June 11, 2016
Review #809: Sunset Boulevard.
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), and Cecil B. DeMille. Directed by Billy Wilder (#106 - Some Like It Hot, #194 - Ace in the Hole, #422 - The Fortune Cookie, and #641 - The Apartment)
The inventive (if not quirky) device of narration by our freshly dead main character certainly sets the tone for what is at all counts a fairly well-made movie that was later added to the National Film Registry as a film noir. Nostalgia is something that we all encounter at least once in our lives, whether it be for a different past time or for our own past. Sunset Boulevard certainly expresses nostalgia in the form of Swanson's character, from her private movie theater that shows her silent movies to playing bridge with a few "waxworks" (played by three silent film stars of the era: Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, and H. B. Warner). The transition from the silent era to sound led to new horizons but also the decline of a good deal of the silent stars that had graced the screen and the hearts of moviegoers as well. The cinematography by John F. Seitz is excellent, making the movie look very well shot, particularly the final scene, with Swanson seemingly fading into the glitz of the camera. There's a certain sort of allure that Swanson brings to her character that makes her irresistible to watch on screen - her banter with Holden is especially entertaining. Von Stroheim is also wonderful to watch in his attempts at appeasing this husk of a star, with all of the desperation and pity in full display. Holden does a good job at telling this yarn, with enough quips along the way. One of my favorite lines is about how people don't really know the writing it takes to make a movie, assuming that the actors make it up as they go along. There's a certain mythic quality to these actors of yesteryear that is hard to explain at times but is always present, with a presence as large as Norma Desmond. Sure, one could figure out who killed who soon enough, but it's the spectacle that gives the movie breath. It's a movie with much to remember, from the main trio to the dialogue ("I'm ready for my close-up" being one of them) that makes for a fine thing to watch.
Overall, I give it 10 out of 10 stars.