As I return to the films of yesteryear, thanks to DK Canada’s The Movie Book, I settled in for a film that I’ve never been sure I wanted to watch, Sunset Boulevard. I just never imagined it would be my thing, but it does have a great pedigree including a cast that includes Gloria Swanson and William Holden, and able direction from the legendary Billy Wilder.
Holden narrates the film as struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, who doles out his tale like a hard-boiled noir detective. The film immerses itself in old-time Hollywood, throwing around familiar names as Gillis pitches ideas, and soon finds himself reworking a script for a silent movie star, Norma Desmond (Swanson ) who is trying to make a comeback, but as the two get to know one another, a dangerous relationship develops.
The film walked away with three Oscars, including Best Music, Best Art-Set Decoration, and Best Screenplay, It was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography.
It’s cynical and darkly humorous, even as we watch the continued descent of Desmond, and how she pulls Gillis into orbit, eventually destroying him too in her pursuit to recapture her celebrity.
She is obsessed with reclaiming her fame, and Gillis, struggling with his own writing finds a way to make a name for himself as well.
There are some truly exemplary lines of dialogue in this film, sharp, insightful, occasionally cruel, and tightly written. It’s a look at Hollywood of yesteryear the pursuit of fame, the sacrifices and the madness of the business.
Holden is fantastic, and controls the screen anytime he appears on it, and watching how he gives himself over to Swanson’s Gloria while falling for Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) a script-reader on the lot that Gillis frequents… and she falls in love with him, despite being engaged to a friend of his.
There is so much going on in this film, lots of layers, and great moments, some dramatic, some horrific, and some heart-breaking.
I love how this one plays out, characters manipulate and use one another, there is a gentle love story at its heart between Joe and Betty, but will they be able to survive Gloria Swanson and her need for attention, fame and celebrity.
And, of course, that ending…
I have to tell you, this one surprised me. I thought this one wouldn’t hold my attention, wouldn’t entertain, but once again, DK Books’ The Movie Book comes through with something amazing.
Sunset Boulevard is a must watch, and you can watch that one, and other classic cinema as you leaf through this exemplary film book!