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Sunset Blvd.(1950)

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teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

SYNOPSIS

Joe Gillis is a down-and-out screenwriter who can't pay his bills. While hiding his car from a finance company, he stumbles across a decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard and hides there, assuming it to be uninhabited. He discovers that it is the home of silent movie queen Norma Desmond, who is lost in her dreams of former glory. Her servant and former director Max von Mayerling helps preserve her fragile illusions. Desperate for money, Gillis agrees to work on the script for her supposed comeback vehicle and finds himself becoming a kept man to the possessive movie star. On the sly he meets with the idealistic young studio script reader Betty Schaefer, who likes one of his projects, and the two gradually fall in love. Norma Desmond, however, grows increasingly suspicious and jealous, setting the stage for a fateful confrontation.

Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: Charles Brackett
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.
Based on the story "A Can of Beans" by Brackett and Wilder
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Arthur Schmidt
Art Direction: Hans Dreier and John Meehan
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond), Erich von Stroheim (Max von Mayerling), Nancy Olson (Betty Schaefer), Fred Clark (Sheldrake), Lloyd Gough (Morino), Jack Webb (Artie Green), Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner, Ray Evans, Jay Livingston (Themselves)
BW-110 m.

Why SUNSET BLVD is Essential

Often hailed as the definitive insider portrait of Hollywood, Sunset Blvd was one of the first serious treatments of life in Hollywood, coming at a time when most movies about movies were irony-free comedies and musicals. The picture exposes the film capitol at its worst as a world of fleeting fame where almost everybody is on the hustle for success, money and sex. As such, it was a key influence on such films as The Bad and the Beautiful, The Star (both 1952) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954).

A major step in Hollywood realism, Sunset Blvd shocked audiences in 1950 with its portrayal of an aging, wealthy woman buying a younger man's company. That it got such subject matter past the industry's self-censor, the Production Code Administration, is a tribute to Billy Wilder's skill as a writer and director and Charles Brackett's production expertise.

Sunset Blvd was the final collaboration for writer-producer Brackett and writer-director Wilder, the longest writing collaboration in Hollywood history. Their previous films together included Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945), which Wilder also directed, and Ninotchka (1939).

This was the last major Hollywood film shot on a nitrate negative. The process was eventually abandoned because the film was highly flammable, but it produced amazingly lustrous black and white images.

The role of Joe Gillis changed William Holden's image from a conventional leading man to an actor of incredible power and range, revealing a dark, cynical side. His popularity in the film would bring him similar roles in Stalag 17 (1953) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which would make him an international superstar.

Everyone remembers Sunset Blvd for its performances and its endlessly quotable dialogue ("I am big. It's the pictures that got small."), but the film is best appreciated as a work of cinema in which all the elements are meticulously coordinated. Billy Wilder may not have the flamboyant visual style of, say, Alfred Hitchcock, but his direction is fluid and expressive, moving from shockingly direct imagery such as an underwater view of a corpse floating in a pool to more subtle effects such as using camera placement to draw the viewer's attention to a pair of doors from which the locks have been removed after we learn of Norma Desmond's history of suicide attempts. The art direction by Hans Dreier and John Meehan brilliantly evokes the decaying grandeur of a bygone era; for those lucky enough to see a good 35mm print of the film, its rich detail is unforgettable. Franz Waxman's musical score, alternating between tense orchestral tuttis and a sly, jazz-inflected piano theme--associated mainly with the character of Gillis--is among the best of his career.

by Frank Miller & James Steffen

back to top
Sunset Blvd. (1950)

SYNOPSIS

Joe Gillis is a down-and-out screenwriter who can't pay his bills. While hiding his car from a finance company, he stumbles across a decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard and hides there, assuming it to be uninhabited. He discovers that it is the home of silent movie queen Norma Desmond, who is lost in her dreams of former glory. Her servant and former director Max von Mayerling helps preserve her fragile illusions. Desperate for money, Gillis agrees to work on the script for her supposed comeback vehicle and finds himself becoming a kept man to the possessive movie star. On the sly he meets with the idealistic young studio script reader Betty Schaefer, who likes one of his projects, and the two gradually fall in love. Norma Desmond, however, grows increasingly suspicious and jealous, setting the stage for a fateful confrontation.

Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: Charles Brackett
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.
Based on the story "A Can of Beans" by Brackett and Wilder
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Arthur Schmidt
Art Direction: Hans Dreier and John Meehan
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond), Erich von Stroheim (Max von Mayerling), Nancy Olson (Betty Schaefer), Fred Clark (Sheldrake), Lloyd Gough (Morino), Jack Webb (Artie Green), Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner, Ray Evans, Jay Livingston (Themselves)
BW-110 m.

Why SUNSET BLVD is Essential

Often hailed as the definitive insider portrait of Hollywood, Sunset Blvd was one of the first serious treatments of life in Hollywood, coming at a time when most movies about movies were irony-free comedies and musicals. The picture exposes the film capitol at its worst as a world of fleeting fame where almost everybody is on the hustle for success, money and sex. As such, it was a key influence on such films as The Bad and the Beautiful, The Star (both 1952) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954).

A major step in Hollywood realism, Sunset Blvd shocked audiences in 1950 with its portrayal of an aging, wealthy woman buying a younger man's company. That it got such subject matter past the industry's self-censor, the Production Code Administration, is a tribute to Billy Wilder's skill as a writer and director and Charles Brackett's production expertise.

Sunset Blvd was the final collaboration for writer-producer Brackett and writer-director Wilder, the longest writing collaboration in Hollywood history. Their previous films together included Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945), which Wilder also directed, and Ninotchka (1939).

This was the last major Hollywood film shot on a nitrate negative. The process was eventually abandoned because the film was highly flammable, but it produced amazingly lustrous black and white images.

The role of Joe Gillis changed William Holden's image from a conventional leading man to an actor of incredible power and range, revealing a dark, cynical side. His popularity in the film would bring him similar roles in Stalag 17 (1953) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which would make him an international superstar.

Everyone remembers Sunset Blvd for its performances and its endlessly quotable dialogue ("I am big. It's the pictures that got small."), but the film is best appreciated as a work of cinema in which all the elements are meticulously coordinated. Billy Wilder may not have the flamboyant visual style of, say, Alfred Hitchcock, but his direction is fluid and expressive, moving from shockingly direct imagery such as an underwater view of a corpse floating in a pool to more subtle effects such as using camera placement to draw the viewer's attention to a pair of doors from which the locks have been removed after we learn of Norma Desmond's history of suicide attempts. The art direction by Hans Dreier and John Meehan brilliantly evokes the decaying grandeur of a bygone era; for those lucky enough to see a good 35mm print of the film, its rich detail is unforgettable. Franz Waxman's musical score, alternating between tense orchestral tuttis and a sly, jazz-inflected piano theme--associated mainly with the character of Gillis--is among the best of his career.

by Frank Miller & James Steffen

back to top
teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Erich von Stroheim did not enjoy his success in Sunset Boulevard or stay in Hollywood for the film's premiere. For the rest of his life, he referred to Max as "that goddamned butler role."

Director Paul Morrissey modeled one of his best film's for Andy Warhol, Heat (1972), on Sunset Boulevard. Sylvia Miles stars as the faded film star living in a decaying mansion, with Joe Dallesandro as the young hustler taking advantage of her.

