Sunset Boulevard (1950 – DVD)

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

I’ve been rather remiss in my watching habits as far as Billy Wilder goes, as I’ve only seen two of the respected Director’s films so far; ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘The Lost Weekend’.  The dark genius of these films has led me onto the famous 1950 Noir ‘Sunset Boulevard’.  The fact that it was turned into a musical had me imagining a glitzy Hollywood romance film, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ follows washed up hack screenwriter Joe Gillis played by a young William Holden as he’s dragged inexorably into the faded world of forgotten Silent-Movie star Norma Desmond, played by real-life Silent icon Gloria Swanson.  I’m unsure whether to call a film as dark and bitter as this a ‘Love ‘letter’ to Hollywood but that’s kinda what it is.  As it features a plethora of vintage Hollywood stars (Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille etc) either playing themselves in cameos or playing twisted versions of their own personas.

Desmond exists in a crumbling Mansion lost in dreams of her glory days convinced they will come again.  She is looked after by her creepy valet Max (Played by acclaimed Director Erich von Stroheim) who prowls the gothic palace like the phantom of the opera.  On the run from the debt collectors Gillis accepts the job of editing a mammoth screenplay Desmond has written for herself and ends up staying at this ‘Haunted House’ of Cinema.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ feels like the dark flip side of ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, in that film the characters make a glorious Technicolor transition into the Talkies but here Desmond is shuttered away from the reality that the world has forgotten her.  Gloria Swanson gives us a darkly camp and suffocating but ultimately sympathetic performance which makes this film unmissable.

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