Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Sunset Blvd." deserves spot in the sweet sixteen

In the final scene Norma Desmond (Gloria Swans...Image via Wikipedia
"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."
If you haven't seen many Billy Wilder films, I urge you to check some out from your local library. Sunset Blvd. (1950), number 16 on the AFI Top 100, is one of his best. His look at the shallow nature of Hollywood was considered groundbreaking in 1950, and it still has significance today. Along with The Player (1992), it's one of the best movies about Hollywood.

William Holden plays the down-on-his-luck Hollywood writer Joe Gillis who, while avoiding the repo men, blows a car tire and drives into what he thinks is the driveway of an abandoned Sunset Blvd. mansion. Much to his surprise, he discovers that the mansion is occupied by faded silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Desmond has written a script for her "return" to film and hires Joe to polish it. Joe can't believe his luck but soon discovers that things are not quite what they seem.

I love the plot, but I have one small quibble: revealing the ending at the beginning of the film. I suppose that it was unique in the 50's, but by now it seems cliche. I'm also not a big fan of first person narration, which figures prominently in the film, but on the "Making of" featurette, Wilder explained that he loved narration because it allowed him to put a lot of exposition in a short amount of time and it allowed him to make social commentary on what was happening in the film. Looking back on the film, the narration does seem to fit that purpose.

Swanson won the Oscar for her performance, and deservedly so. Desmond is one creepy character. Holden shows Gillis's conflicted heart well. I like the performance of Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer, the aspiring writer who falls for Gillis. She's a perfect foil for Desmond - fresh, wholesome and lovable.

Cover of Cover via AmazonAgainst Wilder's other films in top 100 (The Apartment, Some Like it Hot and Double Indemnity), Sunset Blvd. holds its own.
Next up: either The Last Picture Show or On the Waterfront, which ever one comes in to the library first.

Movie Poster for Image via Wikipedia

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