Norma Desmond has become an icon of Hollywood grandeur and star power, with variations on her closing line, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up," turning up in several films, including The Boys in the Band (1970) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

On her hit variety show, Carol Burnett played a series of Sunset Blvd parodies as Nora Desmond, with Harvey Korman as her devoted butler, Max.

Director-writer Bruce La Bruce borrowed plot elements from Sunset Boulevard for his film about a gay hustler, Hustler White (1996).

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard premiered in London in 1993 with Patty Lupone as Norma Desmond before moving to Broadway in 1994 with Glenn Close in the leading role. Other Norma's on tour and on Broadway included Betty Buckley, Rita Moreno and Diahann Carroll. Currently, the musical is slated for a film production, with Close repeating her award-winning performance. Norma's songs include the hit "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

by Frank Miller

back to top
Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Erich von Stroheim did not enjoy his success in Sunset Boulevard or stay in Hollywood for the film's premiere. For the rest of his life, he referred to Max as "that goddamned butler role."

Director Paul Morrissey modeled one of his best film's for Andy Warhol, Heat (1972), on Sunset Boulevard. Sylvia Miles stars as the faded film star living in a decaying mansion, with Joe Dallesandro as the young hustler taking advantage of her.

Norma Desmond has become an icon of Hollywood grandeur and star power, with variations on her closing line, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up," turning up in several films, including The Boys in the Band (1970) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

On her hit variety show, Carol Burnett played a series of Sunset Blvd parodies as Nora Desmond, with Harvey Korman as her devoted butler, Max.

Director-writer Bruce La Bruce borrowed plot elements from Sunset Boulevard for his film about a gay hustler, Hustler White (1996).

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard premiered in London in 1993 with Patty Lupone as Norma Desmond before moving to Broadway in 1994 with Glenn Close in the leading role. Other Norma's on tour and on Broadway included Betty Buckley, Rita Moreno and Diahann Carroll. Currently, the musical is slated for a film production, with Close repeating her award-winning performance. Norma's songs include the hit "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

In early drafts of the screenplay, Norma Desmond hired the Joe Gillis character to co-author her memoirs. Changing the autobiography to a screenplay for her comeback role put more at stake for the character.

During filming, director Billy Wilder complimented Erich von Stroheim, saying, "Von, you were always 10 years ahead of your time." Von Stroheim replied, "Twenty."

The silent film Norma screens for Joe is Queen Kelly (1929). Swanson had hired Erich von Stroheim (Max) to direct the film, but had him fired a third of the way through production. A hastily assembled version with new scenes was released in Europe, but could not be shown in America until 1966 because of legal problems with von Stroheim and his estate. In 1985, Kino International released a restored version using stills and titles to fill in for unshot scenes and lost footage from von Stroheim's version.

One suggestion from von Stroheim that Wilder did not follow was the director's idea for a scene in which Max is shown washing and ironing Norma's underwear. The idea had come from Three Faces East, a 1930 film in which he had appeared with Constance Bennett.

Greta Garbo, who had worked with Wilder on Ninotchka (1939), agreed to let him mention her name in the film, but when she saw it she was sorry she had. She felt the mention depicted her as a star of the past, relegating her to the history books. "I thought Billy Wilder was a friend of mine," she said.

Joe Gillis's birthday, which he tells Norma early in the film is December 21, is the same as Wilder's daughter Victoria.

When crew members asked Wilder how he was going to shoot the burial of Norma's monkey, one of the film's most bizarre scenes, he just said, "You know, the usual monkey-funeral sequence."

Norma Desmond's ornate bed was once owned by dancer Gaby de Lys.

For the bridge scene, Wilder brought in former silent stars Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner and Buster Keaton. Ironically, Keaton had been addicted to bridge during his days as a star, often playing for hours in his dressing room, particularly when one of his marriages was on the rocks.

The film Cecil B. DeMille is shooting during Norma's visit is Samson and Delilah (1949), the top-grossing picture of its year.

Originally Wilder had planned to include a cameo by Hedy Lamarr, who played Delilah. DeMille was supposed to ask her to give her chair on the set to Norma. When Lamarr demanded $25,000 to appear, Wilder cut her from the scene. She then demanded $10,000 for the use of her name on the chair. Instead, Wilder simply had DeMille offer Norma his own chair.

DeMille had actually helped make Swanson a star, directing her in such early hits as Male and Female and Don't Change Your Husband (both 1919). Like the DeMille in the movie, the real life director used to address Swanson on the set as "young fellow."

The peacock feather in Norma's hat when she goes to visit DeMille is a reference to the peacock headdress she had worn in Male and Female.

Stage 18, where Norma visits DeMille, really was his favorite sound stage, often referred to as "The DeMille Stage." In later years, it was home to the Star Trek TV series.

After DeMille finished his scene, Wilder is reported to have said, "Very good, my boy. Leave your name with my secretary. I may have a small part for you in my next picture."

DeMille demanded $10,000 for his scene in Sunset Blvd. When Wilder needed to re-take a close-up, the rival director only agreed if Paramount bought him a new car and paid him another $3,300.

The idea behind the script on which Joe Gillis and Betty Schaefer are working is based on a script Wilder and Max Kolpe wrote in 1932 for the German film Das Blaue vom Himmel.

The love theme Franz Waxman composed for Joe and Betty was actually the Paramount newsreel theme slowed down.

The scene in which Swanson performs for Holden drew on more of the star's past. Although she had never been one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties, she had starred in his films at the start of her career. She had previously imitated Charles Chaplin on screen in Manhandled (1924).

The day Swanson filmed her Chaplin imitation, she arrived on the set to find the entire crew wearing derby hats like the Little Tramp's. While filming the monkey's burial a few day's later, she discovered that the stuffed animal had one on as well.

When Swanson realized she would have to walk down the narrowest side of the staircase for her final scene, she kicked off her heels and played the scene barefoot.

As in silent film days, Wilder played music on the set to keep Swanson in the right mood for her staircase descent. Appropriately, since she thought she was playing Salome, it was the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Richard Strauss' opera Salome.

Brackett was paid $130,000 for producing Sunset Blvd but nothing for writing it. D.M. Marshman received $11,600 for his contributions to the screenplay. Wilder's writing fee came to $211,416, with another $90,000 for directing.

When he was nominated for the Oscar® for Best Supporting Actor, von Stroheim protested that he was too big a star for such an insult and threatened to sue.

The Sunset Blvd mansion was torn down in 1957 and replaced by a 22 floor business complex that houses the Getty Oil Company. Its address is 3810 Wilshire Boulevard.

Famous Quotes from SUNSET BLVD

"Poor dope. He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool -- only the price turned out to be a little high." -- William Holden, as Joe Gillis.

"I got myself ten nickels and started sending out a general S.O.S. Couldn't get hold of my agent, naturally. So then I called a pal of mine, name of Artie Green -- an awful nice guy, an assistant director. He could let me have 20, but 20 wouldn't do. Then I talked to a couple of yes men at Metro. To me they said no." -- Holden, as Joe Gillis.

