← Back to Reviews

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard (1950) - Billy Wilder

As soon as the masterfully shot opening scene appeared on the screen, I knew this was going to be a special film. At the beggining of the film, we are shown a dead body floating in the swimming pool, while the flashes from camera reporters and police officers, can be seen in the water's reflection. And instantly the film narrator establishes himself, as the deceased and starts to recollect the events that led to his death in a series of flashbacks.

The main character, Joe Gillis is a down on his luck screenwriter, who is just about to have his car confiscated by a couple of men, for being down on his payings. After having his screen rejected by a Paramount producer and a couple of failed leases, he is seen by the two men. And during the car-chase, Joe turns to a driveway of a seemingly deserted mansion, in order to escape them. Soonly it is discovered that the mansion is owned by an ex silent film star Norma Desmond and that's where there gripping relationship beggins.

Probably the most impressive aspect of Sunset Boulevard was its rich and compelling script, which is a work by Billy Wilder and his long term collaborator Charles Brackett. Both main characters were multi-layered and extremely developed with deep psychological analysis. And both William Holden and Gloria Swanson played their complex roles to perfection. Unlike Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, William Holden really added depth to his pitiful character, while playing the role of a passive and exploitative middle aged man, who always takes path of a lower resistance. In contrast to his subtle acting, Gloria Swanson really put on a show, with her fierce and overacted performance, which in this case was neccessary for the role. At first she is introduced as snobish, narcissistic and delusional lady, but soon we learn that she is much more than that, as her possessive love towards Joe starts to unravel and her wish for recognition and feeling wanted becomes apparent. I really liked how their one-sided relationship was played by both actors. Most evidently seen during their dance scene, where Holden was clearly uncomforable and visibly static. Yet, reluctant Joe decides to remain with Norma, because of her unstability and suicide threats. That's where Joe's passiveness is especially amplified and it is at the same time reccuring theme throughout the film, which leads to his downfall. Instead of handing his car to the prosecutors, he decides to hide to behind the factory. Instead of laying the heavy truth on Norma at the beggining, he waits until her mental ilness is prevailed. And instead of leaving with Betty, he once again takes the easy path with sending her home, instead of dealing with consequences with his friend Artie. His weak-minded persona ,combined with his self-loathing is what constantly results in him making bad decisions. But in the end neither his enlightening nor escape won't help him. His conflicting and tragic character was definitely Wilder's mastepiece.

I also find the character of Max very intriguing and the possible indication, that he was Norma's puppeteer and the possible reason for Norma's illness. I wish we find out more about his relationship with Norma and how exactly did he become her submissive servant and what led to the end of their marriage.

Another aspect which I loved was the interior of Norma's mansion, which had sort of a baroque design with loads of antique forniture. It added a whole dose of campy atmosphere, especially the scene where Max plays the organs, which looked like something out of Corman films. Aswell as the sense of isolation and a nice reference to actress Gloria Swanson's lavish lifestyle in real life.

Speaking of references, the entire film was filled with mentions of an "Old Hollywood aristocracy", like Darryl F Zanuck, Alan Ladd and Cecile De Mille, who even had a noticable cameo in the film.

Sunset Boulevard had tons of memorable and beautifully shot scenes. The beauty of it was, that it didn't rely on an unexpected twists , to be invoving. But an impeccable script, which produced some of the most iconic lines in film's history. Aswell as the delicate character study and the moody and morbid atmosphere.

Therefore ,Sunset Boulevard will join "Viridiana" as the second film I rated with perfect five popcorn bags this year.