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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

Sunset Boulevard (1950)


Plot Summary: Joe Gillis (William Holden), a down-on-his luck screenplay writer, cannot pay his bills and fails to sell an idea for a script. Fleeing creditors, Joe ends up at a mansion, soon recognizing the owner as a forgotten silent film star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Learning that Joe is a writer, Norma soon has Joe working for her, and he moves into Norma's mansion at her insistence.

Aided by her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim), Joe gradually accepts his dependent situation as Norma lavishes attention on Joe and buys him expensive things. However, after Joe starts to work on a screenplay with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), Norma discovers a manuscript with their names on it, and she phones Betty insinuating that Joe is not the man he seems. But nothing is as it seems to be, including reality.


Cast:

  • William Holden as Joe Gillis

  • Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond

  • Erich von Stroheim as Max von Mayerling

  • Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer

  • Fred Clark as Sheldrake, film producer

  • Lloyd Gough as Morino, Joe's agent

  • Jack Webb as Artie Green

  • Cecil B. DeMille as himself

  • Hedda Hopper as herself

  • Sidney Skolsky as himself

  • Buster Keaton as himself

  • Anna Q. Nilsson as herself

  • H. B. Warner as himself

*Recognition:

  • Nominated for Best Picture, Director (Wilder), Actor (Holden), Actress (Swanson), Supporting Actor (von Stroheim), Supporting Actress (Olson), Film Editing, and Cinematography

  • Won for Screenplay, Art Direction in Black and White, and Score

  • At the time its eleven Oscar nominations were exceeded only by the fourteen received by All About Eve, which won six awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

  • #12 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (1998), "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." – #7 and "I am big, it's the pictures that got small!" – #24 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes in 2005, #16 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores (2005), and #16 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) (2007)

  • The Village Voice ranked the film at No. 43 in its Top 250 "Best Films of the Century" list in 1999, based on a poll of critics. The film was included in "The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made" in 2002. In January 2002, the film was voted at No. 87 on the list of the "Top 100 Essential Films of All Time" by the National Society of Film Critics. Sunset Boulevard received 33 votes in the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound polls, making it the 63rd greatest film of all time in the critics’ poll and 67th in the directors' poll. In the earlier 2002 Sight & Sound polls the film ranked 12th among directors. The Writers Guild of America ranked the film's screenplay (Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.) the 7th greatest ever. In a 2015 poll by BBC Culture, film critics ranked Sunset Boulevard the 54th greatest American film of all time.

  • In 1999, Roger Ebert praised the acting of Holden and von Stroheim and has described Swanson's as "one of the all time greatest performances." He says Sunset Boulevard "remains the best drama ever made about the movies because it sees through the illusions." Ebert gave the film four stars out of four and included it in his Great Movies list. Pauline Kael described the film as "almost too clever, but at its best in its cleverness", and also wrote that it was common to "hear Billy Wilder called the world's greatest director." When Wilder died in 2002, obituaries singled out Sunset Boulevard for comment, describing it as one of his most significant works, along with Double Indemnity (1944) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

  • It was inducted into the Library of Congress in 1989.

Did You Know:

  • Unlike the character she played, Gloria Swanson had accepted the fact that the movies didn't want her anymore and had moved to New York, where she worked on radio and, later, television. Although she had long before ruled out the possibility of a movie comeback, she was nevertheless highly intrigued when she got the offer to play the lead.

  • Gloria Swanson almost considered rejecting the role of Norma Desmond after Billy Wilder requested she do a screen test for the role. Her friend George Cukor, who initially recommended her for the part, told her, "If they want you to do ten screen tests, do ten screen tests. If you don't, I will personally shoot you." Swanson agreed to the audition, and won the role.

  • According to Gloria Swanson's daughter, Michelle Amon, her mother stayed in character throughout the entire shoot, even speaking like Norma Desmond when she arrived home in the evening after filming. On the last day of shooting, Swanson drove back to the house she, her mother and daughter shared during production, announcing "there were only three of us in it now, meaning that Norma Desmond had taken her leave."

  • The name "Norma Desmond" was chosen from a combination of silent-film star Norma Talmadge and silent movie director William Desmond Taylor, whose still-unsolved murder is one of the great scandals of Hollywood history. On the morning of February 1, 1922, Taylor--who had been romantically involved with her-- was shot and killed in his Hollywood bungalow. His killer was never identified.

  • When Norma Desmond says to the guard at the "Paramount Studio" gates, "Without me there wouldn't be any 'Paramount Studio'" the words could apply to Gloria Swanson herself, as she was the studio's top star for six years running.

  • Montgomery Clift quit the production because he was, like the character of Joe, having an affair with a wealthy middle-aged former actress, Libby Holman, and he was scared the press would start prying into his background.

  • As a practical joke, during the scene where William Holden and Nancy Olson kiss for the first time, Billy Wilder let them carry on for minutes without yelling "Cut!" (he'd already gotten the shot he needed on the first take). Eventually it wasn't Wilder who shouted "Cut!" but Holden's wife, Ardis (Brenda Marshall), who happened to be on set that day.

  • Paramount was more than happy to be the subject of the film, and didn't ask for the studio to be disguised. In fact, such was the buzz about the film during production that the viewing of the daily rushes became one of the hottest tickets on the lot.

  • The "Desmond mansion" was located not on Sunset Blvd. but at 641 S. Irving Blvd. on the corner of Crenshaw and Irving. It was built in 1924 by William Jenkins, at a cost of $250,000. Its second owner was Jean Paul Getty, who purchased it for his second wife. Mrs. Getty divorced her millionaire husband and received custody of the house; it was she who rented it to Paramount for the filming. The only addition was the swimming pool, which wasn't equipped with a means of circulating the water so it was useless after filming. The pool was used in its empty condition in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The mansion was torn down in 1957, and a large office building for Getty Oil built on the site still stands on the spot.

  • When crew members asked Billy 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."

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Struggling writer takes on the resurrection project for a burned out starlet, but learns the cost of being too close to the spotlight.


Best Performance: Gloria Swanson (Norma)/William Holden (Gillis)

Best Secondary Performance: William Holden (Gillis)/Billy Wilder (Director/Writer)

Most Charismatic Award: Nancy Olson (Betty)/Old or Golden Age Hollywood

Best Scene:

  • Meeting with Sheldrake

  • Gillis Happens Upon the Mansion

  • Watching Norma's Pictures/Queen Kelly

  • The Clothing Store

  • New Year's Eve

  • Paramount Lot

  • Ending Sequence

  • "I'm ready for my close-up"

Favorite Scene: Gillis Happens Upon the Mansion/Watching Norma's Pictures-Queen Kelly

Most Indelible Moment: Ending Sequence


In Memorium:

  • Ed Asner (91) - Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore, Up, Elf, Roots, Dead to Me, El Dorado (just a few)

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Joe Gillis: Funny how gentle people get with you once you're dead.


Joe Gillis: You used to be big.

Norma Desmond: I am big! It's the pictures that got small.


Norma Desmond: You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!... All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.


Joe Gillis: The last week in December the rains came. A great big package of rain. Oversized, like everything else in California.


Norma Desmond: The stars are ageless, aren't they?


Betty Schaefer: Don't you sometimes hate yourself?

Joe Gillis: Constantly.


Norma Desmond: We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!


Joe Gillis: I didn't know you were planning a comeback.

Norma Desmond: I hate that word. It's a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen.


Joe Gillis: Oh, wake up, Norma, you'd be killing yourself to an empty house. The audience left twenty years ago.


Joe Gillis: There's nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you're trying to be twenty-five.


Norma Desmond: No one leaves a star. That's what makes one a star.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 7.25

Impact/Significance: 6.75

Novelty: 10

Classic-ness: 9

Rewatchability: 6.25

Audience Score: 9.2 (89% Google, 95% RT)

Total: 48.45


Remaining Questions:

  • Why does Norma shoot Gillis instead of herself?

  • Does Betty marry Artie and does she ever find out about Gillis?

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