"I had landed myself in the driveway of some big mansion that looked rundown and deserted ....It was a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy twenties. A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades. It was like that old woman in Great Expectations -- that Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress and her torn veil, taking it out on the world because she's been given the go-by." -- Holden, as Joe, describing the house on Sunset Blvd."I am big. It's the pictures that got small." -- Gloria Swanson, as Norma Desmond.

"They took the idols and smashed them, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos! And who've we got now? Some nobodies -- a lot of pale little frogs croaking pish-posh!" -- Swanson, as Norma Desmond.

"There once was a time in this business when we had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn't good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!" -- Swanson, as Norma.

"Don't get sore at me. I'm not an executive. I'm just a writer."
"You are! Writing words, words! You've made a rope of words and strangled this business! But there is a microphone right there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the swollen tongue." -- Holden and Swanson.

"Poor devil, still waving to a parade which has long since passed her by." -- Holden, describing Swanson.

"I didn't know you were planning a comeback."
"I hate that word. It's a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen." -- Holden and Swanson, discussing her plans for Salome.

"She was the greatest of them all. You wouldn't know, you're too young. In one week she received 17,000 fan letters. Men bribed her hairdresser to get a lock of her hair. There was a maharajah who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings. Later he strangled himself with it!" -- Erich von Stroheim, as Max von Mayerling.

"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces." -- Swanson, viewing herself in Queen Kelly.

"Fans, you all know Joe Gillis, the well-known screenwriter, opium smuggler, and Black Dahlia suspect." -- Jack Webb, as Artie Green, welcoming Holden to his New Year's Eve party.

"You're the only person in this stinking town who's been good to me." -- Holden, comforting Swanson after her suicide attempt.

"A dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit." -- Cecil B. DeMille, as himself, explaining what happened to Norma Desmond.

"Look at this street. All cardboard, all hollow, all phony. All done with mirrors. I like it better than any street in the world. Maybe because I used to play here when I was a kid." -- Nancy Olson, as Betty Schaefer, walking through the back lot with Holden.

"You must understand, I discovered her at 16. I made her a star, and I cannot let her be destroyed." -- Von Stroheim, as Max von Mayerling, revealing his bond with Swanson.

"You'd be killing yourself for an empty house. The audience left 20 years ago." -- Holden, leaving Swanson.

"Madam is the greatest star of them all." -- Von Stroheim, as Max.

"No one ever leaves Norma Desmond." -- Swanson, responding to Holden's departure.

"The stars are ageless, aren't they?" -- Swanson, after she kills Holden.

"So they were turning again. Those cameras, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her." -- Holden, describing Swanson's appearance before the newsreel cameras.

"I can't go on with the scene. I'm too happy. Do you mind, Mr. DeMille, if I say a few words. Thank you. I just want to tell you how happy I am to be back in the studio making a picture again. You don't know how much I've missed all of you. And I promise you I'll never desert you again, because after Salome we'll make another picture, and another and another. You see, this is my life. It always will be. There's nothing else -- just you and me and those wonderful people out there in the dark...All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." -- Swanson, imagining she has returned to the movies in the film's final speech.

Compiled by Frank Miller

back to top
Sunset Blvd. (1950)

In early drafts of the screenplay, Norma Desmond hired the Joe Gillis character to co-author her memoirs. Changing the autobiography to a screenplay for her comeback role put more at stake for the character.

During filming, director Billy Wilder complimented Erich von Stroheim, saying, "Von, you were always 10 years ahead of your time." Von Stroheim replied, "Twenty."

The silent film Norma screens for Joe is Queen Kelly (1929). Swanson had hired Erich von Stroheim (Max) to direct the film, but had him fired a third of the way through production. A hastily assembled version with new scenes was released in Europe, but could not be shown in America until 1966 because of legal problems with von Stroheim and his estate. In 1985, Kino International released a restored version using stills and titles to fill in for unshot scenes and lost footage from von Stroheim's version.

One suggestion from von Stroheim that Wilder did not follow was the director's idea for a scene in which Max is shown washing and ironing Norma's underwear. The idea had come from Three Faces East, a 1930 film in which he had appeared with Constance Bennett.

Greta Garbo, who had worked with Wilder on Ninotchka (1939), agreed to let him mention her name in the film, but when she saw it she was sorry she had. She felt the mention depicted her as a star of the past, relegating her to the history books. "I thought Billy Wilder was a friend of mine," she said.

Joe Gillis's birthday, which he tells Norma early in the film is December 21, is the same as Wilder's daughter Victoria.

When crew members asked Wilder how he was going to shoot the burial of Norma's monkey, one of the film's most bizarre scenes, he just said, "You know, the usual monkey-funeral sequence."

Norma Desmond's ornate bed was once owned by dancer Gaby de Lys.

For the bridge scene, Wilder brought in former silent stars Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner and Buster Keaton. Ironically, Keaton had been addicted to bridge during his days as a star, often playing for hours in his dressing room, particularly when one of his marriages was on the rocks.

The film Cecil B. DeMille is shooting during Norma's visit is Samson and Delilah (1949), the top-grossing picture of its year.

Originally Wilder had planned to include a cameo by Hedy Lamarr, who played Delilah. DeMille was supposed to ask her to give her chair on the set to Norma. When Lamarr demanded $25,000 to appear, Wilder cut her from the scene. She then demanded $10,000 for the use of her name on the chair. Instead, Wilder simply had DeMille offer Norma his own chair.

DeMille had actually helped make Swanson a star, directing her in such early hits as Male and Female and Don't Change Your Husband (both 1919). Like the DeMille in the movie, the real life director used to address Swanson on the set as "young fellow."

The peacock feather in Norma's hat when she goes to visit DeMille is a reference to the peacock headdress she had worn in Male and Female.

Stage 18, where Norma visits DeMille, really was his favorite sound stage, often referred to as "The DeMille Stage." In later years, it was home to the Star Trek TV series.

After DeMille finished his scene, Wilder is reported to have said, "Very good, my boy. Leave your name with my secretary. I may have a small part for you in my next picture."

DeMille demanded $10,000 for his scene in Sunset Blvd. When Wilder needed to re-take a close-up, the rival director only agreed if Paramount bought him a new car and paid him another $3,300.

The idea behind the script on which Joe Gillis and Betty Schaefer are working is based on a script Wilder and Max Kolpe wrote in 1932 for the German film Das Blaue vom Himmel.

The love theme Franz Waxman composed for Joe and Betty was actually the Paramount newsreel theme slowed down.

The scene in which Swanson performs for Holden drew on more of the star's past. Although she had never been one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties, she had starred in his films at the start of her career. She had previously imitated Charles Chaplin on screen in Manhandled (1924).

The day Swanson filmed her Chaplin imitation, she arrived on the set to find the entire crew wearing derby hats like the Little Tramp's. While filming the monkey's burial a few day's later, she discovered that the stuffed animal had one on as well.

When Swanson realized she would have to walk down the narrowest side of the staircase for her final scene, she kicked off her heels and played the scene barefoot.

As in silent film days, Wilder played music on the set to keep Swanson in the right mood for her staircase descent. Appropriately, since she thought she was playing Salome, it was the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Richard Strauss' opera Salome.

Brackett was paid $130,000 for producing Sunset Blvd but nothing for writing it. D.M. Marshman received $11,600 for his contributions to the screenplay. Wilder's writing fee came to $211,416, with another $90,000 for directing.

When he was nominated for the Oscar® for Best Supporting Actor, von Stroheim protested that he was too big a star for such an insult and threatened to sue.

The Sunset Blvd mansion was torn down in 1957 and replaced by a 22 floor business complex that houses the Getty Oil Company. Its address is 3810 Wilshire Boulevard.

Famous Quotes from SUNSET BLVD

"Poor dope. He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool -- only the price turned out to be a little high." -- William Holden, as Joe Gillis.

"I got myself ten nickels and started sending out a general S.O.S. Couldn't get hold of my agent, naturally. So then I called a pal of mine, name of Artie Green -- an awful nice guy, an assistant director. He could let me have 20, but 20 wouldn't do. Then I talked to a couple of yes men at Metro. To me they said no." -- Holden, as Joe Gillis.

"I had landed myself in the driveway of some big mansion that looked rundown and deserted ....It was a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy twenties. A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades. It was like that old woman in Great Expectations -- that Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress and her torn veil, taking it out on the world because she's been given the go-by." -- Holden, as Joe, describing the house on Sunset Blvd."I am big. It's the pictures that got small." -- Gloria Swanson, as Norma Desmond.

"They took the idols and smashed them, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos! And who've we got now? Some nobodies -- a lot of pale little frogs croaking pish-posh!" -- Swanson, as Norma Desmond.

"There once was a time in this business when we had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn't good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!" -- Swanson, as Norma.

"Don't get sore at me. I'm not an executive. I'm just a writer."
"You are! Writing words, words! You've made a rope of words and strangled this business! But there is a microphone right there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the swollen tongue." -- Holden and Swanson.

"Poor devil, still waving to a parade which has long since passed her by." -- Holden, describing Swanson.

"I didn't know you were planning a comeback."
"I hate that word. It's a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen." -- Holden and Swanson, discussing her plans for Salome.

"She was the greatest of them all. You wouldn't know, you're too young. In one week she received 17,000 fan letters. Men bribed her hairdresser to get a lock of her hair. There was a maharajah who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings. Later he strangled himself with it!" -- Erich von Stroheim, as Max von Mayerling.

"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces." -- Swanson, viewing herself in Queen Kelly.

"Fans, you all know Joe Gillis, the well-known screenwriter, opium smuggler, and Black Dahlia suspect." -- Jack Webb, as Artie Green, welcoming Holden to his New Year's Eve party.

"You're the only person in this stinking town who's been good to me." -- Holden, comforting Swanson after her suicide attempt.

"A dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit." -- Cecil B. DeMille, as himself, explaining what happened to Norma Desmond.

"Look at this street. All cardboard, all hollow, all phony. All done with mirrors. I like it better than any street in the world. Maybe because I used to play here when I was a kid." -- Nancy Olson, as Betty Schaefer, walking through the back lot with Holden.

"You must understand, I discovered her at 16. I made her a star, and I cannot let her be destroyed." -- Von Stroheim, as Max von Mayerling, revealing his bond with Swanson.

"You'd be killing yourself for an empty house. The audience left 20 years ago." -- Holden, leaving Swanson.

"Madam is the greatest star of them all." -- Von Stroheim, as Max.

"No one ever leaves Norma Desmond." -- Swanson, responding to Holden's departure.

"The stars are ageless, aren't they?" -- Swanson, after she kills Holden.

"So they were turning again. Those cameras, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her." -- Holden, describing Swanson's appearance before the newsreel cameras.

"I can't go on with the scene. I'm too happy. Do you mind, Mr. DeMille, if I say a few words. Thank you. I just want to tell you how happy I am to be back in the studio making a picture again. You don't know how much I've missed all of you. And I promise you I'll never desert you again, because after Salome we'll make another picture, and another and another. You see, this is my life. It always will be. There's nothing else -- just you and me and those wonderful people out there in the dark...All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." -- Swanson, imagining she has returned to the movies in the film's final speech.

Compiled by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Writing partners Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett had been tossing around an idea for a film about Hollywood for years. Originally, Brackett saw it as a comedy about a forgotten silent screen star who triumphs over her enemies through wit and perseverance.

As they started working on the script together, Wilder pushed it in a more cynical, dramatic direction, reflecting his view of life since World War II.

To keep anyone at their home studio, Paramount, from realizing they were working on a Hollywood story, they camouflaged their work in progress with the title "A Can of Beans." Wilder was concerned that if word of the project got out, other studio heads would exert pressure to have the film stopped.

When they had trouble developing the idea further, Brackett and Wilder confided in a young friend with whom they played bridge, reporter D.M. Marshman, Jr. He suggested having the aging star fall into a relationship with a younger man, and they asked him to sign on as co-writer. As they shaped the story, the male character, a Hollywood writer whose career was not living up to its earlier promise, became the film's central figure. By the end of 1948, they had completed the story and were starting work on the script.

Biographers have suggested that Wilder drew on his own past as a dance-hall gigolo in Berlin to create the story of Norma Desmond keeping the younger Joe Gillis. For Gillis' romance with a younger woman, Wilder drew on his own budding romance with singer-actress Audrey Young. Some of the character's back story was actually taken from his future wife's past.

Wilder's first choice to play Norma Desmond was Mae West (he would later say he only wanted her while the script was still being shaped as a comedy). She refused to even look at an outline when he suggested she play a faded film star. In her opinion, she was still a great star.

Next, he approached Mary Pickford, one of the first great film stars, now, like Norma, retired. She also had taken a younger husband, actor Buddy Rogers. Both she and her husband loved the story, but at that time, Norma was clearly a supporting role. When Pickford insisted that the film star's role become dominant, Wilder decided that she would never submit to his direction or the needs of the film.

Wilder next offered the role to Pola Negri, but she accused him of trying to capitalize on her own fall from stardom. He also couldn't help noticing that the thick Polish accent that had spelled the end of her career when talkies arrived had not improved in the interim.

Finally, director George Cukor suggested the perfect woman for the role, Gloria Swanson. Swanson had been Paramount's top star in the silent era, but age and changing tastes had seen her career fade with the coming of sound. Unlike Norma Desmond, however, Swanson had gotten on with her life and was hosting a talk show on New York television. Nonetheless, she was intrigued by Wilder's idea for the film. When she read the first few pages of the script, however, she thought it was too much an attack on Hollywood and turned it down. It didn't help that a studio employee called her up to schedule a screen test, which she considered an insult. Finally, Cukor talked her into making the film, assuring her that it would be the role for which she would be most remembered.

When Swanson made her screen test, she was so powerful, Wilder and Brackett started shifting the film's focus to put her character on a more equal footing with the leading man.

The studio signed Swanson for $50,000.

When Wilder offered Erich von Stroheim the role of Max the former director, who had starred for Wilder in Five Graves to Cairo (1943), suggested that the best choice to play a demented movie director was Wilder himself.

Montgomery Clift was the first choice to play Joe Gillis but withdrew two weeks before the start of shooting, stating that he didn't think audiences would believe him making love to an older woman. Rumors persist that the real reason he quit was because his close friend, singer Libby Holman, who may or may not have been his lover, threatened to kill herself if he took the role, feeling gossips would consider the film a thinly veiled portrait of their relationship. More likely is the contention of Clift's biographers that he didn't want to encourage his many older female fans who wrote him regularly about how much they wanted to mother him.

