Joe Gillis: You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.
Tonight's giant classic feature on Saturday Night Cinema is Sunset Boulevard, the best film Hollywood ever made about Hollywood. It's gorgeous to watch, and while Gloria Swanson's performance is brilliantly over the top, and the "indelible, self-sickened performance of William Holden as Desmond's boy-toy/hired hack" is career making, it is the mysterious Erich Von Stroheim who mesmerized me and remains my secret love :)
Thomas Pryor said in his 1951 film review, "While all the acting is memorable, one always thinks first and mostly of Miss Swanson, of her manifestation of consuming pride, her forlorn despair and a truly magnificent impersonation of Charlie Chaplin."
"Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard ranks among the most scathing satires of Hollywood and the cruel fickleness of movie fandom.
The Screen: Inner Workings of Filmdom
By The New York Times
segment of life in Hollywood is being spread across the screen of the Music Hall in "Sunset Boulevard." Using as the basis of their frank, caustic drama a scandalous situation involving a faded, aging silent screen star and a penniless, cynical young script writer, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (with an assist from D. M. Marshman Jr.) have written a powerful story of the ambitions and frustrations that combine to make life in the cardboard city so fascinating to the outside world.
"Sunset Boulevard" is by no means a rounded story of Hollywood past or present. But it is such a clever compound of truth and legend -- and so richly redolent of the past, yet so contemporaneous -- that it seemingly speaks with great authority. "Sunset Boulevard" is that rare blend of pungent writing, expert acting, masterly direction and unobtrusively artistic photography which quickly casts a spell over an audience and holds it enthralled to a shattering climax.
Gloria Swanson was coaxed out of long retirement to portray the pathetic, forgotten film queen, Norma Desmond, and now it can be said that it is inconceivable that anyone else might have been considered for the role. As the wealthy, egotistical relic desperately yearning to hear again the plaudits of the crowd, Miss Swanson dominates the picture. Even in those few scenes when she is not on screen her presence is felt like the heavy scent of tuberoses which hangs over the gloomy, musty splendor of her memento-cluttered mansion in Beverly Hills.
Playing the part of Joe Gillis, the script writer, William Holden is doing the finest acting of his career. His range and control of emotions never falters and he engenders a full measure of compassion for a character who is somewhat less than admirable. Hounded by collectors from the auto-finance company, the struggling, disillusioned writer grabs an opportunity to make some money by helping Norma Desmond to fashion a screen play about Salome with which the hopeless egomaniac believes she will make a "return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen."
Joe Gillis is indignant when Norma insists that he live in her house, but gradually his self respect is corroded by the easy comforts and he does nothing strenuous to thwart her unsubtle romantic blandishments. Before an attachment to a girl his own age jolts him out of this dark abyss and rekindles his writing spark, Joe has become hopelessly entangled in the life of the psychotic star who holds him down with lavish gifts and an attempted suicide.
With uncommon skill Brackett and Wilder, who also produced and directed this splendid drama for Paramount Pictures, have kept an essentially tawdry romance from becoming distasteful and embarrassing. Aside from the natural, knowing tone of the dialogue, the realism of the picture is heightened by scenes set inside the actual iron-grilled gates of the Paramount Studio, where Norma Desmond goes for an on-the-set visit with her old comrade, Cecil B. DeMille himself. And the fantastic, Babylonian atmosphere of an incredible past is reflected sharply in the gaudy elegance of the decaying mansion in which Norma Desmond lives.
The hope that propels young people to try their luck in Hollywood is exemplified by Betty Schaefer, a studio reader with writing ambitions who is beautifully portrayed by Nancy Olson. Fred Clark makes a strong impression as a producer working for his second ulcer, and there is heartbreak in the simple card game scene where "the wax works," as Gillis cynically refers to Norma's friends, including Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nisson and H. B. Warner.
Erich von Stroheim moves through "Sunset Boulevard" with a stiff, Prussian attitude that fits to a T his role as the devoted butler, who, in his day as a top director, discovered Norma as a young girl and became the first of her three husbands. But while all the acting is memorable, one always thinks first and mostly of Miss Swanson, of her manifestation of consuming pride, her forlorn despair and a truly magnificent impersonation of Charlie Chaplin.
"Sunset Boulevard" is a great motion picture, marred only slightly by the fact that the authors permit Joe Gillis to take us into the story of his life after his bullet-ridden body is lifted out of Norma Desmond's swimming pool. That is a device completely unworthy of Brackett and Wilder, but happily it does not interfere with the success of "Sunset Boulevard."
- 100 Greatest American Movies - 1998 American Film Institute
- Best Director - Billy Wilder - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Original Score - Franz Waxman - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama - Gloria Swanson - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Picture - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Director - Billy Wilder - 1950 Directors Guild of America
- Best Cinematography - Black and White - John F. [ph] Seitz - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Erich vonStroheim - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Screenplay - Charles M. Brackett - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Screenplay - Billy Wilder - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Screenplay - D.M. Jr. Marshman - 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
- Best Actor - William [act-4567] Holden - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Actress - Gloria Swanson - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Black and White Art Direction - Hans Dreier - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Black and White Cinematography - John F. [ph] Seitz - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Director - Billy Wilder - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Editing - Doane Harrison - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Editing - Arthur P. Sr. Schmidt - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Picture - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Supporting Actor - Erich vonStroheim - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Best Supporting Actress - Nancy Olson - 1950 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences