SUNSET BLVD. (1950) B/W 110m dir: Billy Wilder
w/William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton, Nancy Olson, Jack Webb, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner, Franklyn Farnum, Sidney Skolsky, Ray Evans, Jay Livingston
Director Wilder's darkly humorous, ultimately tragic glimpse at a parade that's gone by. Joe Gillis (Holden), a burned-out screenwriter, is about to leave Tinseltown when fate lands him in the driveway of legendary Norma Desmond (Swanson). The once-great, still-proud living legend offers him a writing job on her comeback vehicle along with a comfortable sideline as her live-in lover. Caught in Norma's velvet trap, Joe struggles to regain his soul against the backdrop of Wilder's cynical reflections on the unrelenting cruelty of a business that glorifies the young. Contains brilliant dialogue ("I'm still big. It's the pictures that got small!") and Swanson's towering portrayal of a high priestess of Hollywood Babylon.
From Film Noir: An Encyclopedic reference to the American Style: "It is the rare film that declares itself immediately as does Sunset Boulevard. Opening with the sardonic narration of a dead man commenting mordantly on the circumstances of his own murder, this highly unusual work announces itself as a bleak but irresistibly sardonic motion picture, a trenchant observation of Hollywood's most bizarre human artifacts. (One can only imagine the effect of the film's original opening, which was shot but discarded; it featured the dead Joe Gillis sitting up on his slab in the morgue and telling his story to a captive audience of corpses.
"The fusion of writer-director Billy Wilder's biting humor and the classic elements of film noir make for a strange kind of comedy as well as a strange kind of film noir. There are no belly laughs here, but there are certainly strangled giggles: at the pet chimp's midnight funeral; at Joe's discomfited acquiescence to the role of gigolo; at Norma's Mack Sennett-style 'entertainments' for her uneasy lover; and at the ritualized solemnity of Norma's 'waxworks' card parties, which feature such former luminaries as Buster Keaton as Norma's has-been cronies.
"It should be noted that, although much of Sunset Boulevard's peculiar brand of humor derives from the strange circumstances of Norma's life, very little --- if any --- of that humor is at Norma's expense. The real buffoon of the piece is the weak, wavering Joe, played with highly appropriate, slack-jawed prettiness by William Holden. Norma herself, as portrayed by Gloria Swanson, is a tragic figure, imbued by Wilder with powerful romantic presence. A woman obsessed, she clings to her vision with a tenacity that must ultimately be granted a grudging admiration, and she is the only character in the film, with the possible exception of Erich Von Stroheim's fanatically loyal Max, who inspires genuine sympathy. Watching herself on screen in a old movie, she leaps into the projector's murderous blast of light and cries, 'They don't make faces like that anymore!' It is difficult for the viewer to favor Joe's cynicism over her fervor, however misguided or self-centered it may be."