Wilder tried to interest Fred MacMurray, whose career had been given a huge lift when the director had cast him in Double Indemnity in 1944. This time, however, the actor declined, calling the character morally offensive. Some friends also suggested he was afraid Swanson would steal the film.

After MacMurray, Wilder considered Marlon Brando, but he was still untested in films. They tried to get MGM to lend the studio Gene Kelly, who had risen to stardom on Broadway as a young dancer, but they couldn't arrange the loan.

William Holden had been under contract to Paramount for 10 years, playing mostly shallow, affable leading men -- what he called his "Smiling Jim" roles -- without ever really connecting with audiences. His main qualification at first was that he was there, and his weekly salary was much less than the $5,000 per week Clift had been offered. After meeting him for drinks, Wilder realized there was a lot more to Holden than his "Smiling Jim" image. When Holden read the few script pages that had been finished, he accepted enthusiastically, though he would confess to his wife that the challenging role terrified him.

After casting Holden, who was six years older than Clift, Wilder suggested making Norma a little older, but Swanson balked at the thought of making the character older than herself. Instead, she suggested using makeup to make Holden look younger. Ultimately, it wasn't necessary.

Although Wilder had written the role of Max around Erich von Stroheim's Hollywood past, the one-time director greatly resented the film's depiction of him as a has-been reduced to working as a butler. He only accepted the role because he needed the money.

by Frank Miller

back to top
Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Writing partners Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett had been tossing around an idea for a film about Hollywood for years. Originally, Brackett saw it as a comedy about a forgotten silent screen star who triumphs over her enemies through wit and perseverance.

As they started working on the script together, Wilder pushed it in a more cynical, dramatic direction, reflecting his view of life since World War II.

To keep anyone at their home studio, Paramount, from realizing they were working on a Hollywood story, they camouflaged their work in progress with the title "A Can of Beans." Wilder was concerned that if word of the project got out, other studio heads would exert pressure to have the film stopped.

When they had trouble developing the idea further, Brackett and Wilder confided in a young friend with whom they played bridge, reporter D.M. Marshman, Jr. He suggested having the aging star fall into a relationship with a younger man, and they asked him to sign on as co-writer. As they shaped the story, the male character, a Hollywood writer whose career was not living up to its earlier promise, became the film's central figure. By the end of 1948, they had completed the story and were starting work on the script.

Biographers have suggested that Wilder drew on his own past as a dance-hall gigolo in Berlin to create the story of Norma Desmond keeping the younger Joe Gillis. For Gillis' romance with a younger woman, Wilder drew on his own budding romance with singer-actress Audrey Young. Some of the character's back story was actually taken from his future wife's past.

Wilder's first choice to play Norma Desmond was Mae West (he would later say he only wanted her while the script was still being shaped as a comedy). She refused to even look at an outline when he suggested she play a faded film star. In her opinion, she was still a great star.

Next, he approached Mary Pickford, one of the first great film stars, now, like Norma, retired. She also had taken a younger husband, actor Buddy Rogers. Both she and her husband loved the story, but at that time, Norma was clearly a supporting role. When Pickford insisted that the film star's role become dominant, Wilder decided that she would never submit to his direction or the needs of the film.

Wilder next offered the role to Pola Negri, but she accused him of trying to capitalize on her own fall from stardom. He also couldn't help noticing that the thick Polish accent that had spelled the end of her career when talkies arrived had not improved in the interim.

Finally, director George Cukor suggested the perfect woman for the role, Gloria Swanson. Swanson had been Paramount's top star in the silent era, but age and changing tastes had seen her career fade with the coming of sound. Unlike Norma Desmond, however, Swanson had gotten on with her life and was hosting a talk show on New York television. Nonetheless, she was intrigued by Wilder's idea for the film. When she read the first few pages of the script, however, she thought it was too much an attack on Hollywood and turned it down. It didn't help that a studio employee called her up to schedule a screen test, which she considered an insult. Finally, Cukor talked her into making the film, assuring her that it would be the role for which she would be most remembered.

When Swanson made her screen test, she was so powerful, Wilder and Brackett started shifting the film's focus to put her character on a more equal footing with the leading man.

The studio signed Swanson for $50,000.

When Wilder offered Erich von Stroheim the role of Max the former director, who had starred for Wilder in Five Graves to Cairo (1943), suggested that the best choice to play a demented movie director was Wilder himself.

Montgomery Clift was the first choice to play Joe Gillis but withdrew two weeks before the start of shooting, stating that he didn't think audiences would believe him making love to an older woman. Rumors persist that the real reason he quit was because his close friend, singer Libby Holman, who may or may not have been his lover, threatened to kill herself if he took the role, feeling gossips would consider the film a thinly veiled portrait of their relationship. More likely is the contention of Clift's biographers that he didn't want to encourage his many older female fans who wrote him regularly about how much they wanted to mother him.

Wilder tried to interest Fred MacMurray, whose career had been given a huge lift when the director had cast him in Double Indemnity in 1944. This time, however, the actor declined, calling the character morally offensive. Some friends also suggested he was afraid Swanson would steal the film.

After MacMurray, Wilder considered Marlon Brando, but he was still untested in films. They tried to get MGM to lend the studio Gene Kelly, who had risen to stardom on Broadway as a young dancer, but they couldn't arrange the loan.

William Holden had been under contract to Paramount for 10 years, playing mostly shallow, affable leading men -- what he called his "Smiling Jim" roles -- without ever really connecting with audiences. His main qualification at first was that he was there, and his weekly salary was much less than the $5,000 per week Clift had been offered. After meeting him for drinks, Wilder realized there was a lot more to Holden than his "Smiling Jim" image. When Holden read the few script pages that had been finished, he accepted enthusiastically, though he would confess to his wife that the challenging role terrified him.

After casting Holden, who was six years older than Clift, Wilder suggested making Norma a little older, but Swanson balked at the thought of making the character older than herself. Instead, she suggested using makeup to make Holden look younger. Ultimately, it wasn't necessary.

Although Wilder had written the role of Max around Erich von Stroheim's Hollywood past, the one-time director greatly resented the film's depiction of him as a has-been reduced to working as a butler. He only accepted the role because he needed the money.

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Director-writer Billy Wilder went into production on March 26, 1949, with only 61 pages of script finished, so he had to shoot more or less in continuity. This was a first for Swanson, but proved a big boon in helping her develop her character's descent into madness.

For the opening shot of William Holden floating face down in the swimming pool, Wilder wanted a shot from below that would show both the body and the police and photographers standing at the pool's edge. Art director John Meehan experimented until he came up with the idea to shoot the scene through a mirror at the bottom of the studio water tank. From the right angle, the camera could shoot the reflected image in the mirror without ever going underwater itself.

Location scenes at Norma Desmond's mansion were shot not on Sunset Boulevard, but rather on Wilshire Boulevard. The mansion belonged to the second Mrs. J. Paul Getty, who rented it on condition that if she did not like the swimming pool the studio would have to add for the film, they would cover it over and restore the original landscaping. Mrs. Getty's home had to be completely re-decorated to give it the over-sized grandeur needed for the film.

It was von Stroheim who suggested using clips from Queen Kelly (1929) in the film. He also offered other suggestions Wilder used, including the revelation that Max was writing all of Norma's fan mail.

