood directors. What’s most surprising is just how dark this film is. It lost out on the best picture Oscar to another film I reviewed this year, All About Eve. Where that film had a central character corrupted by the lure of fame, Sunset Blvd. is just darkness from start to finish. This is the desolate landscape behind fame, those driving to achieve it and those who have been discarded from the Hollywood machine and left to rot on the sidelines.
William Holden is Joe Gillis, a screenwriter in the midst of a slump. Much the way Holden’s career had stalled at the time. Whilst running from the bailiffs he happens upon the dilapidated mansion of forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond, played by forgotten silent film star Gloria Swanson. Her mysterious butler turns out to be a former silent movie director, he’s played by the great fallen silent film director Erich von Stroheim. Can you see a pattern emerging? Soon Joe is living at the mansion and writing up the screenplay for Desmond’s triumphant return that will never be made. Instead the film begins to reach for the giddy depths of delusion, the three central characters are all complicit in the lie and it continues to spiral out of control until the mesmerising conclusion.
What a brave and intelligent piece of cinema this is, Hollywood is often self-congratulatory and rarely this self-critical. To be this derisive in 1950 strikes me as remarkable bravura on the part of the man whose career depended on the patronage of the studios. It is coldly brilliant film.
Sunset Boulevard is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘LA Movies’.