#1) Sunset Boulevard (1950)
OR “The One with the Dead Monkey”
Directed by Billy Wilder
Screenplay by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder & D.M. Marshman Jr.
Class of 1989
Original Theatrical Trailer
This is the original post I wrote for “Sunset Boulevard”, but wouldn’t you rather read my superior revised write-up instead?
The Plot: Every journey has a first step, and what better place for me to start than in Hollywood? William Holden is Joe Gillis, a jaded, down-on-his-luck screenwriter who ends up caught in the tangled web of former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim). Along the way he helps Desmond with her comeback vehicle, while at the same time collaborating with/falling for a script reader with larger aspirations (Nancy Olson). Secrets are revealed, pictures get smaller, and someone goes for a swim.
Why It Matters: NFR calls it “Arguably the greatest movie about Hollywood” and cites the film’s “brilliant dialog, decadent production design and wide-ranging acting styles [that] have never been topped.”
But Does It Really?: I may argue the legitimacy of other entries, but not this one. Re-watching it for this post reminded me just how good this film is. A perfect blend of film-noir, a haunted house story, an adult romance, and oh yes, a really dark comedy. Like so many of Wilder’s best, the screenplay lays a solid foundation that is only amplified by outstanding direction and a top-notch cast. It’s the rare film that rewards you with each viewing. At a time when film was just starting to acknowledge its history, this movie looks at the first generation of Hollywood stars as the ghosts that live among us. This film has a lot to say about Hollywood, and it says it all in a fresh, haunting way.
Shout Outs: Sheldrake says he turned down “Gone with the Wind”, Gillis wonders if the monkey was related to “King Kong”.
Everybody Gets One: Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, as well as actor Jack Webb, who apparently knows a guy in the Department of Missing Persons.
Wow, That’s Dated: All kinds of ’40s name dropping going on in this one. Plus a joking reference to the Black Dahlia murder (I guess Wilder and company didn’t believe in “Too Soon”).
Take a Shot: The title is in the first line of dialogue, less than two minutes in. It gets a few mentions throughout, though not enough to even get a good buzz going.
Seriously, Oscars?: While the film won for its screenwriting, art direction and score, the Oscars did not acknowledge any of the film’s performers. Upon losing Best Actress to newcomer Judy Holliday, Gloria Swanson allegedly asked her “Couldn’t you have waited until next year?”
- M. Marshman Jr. (the film’s third credited writer) was a journalist who impressed Wilder & Brackett with his critique of their earlier film “The Emperor Waltz”. And who says filmmakers and critics can’t get along?
- Not to take anything away from the film’s well deserved Oscars, but the film does mention the award a few times throughout. Sheldrake even has one on his shelf at the beginning. Hint hint, Academy.
- Is it just me, or does Gloria Swanson sound a lot like Madeline Kahn?
- How does one get the nickname “Hog-Eye”?
- At one point Gillis mentions the “bowling alley in the cellar”. Very disappointing that no scenes take place down there.
- Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this film is that Norma Desmond is ONLY FIFTY YEARS OLD. Her career’s been over for 20 years, which means SHE WAS THIRTY. Some things never change; Hollywood will let a dinosaur like Cecil B. DeMille keep directing, but a woman over 50 is useless (unless she works for Ryan Murphy, of course).
- According to the book “Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard” by Sam Staggs, the journal Commonweal predicted in its review of the film that “the Library of Congress will be glad to have in its archives a print of ‘Sunset Boulevard’.” Pffft, what do they know?
- The Andrew Lloyd Webber mega-musical adaptation. (And quite a few stories about the many divas who played Norma).
- At least half of all Carol Burnett skits.
- A really good episode of the otherwise forgotten “The John Larroquette Show”.
- Practically everyone in every film since announcing they are “ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”