To shoot Swanson and Holden dancing together at her New Year's Eve party, cameraman John Seitz used a dance dolly -- a wheeled platform attached to the camera. It was the same technique he had used to shoot Rudolph Valentino's tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).

When it came time to shoot Norma's visit to Paramount, von Stroheim was embarrassed to admit that he didn't know how to drive. The Isotta-Fraschini had to be pulled around the lot by a tow truck while von Stroheim sat at the wheel. Even then, he managed to steer the car into the Paramount gate.

As a practical joke on screen newcomer Nancy Olson, cast as the young writer who falls for Gillis, Wilder didn't call cut to end a kissing scene she had with Holden. Finally, someone from behind the crew yelled, "Cut!" It was Holden's wife.

Wilder originally approached former star William Haines to play one of Norma's bridge partners. Haines, whose career had ended because of his homosexual off-screen life, was too happy in his new profession as an interior decorator to want to call attention to his past as an actor. In his place, Wilder hired Buster Keaton.

Wilder and producer-writer Charles Brackett almost came to blows over the montage depicting Norma's preparations for her comeback. Brackett thought the sequence was cruel in its emphasis on what age had done to the one-time beauty, but Wilder insisted it was essential to show how driven she was in her pursuit of youth. Wilder won the argument and privately told friends that he would not be making any more films with Brackett. He stayed true to his word.

Originally Wilder wanted both of Hollywood's top gossip columnists -- Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons -- reporting from Norma's mansion at the end and fighting over the phone. Realizing that former actress Hopper would easily dominate the scene, Parsons declined, even though she and Wilder were friends.

When Swanson finished Norma's final scene, the mad staircase descent, she burst into tears and the crew applauded. Even though it wasn't the last scene filmed, Wilder threw a party for her as soon as the shot was finished.

Sunset Blvd finished filming on June 25 with a final cost of $1,572,000. Wilder re-shot a few scenes in July and again in October. He finally finished shooting in January 1950 with re-takes of Swanson's final descent of the staircase.

Originally, the film was to have opened with a scene in the city morgue. Joe's corpse would tell his story to the other dead bodies there. At the end, the film returned to the morgue for a shot of Nancy Olson weeping over Holden's body. But when preview audiences roared at the opening scene, Wilder cut it and had Joe tell the story while his body was still floating in Norma's swimming pool.

Negative audience response to the morgue scene led Paramount to keep the film on the shelf for six months. Finally they tested it again, with the picture opening with police cars arriving at the mansion to find Holden's body. The results were much more encouraging. According to Wilder, the new opening keyed audiences in right away to the film's cynicism.

For the first industry screening of Sunset Blvd, Paramount executives invited several silent film stars. At the end, they stood and cheered for Swanson's comeback.

After seeing Sunset Blvd in a preview, Barbara Stanwyck knelt at Swanson's feet and kissed the hem of her gown.

Some studio heads were less pleased with the film. MGM head Louis B. Mayer screamed at Wilder, "You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!" According to rumors, Mayer even tried to buy the film so he could destroy it.

To publicize Sunset Blvd, Paramount sent Swanson on a cross-country tour, paying her $1,000 a week for her services.

by Frank Miller

back to top
Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Director-writer Billy Wilder went into production on March 26, 1949, with only 61 pages of script finished, so he had to shoot more or less in continuity. This was a first for Swanson, but proved a big boon in helping her develop her character's descent into madness.

For the opening shot of William Holden floating face down in the swimming pool, Wilder wanted a shot from below that would show both the body and the police and photographers standing at the pool's edge. Art director John Meehan experimented until he came up with the idea to shoot the scene through a mirror at the bottom of the studio water tank. From the right angle, the camera could shoot the reflected image in the mirror without ever going underwater itself.

Location scenes at Norma Desmond's mansion were shot not on Sunset Boulevard, but rather on Wilshire Boulevard. The mansion belonged to the second Mrs. J. Paul Getty, who rented it on condition that if she did not like the swimming pool the studio would have to add for the film, they would cover it over and restore the original landscaping. Mrs. Getty's home had to be completely re-decorated to give it the over-sized grandeur needed for the film.

It was von Stroheim who suggested using clips from Queen Kelly (1929) in the film. He also offered other suggestions Wilder used, including the revelation that Max was writing all of Norma's fan mail.

To shoot Swanson and Holden dancing together at her New Year's Eve party, cameraman John Seitz used a dance dolly -- a wheeled platform attached to the camera. It was the same technique he had used to shoot Rudolph Valentino's tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).

When it came time to shoot Norma's visit to Paramount, von Stroheim was embarrassed to admit that he didn't know how to drive. The Isotta-Fraschini had to be pulled around the lot by a tow truck while von Stroheim sat at the wheel. Even then, he managed to steer the car into the Paramount gate.

As a practical joke on screen newcomer Nancy Olson, cast as the young writer who falls for Gillis, Wilder didn't call cut to end a kissing scene she had with Holden. Finally, someone from behind the crew yelled, "Cut!" It was Holden's wife.

Wilder originally approached former star William Haines to play one of Norma's bridge partners. Haines, whose career had ended because of his homosexual off-screen life, was too happy in his new profession as an interior decorator to want to call attention to his past as an actor. In his place, Wilder hired Buster Keaton.

Wilder and producer-writer Charles Brackett almost came to blows over the montage depicting Norma's preparations for her comeback. Brackett thought the sequence was cruel in its emphasis on what age had done to the one-time beauty, but Wilder insisted it was essential to show how driven she was in her pursuit of youth. Wilder won the argument and privately told friends that he would not be making any more films with Brackett. He stayed true to his word.

Originally Wilder wanted both of Hollywood's top gossip columnists -- Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons -- reporting from Norma's mansion at the end and fighting over the phone. Realizing that former actress Hopper would easily dominate the scene, Parsons declined, even though she and Wilder were friends.

When Swanson finished Norma's final scene, the mad staircase descent, she burst into tears and the crew applauded. Even though it wasn't the last scene filmed, Wilder threw a party for her as soon as the shot was finished.

Sunset Blvd finished filming on June 25 with a final cost of $1,572,000. Wilder re-shot a few scenes in July and again in October. He finally finished shooting in January 1950 with re-takes of Swanson's final descent of the staircase.

Originally, the film was to have opened with a scene in the city morgue. Joe's corpse would tell his story to the other dead bodies there. At the end, the film returned to the morgue for a shot of Nancy Olson weeping over Holden's body. But when preview audiences roared at the opening scene, Wilder cut it and had Joe tell the story while his body was still floating in Norma's swimming pool.

Negative audience response to the morgue scene led Paramount to keep the film on the shelf for six months. Finally they tested it again, with the picture opening with police cars arriving at the mansion to find Holden's body. The results were much more encouraging. According to Wilder, the new opening keyed audiences in right away to the film's cynicism.

For the first industry screening of Sunset Blvd, Paramount executives invited several silent film stars. At the end, they stood and cheered for Swanson's comeback.

After seeing Sunset Blvd in a preview, Barbara Stanwyck knelt at Swanson's feet and kissed the hem of her gown.

Some studio heads were less pleased with the film. MGM head Louis B. Mayer screamed at Wilder, "You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!" According to rumors, Mayer even tried to buy the film so he could destroy it.

