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Sunset Boulevard

SUNSET BOULEVARD



USA, 1950


Director: Billy Wilder

Production: Paramount Pictures; black and white, 35mm; running time: 110 minutes. Released 1950. Filming completed 18 June 1949 on location in Los Angeles.


Producer: Charles Brackett; associate producer: Maurice Schorr, though uncredited; screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D. M. Marshman, Jr., from the story "A Can of Beans" by Brackett and Wilder; photography: John F. Seitz; editor: Arthur Schmidt; editing supervisor: Doane Harrison; sound: Harry Lindgren and John Cope; art directors: Hans Dreier and John Meehan; music: Franz Waxman; songs: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans; special effects: Gordon Jennings; process photography: Farciot Edouart; costume designer: Edith Head.

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 Barnum (Undertaker); Larry Blake (1st finance man); Charles Dayton (2nd finance man); Cecil B. De Mille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H. B. Warner, Ray Evans, Sidney Skolsky, and Jay Livingston play themselves.


Awards: Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Score for a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, 1950.


Publications


Script:

Brackett, Charles, Billy Wilder, and D. M. Marshman, Jr., SunsetBoulevard, in Bianco e Nero (Rome), November-December 1951.


Books:

del Buono, Oreste, Billy Wilder, Parma, 1958.

Madsen, Axel, Billy Wilder, Bloomington, Indiana, 1969.

Wood, Tom, The Bright Side of Billy Wilder, Primarily, New York, 1970.

Seidman, Steve, The Film Career of Billy Wilder, Boston, 1977.

Zolotow, Maurice, Billy Wilder in Hollywood, New York, 1977.

Parish, James Robert, and Michael Pitts, Hollywood on Hollywood, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1978.

Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, editors, Film Noir, New York, 1979.

Dick, Bernard F., Billy Wilder, Boston, 1980.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Thomson, David, Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking, New York, 1981.

Koszarski, Richard, The Man You Loved to Hate: Erich von Stroheimand Hollywood, New York, 1983.

Bessy, Maurice, Erich von Stroheim, Paris, 1984.

Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Gloria Swanson, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1984.

Jacob, Jerome, Billy Wilder, Paris, 1988.

Seidle, Claudius, Billy Wilder: Seine Filme, sein Leben, Munich, 1988.

Lally, Kevin, Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder, New York, 1996.

Sikov, Ed, On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, New York, 1998.

Crowe, Cameron, Conversations with Wilder, New York, 1999.


Articles:

Agee, James, in Films in Review (New York), May-June 1950.

"Forever Gloria," in Life (New York), 5 June 1950.

Newsweek (New York), 26 June 1950.

Lightman, Herb A., "Old Master, New Tricks," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), September 1950.

Agee, James, in Sight and Sound (London), November 1950.

Houston, Penelope, in Sight and Sound (London), January 1951.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 18 August 1960.

Higham, Charles, "Cast a Cold Eye: The Films of Billy Wilder," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1963.

Bodeen, DeWitt, "Gloria Swanson," in Films in Review (New York), April 1965.

"The Films of Billy Wilder," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1965.

Higham, Charles, "Meet Whiplash Wilder," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1967–68.

Nogueira, Rui, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1967–68.

Bradbury, Ray, "The Tiger (poem)," in Producers Guild of AmericaJournal (Los Angeles), no. 3, 1976.

Colpart, G., in Téléciné (Paris), December 1976.

Merigeau, P., in Image et Son (Paris), December 1980.

Peary, Danny, in Cult Movies, New York, 1981.

Guibert, Hervé, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1981.

"Wilder Issue" of Filmcritica (Rome), November-December 1982.

Hersant, Y., "Portrait de la star en singe mort," in Positif (Paris), September 1983.

Vrdlovec, Z., "Filmska naratologija," in Ekran (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia), no. 5–6, 1989.

Pichler, O.H., "Some Like It Black," in Blimp (Graz), no. 18, Fall 1991.

Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 6, 1991.

Kartseva, E., in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 3, 1993.

Freeman, D., "Sunset Boulevard Revisited," in New Yorker, 21 June 1993.

Elley, D., "Movie Was Almost Left in Dark," in Variety (New York), vol. 351, 19 July 1993.

Gerard, J., "Sunset Boulevard: Still Bumpy," in Variety (New York), vol. 353, 20 December 1993.

Clarke, Gerald, "Billy Wilder: Sunset Boulevard's Creator Talks of the Town," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), vol. 51, no. 4, April 1994.

Girard, Martin, "Hollywood Gothique: Sunset Blvd.," in Séquences (Haute-Ville), no. 171, April 1994.

Grob, N., "Days of the Living Dead," in Filmbulletin (Winterthur), vol. 36, no. 3, 1994.

Sandla, R., "Sunset Dawns on Broadway," in Dance Magazine, vol. 69, February 1995.

Premiere (Boulder), vol. 9, February 1996.


* * *

Between 1950 and 1952, Hollywood produced a cycle of classic films that looked at the business of making movies: Singin' in the Rain, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Sunset Boulevard. Of the three, the latter gives the darkest view of the motion picture industry.

The first two films chronicle success and failure, while Sunset Boulevard deals only with decline. It is, in fact, a sort of mirror image of Singin' in the Rain, a film which was concerned with the problems caused by the coming of sound to the movies. In Singin' one star deservedly falls from grace with the public, another has his career transformed for the better, while a sweetfaced ingenue becomes a box-office sensation because of her singing. Sunset Boulevard, however, which takes place 25 years after the coming of sound, shows us a silent film star scorned by the changes brought on by the new technology, and a modern day screenwriter whose dialogue is not good enough to get him work.

One cannot ignore the film's autobiographical aspects. Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, the aging silent film star, and like Norma, Swanson's career declined shortly after the advent of sound. Also, Max, Norma's chauffeur, had been one of her greatest directors. Erich von Stroheim plays the role and, like Max, he had been one of the more talented directors of the 1920s whose career ended abruptly during the next decade. Completing the mixture of film history and fiction, Norma watches one of her films from 30 years previous; it is Queen Kelly, one of Swanson's movies that had been directed by von Stroheim.

Aside from holding a reflecting glass to the industry, the film itself has something of a mirror construction. After Joe, the screenwriter, meets Norma, she convinces him to work on her comeback project, a ponderous Salome screenplay. Joe agrees because times are hard, and as an added convenience he becomes Norma's lover. During the second half of the film, Joe meets Betty, and they too begin working on a script as the conventional counterpart to Joe's involvement with Norma. While Joe knows that Norma's script is unfilmable, both he and Betty are excited about the script they write together, and shape it to the demands of the industry. Joe and Betty also form the normal, attractive movie couple, but Joe and Norma's relationship stands out as anomalous, at least for films of the period. Norma is much older than Joe, who plays the role of a "kept man," accepting money, gifts, and a place to live from a woman protector.

In the end, jealous of Betty, Norma kills Joe. However, this is known from the beginning, for Sunset Boulevard is a tale told by a dead man. After the opening credits, we see Joe lying face down in Norma's swimming pool, with detectives trying to fish him out of the water. Joe then begins to narrate the events that led up to the murder. But neither this posthumous narration, nor its baroque film noir style, nor the bitterness with which the film examines Hollywood, made the movie unpalatable to critics of the period. At its release, it was considered a major work, and today Sunset Boulevard remains one of the most highly respected films from the post-World War II period.

—Eric Smoodin

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