To publicize Sunset Blvd, Paramount sent Swanson on a cross-country tour, paying her $1,000 a week for her services.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Sunset Boulevard grossed only $2.5 million in the U.S. during its initial release, not enough to turn a profit on its $1,572,000 price tag. It took international revenues and re-issues to put the film into the black. By 1960, its worldwide gross had climbed to $5 million.

"That this completely original work is so marvelously satisfying, dramatically perfect, and technically brilliant is no haphazard Hollywood miracle but the inevitable consequence of the collaboration of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder." -- The Hollywood Reporter.

"...Sunset Boulevard is much the most ambitious movie about Hollywood ever done, and is the best of several good ones into the bargain." -- James Agee, Sight and Sound.

"At first her [Swanson's] performance requires a bit of readjusting on the audience's part -- it is bravura, mannered and out of proportion to the requirements of most sound pictures. One may easily fall into step with it, however, and it becomes strangely and vividly appropriate." -- Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., The New York Herald Tribune.

"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." -- T.M.P., The New York Times.

"Glint-eyed Swanson clutches at her comeback role almost as if it were Salome, yet the acting honors belong to Holden. When he makes love to the crazy, demanding old woman, his face shows a mixture of pity and guilt and nausea. This brittle satiric tribute to Hollywood's leopard-skin past - it's narrated by a corpse - is almost too clever, yet it's at its best in this cleverness, and is slightly banal in the sequence dealing with a normal girl (Nancy Olson) and modern Hollywood." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt & Co.).

"Miss Swanson's performance takes her at one bound into the class of Boris Karloff and Tod Slaughter." - Richard Mallett, Punch.

"The most intelligent film to come out of Hollywood for years; lest the idea of intelligence in the cinema should lack allure, let me say that it is also one of the most exciting." - Dilys Powell.

"Incisive melodrama with marvellous moments but a tendency to overstay its welcome; the first reels are certainly the best, though the last scene is worth waiting for and the malicious observation throughout is a treat." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

"What better locale for a "ghost" story - about a woman long thought dead - than Hollywood, a town built on illusions and delusions, where people grow old but remain young on celluloid, where people become has-beens before they've made it. Picture also laments the passing of film noir, from which it borrows several elements, fatalism; its Los Angeles backdrop; its weak, tarnished hero and his destruction by romantic entanglement with a strong, manipulative, and also doomed woman; and its first-person narration." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"The film was hailed on its release as a ruthless portrait of Hollywood but it remains essentially superficial. Wilder's creation of atmosphere is compounded by clever devices and exaggerated characterizations that remain unconvincing or even cheap - as in the ceremonial bridge party for (real) forgotten ex-stars." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films (University of California Press).

"Bitter, funny, fascination. Gloria's tour de force." - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume).

"Wilder grasped that Hollywood itself could be a scene of Gothic isolation and solipsistic emotion. He showed the grandeur that could emerge from the parasitical relations between actors and writers, performers and directors, stars and star-gazers - cannibals all. Like most noir films, with their dark motives and circular structures, Sunset Boulevard makes corruption and betrayal seem inescapable. Yet Wilder pays tribute to what can emerge from this hothouse world, just as he does honor to the film formulas he lightly parodies. As Hollywood keeps reinventing itself, as Wilder's own films become relics of a distant age, his barbed tribute stings and sings with even more authority." - Morris Dickstein, The A List (Da Capo Press).

AWARDS & HONORS

The National Board of Review named Sunset Boulevard Best Picture and Gloria Swanson Best Actress.

The film won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Actress in a Drama (Swanson), Best Director and Best Score. It also won nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Erich von Stroheim).

Director Billy Wilder was nominated for the Directors Guild Award but lost to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for All About Eve (1950). He won the Writers Guild Award, however, along with co-writers Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr..

Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (William Holden), Best Actress (Swanson), Best Supporting Actor (von Stroheim) and Best Supporting Actress (Nancy Olson). It won for Best Story and Screenplay, Best Score and Best Art Direction.

In 1989, Sunset Boulevard was voted a place on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

In 1998, members of the American Film Institute voted the film the 12th greatest American motion picture of all time.

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Synopsis: Joe Gillis is a down-and-out screenwriter who can't pay his bills. While hiding his car from a finance company, he stumbles across a decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard and hides there, assuming it to be uninhabited. He discovers that it is the home of silent movie queen Norma Desmond, who is lost in her dreams of former glory. Her servant and former director Max von Mayerling helps preserve her fragile illusions. Desperate for money, Gillis agrees to work on the script for her supposed comeback vehicle and finds himself becoming a kept man to the possessive movie star. On the sly he meets with the idealistic young studio script reader Betty Schaefer, who likes one of his projects, and the two gradually fall in love. Norma Desmond, however, grows increasingly suspicious and jealous, setting the stage for a fateful confrontation.

Hollywood has always been fascinated by tales about its own cruelty, and Sunset Boulevard (1950) is the most ruthless Hollywood tale of them all. In the opening shot the camera tilts down over a sidewalk to reveal the words "SUNSET BLVD" painted on the curb, above a street gutter littered with dead leaves. Not only does a dead man narrate the film, but the story's many "has-beens" are played by actual stars of the silent era. One of Norma Desmond's card-playing friends is none other than the great comedian Buster Keaton. H. B. Warner is best known for his performance as Jesus in Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings (1927), though he was hardly a has-been, considering his steady and prolific career throughout the Thirties and Forties. The Swedish-born Anna Q. Nilsson, the third of Norma Desmond's "waxworks," was known for her roles in the early Raoul Walsh feature Regeneration (1915) and the William S. Hart vehicle The Toll Gate (1920). Norma Desmond's name was derived from silent comedienne Mabel Normand and her husband William Desmond Taylor. Significantly, the latter was murdered in 1922 under mysterious circumstances in what became one of the most notorious Hollywood scandals of the silent era, contributing to the establishment of the Hays Office that same year.

An even crueler irony was at work in the casting of Erich von Stroheim as the former director turned butler Max von Mayerling, who was unmistakably modeled after Stroheim himself. The brief clip of the Norma Desmond film that Max screens for her and Joe Gillis is, fittingly, Queen Kelly (1929), Stroheim's last major directorial effort, a starring vehicle for Gloria Swanson produced by her lover Joseph Kennedy. That film was halted mid-production because of Stroheim's excesses; in particular, Swanson objected to perverse elements in the plot such as making her character the inheritor of a brothel. Stroheim, in fact, directed one more film, the sound feature Walking Down Broadway (1933), which Fox Studios reshot, re-edited and re-titled Hello, Sister.

According to Ed Sikov, author of the well-researched and snappily written biography On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, screenwriter and producer Charles Brackett insisted that Swanson was the first choice for the crucial role of Norma Desmond from the very start. Wilder claimed that he initially wanted Mae West and also considered Pola Negri and Mary Pickford before settling on Swanson. At any rate, the choice of Swanson was felicitous since Cecil B. DeMille had previously directed her in lavish silent vehicles such as Don't Change Your Husband (1919), Male and Female (1919) and The Affairs of Anatole (1921). He had also completed the Biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949) a few months before Sunset Boulevard began shooting, a detail which Wilder and Brackett worked ingeniously into the film's plot. Swanson herself proved fearless in her interpretation of the aging star, encompassing the grotesque, the vulnerable and ultimately the tragic aspects of her character.

William Holden's performance, particularly his sardonic voiceover narration, embodies the cynicism at the core of Wilder's work, and today it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Joe Gillis. However, originally Wilder assigned the lead to Montgomery Clift; after initially accepting the part, Clift backed down because of the age difference between him and Swanson. (Clift was 28 and Swanson was 50 at the time production began in the spring of 1949.) Some sources state that Fred MacMurray was also considered at one point.

Everyone remembers Sunset Boulevard for its performances and its endlessly quotable dialogue ("I am big. It's the pictures that got small."), but the film is best appreciated as a work of cinema in which all the elements are meticulously coordinated. Billy Wilder may not have the flamboyant visual style of, say, Alfred Hitchcock, but his direction is fluid and expressive, moving from shockingly direct imagery such as an underwater view of a corpse floating in a pool to more subtle effects such as using camera placement to draw the viewer's attention to a pair of doors in which the locks have been removed after we learn of Norma Desmond's history of suicide attempts. The art direction by Hans Dreier and John Meehan brilliantly evokes the decaying grandeur of a bygone era; for those lucky enough to see a good 35mm print of the film, its rich detail is unforgettable. Franz Waxman's musical score, alternating between tense orchestral tuttis and a sly, jazz-inflected piano theme--associated mainly with the character of Gillis--is among the best of his career.

As has since become widely recounted, a preview version of the film opened with Gillis in the morgue, sitting up from his slab and conversing with the other cadavers. When audiences laughed at this scene during a preview screening, it was replaced with the now-famous shot of Gillis' corpse floating in the pool. Wilder evidently liked the device of having a dead man tell his tale, since he used it again in an early draft of his next film, arguably the most ruthless satire of his entire career: Ace in the Hole (1951).

After a preview screening Louis B. Mayer is said to have berated Billy Wilder for airing Hollywood's dirty laundry, saying something along the lines of: "You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made you and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood." Mayer's outrage was a sure sign of the film's future success; it became one of the most admired pictures of its day, receiving nominations for Best Picture, Actor (Holden), Actress (Swanson), Supporting Actor (Stroheim), Supporting Actress (Olson), Cinematography and Editing. Ultimately it won awards for Best Story and Screenplay, Score and Art Direction. A more dubious honor, perhaps, was Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation that bowed on the London stage in 1993 with Patti LuPone in the lead. Still, Sunset Boulevard seems ageless even if Norma Desmond, tragically, was not.

Producer: Charles Brackett
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman, Jr.
Photography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Arthur Schmidt
Music: Franz Waxman
Costumes: Edith Head
Art Direction: Hans Dreier and John Meehan
Principal cast: William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond), Erich von Stroheim (Max Von Mayerling), Nancy Olson (Betty Schaefer), Fred Clark (Sheldrake), Lloyd Gough (Morino), Jack Webb (Artie Green), Franklyn Farnum (Undertaker), Larry Blake (first finance man), Charles Dayton (second finance man), Cecil B. DeMille (himself), Buster Keaton (himself), Anna Q. Nilsson (herself), H. B. Warner (himself), Hedda Hopper (herself), Ray Evans (himself).
BW-111m. Closed captioning.

by James Steffen

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Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Sunset Boulevard grossed only $2.5 million in the U.S. during its initial release, not enough to turn a profit on its $1,572,000 price tag. It took international revenues and re-issues to put the film into the black. By 1960, its worldwide gross had climbed to $5 million.

"That this completely original work is so marvelously satisfying, dramatically perfect, and technically brilliant is no haphazard Hollywood miracle but the inevitable consequence of the collaboration of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder." -- The Hollywood Reporter.

"...Sunset Boulevard is much the most ambitious movie about Hollywood ever done, and is the best of several good ones into the bargain." -- James Agee, Sight and Sound.

"At first her [Swanson's] performance requires a bit of readjusting on the audience's part -- it is bravura, mannered and out of proportion to the requirements of most sound pictures. One may easily fall into step with it, however, and it becomes strangely and vividly appropriate." -- Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., The New York Herald Tribune.

"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." -- T.M.P., The New York Times.

"Glint-eyed Swanson clutches at her comeback role almost as if it were Salome, yet the acting honors belong to Holden. When he makes love to the crazy, demanding old woman, his face shows a mixture of pity and guilt and nausea. This brittle satiric tribute to Hollywood's leopard-skin past - it's narrated by a corpse - is almost too clever, yet it's at its best in this cleverness, and is slightly banal in the sequence dealing with a normal girl (Nancy Olson) and modern Hollywood." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt & Co.).

"Miss Swanson's performance takes her at one bound into the class of Boris Karloff and Tod Slaughter." - Richard Mallett, Punch.

"The most intelligent film to come out of Hollywood for years; lest the idea of intelligence in the cinema should lack allure, let me say that it is also one of the most exciting." - Dilys Powell.

"Incisive melodrama with marvellous moments but a tendency to overstay its welcome; the first reels are certainly the best, though the last scene is worth waiting for and the malicious observation throughout is a treat." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

"What better locale for a "ghost" story - about a woman long thought dead - than Hollywood, a town built on illusions and delusions, where people grow old but remain young on celluloid, where people become has-beens before they've made it. Picture also laments the passing of film noir, from which it borrows several elements, fatalism; its Los Angeles backdrop; its weak, tarnished hero and his destruction by romantic entanglement with a strong, manipulative, and also doomed woman; and its first-person narration." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"The film was hailed on its release as a ruthless portrait of Hollywood but it remains essentially superficial. Wilder's creation of atmosphere is compounded by clever devices and exaggerated characterizations that remain unconvincing or even cheap - as in the ceremonial bridge party for (real) forgotten ex-stars." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films (University of California Press).

"Bitter, funny, fascination. Gloria's tour de force." - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume).

"Wilder grasped that Hollywood itself could be a scene of Gothic isolation and solipsistic emotion. He showed the grandeur that could emerge from the parasitical relations between actors and writers, performers and directors, stars and star-gazers - cannibals all. Like most noir films, with their dark motives and circular structures, Sunset Boulevard makes corruption and betrayal seem inescapable. Yet Wilder pays tribute to what can emerge from this hothouse world, just as he does honor to the film formulas he lightly parodies. As Hollywood keeps reinventing itself, as Wilder's own films become relics of a distant age, his barbed tribute stings and sings with even more authority." - Morris Dickstein, The A List (Da Capo Press).

AWARDS & HONORS

The National Board of Review named Sunset Boulevard Best Picture and Gloria Swanson Best Actress.

The film won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Actress in a Drama (Swanson), Best Director and Best Score. It also won nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Erich von Stroheim).

Director Billy Wilder was nominated for the Directors Guild Award but lost to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for All About Eve (1950). He won the Writers Guild Award, however, along with co-writers Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr..

Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (William Holden), Best Actress (Swanson), Best Supporting Actor (von Stroheim) and Best Supporting Actress (Nancy Olson). It won for Best Story and Screenplay, Best Score and Best Art Direction.

In 1989, Sunset Boulevard was voted a place on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

In 1998, members of the American Film Institute voted the film the 12th greatest American motion picture of all time.

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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