"All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my close-up."
- Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson)
Academy Awards 1950 -
Best Adapted Screenplay
Academy Awards 1950 -
Best Art Direction - Set Decoration (b&w)
Academy Awards 1950 -
Best Original Score: Franz Waxman
Chicago Sun-Times - 06/17/1999
"...Gloria Swanson gives her greatest performance....The movie cuts close to the bone....SUNSET BOULEVARD remains the best drama ever made about the movies..."
Entertainment Weekly - 11/29/2002
"...A mordant masterpiece about two victims of self-deception who destroy each other and themselves....The movie is unimprovable..."
USA Today - 02/17/2004
"These days, it seems like 1950's best movie."
Description by OLDIES.com:
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, an aging silent film queen, and William Holden as the struggling writer who is held in thrall by her madness, created two of the screen's most memorable characters in Sunset Boulevard. Winner of three Academy Awards, director Billy Wilder's orchestration of the bizarre tale is a true cinematic classic. From the unforgettable opening sequence through the inevitable unfolding of tragic destiny, the film is the definitive statement on the dark and desperate side of Hollywood. Erich von Stroheim as Desmond's discoverer, ex-husband and butler, and Nancy Olson as the bright spot in unrelenting ominousness, are equally celebrated for their masterful performances.
Billy Wilder's masterpiece SUNSET BOULEVARD, a corrosive black comedy that remains the most memorable assault on the emptiness and vanity of the movie business, stars William Holden as young, down-and-out screenwriter Joe Gillis. Narrated in flashbacks by the now-deceased scribe, the film unwinds the series of events that left him lying face down in a pool. Unable to sell his most recent chef-d'oeuvre, and in hock up to his eyeballs, Joe stashes his car in the driveway of what appears to be an abandoned mansion on Sunset Boulevard while trying to elude some persistent repo men. Closer inspection reveals the decrepit property to be inhabited by grandiose former silent movie goddess Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), and her zombie-like manservant Max (Erich von Stroheim). Upon hearing that he's a writer, the lonely but still wealthy woman offers to pay him generously to stay at the house and work on her "comeback" script on the life of Salome. Although spooked by the people and the surroundings, in desperate straits, Joe takes the job, little suspecting the madness of the netherworld he's entered. Wilder's merciless portrait of the dangers of a profession that trades in fantasy cagily couples the cynical amorality of the never-was with the near-psychotic narcissism of the has-been to reveal the vacuity of wealth and the transience of fame.
Character Study |
Essential Cinema |
Film About Film |
Film Noir |
Los Angeles, California |
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SUNSET BOULEVARD was an original selection to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1989.
Erich Von Stroheim, who plays Norma's butler, Max Von Mayerling, was himself a famous silent film actor and director with whom Gloria Swanson had worked. In fact, a clip of the film QUEEN KELLY is used in the film. (Norma screens it for Joe in her home). QUEEN KELLY, produced by Joseph Kennedy, was only partially finished when Swanson desperately cabled Kennedy complaining of Von Stroheim's directorial tactics and (supposed) reckless disregard for money. Von Stroheim was subsequently fired from the shoot, an event alluded to in SUNSET BOULEVARD.
SUNSET BOULEVARD showcases some of Hollywood's biggest players as themselves, including Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, and Buster Keaton. Among the famous stars and directors of the silent era who appear in the film are Anna Q. Nilsson and H. B. Warner.
A theatrical version of SUNSET BOULEVARD, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, premiered in London in 1993, starring Patti LuPone. Glenn Close took the role of Norma in the Los Angeles version and, in 1994, reprised it for the Broadway premiere.
According to Mason Wiley and Damien Bona's INSIDE OSCAR, among the actors and actresses considered for the part of Joe Gillis were Montgomery Clift and Fred MacMurray; those offered the role of Norma Desmond included Mae West, Mary Pickford, and Pola Negri.
Movie Lover: Jeremy Weinstein from
Walnut Creek, CA US -- December, 1, 2007
The plot may sound like a cliche, but the characters and their choices are very well developed. There are perfect touches at every turn, from the scene of collection agents hounding William Holden while "Putting on The Ritz" plays in the background to the closing scene as Gloria Swanson descends the staricase down into the hell of the pack of wolves-reporters- "ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille". The old silent movie of herself that Gloria Swanson watches one evening is Queen Kelly, which the actor playing her butler had in fact directed, and which did not get released because (for among other reasons) sound had arrived in full force during its shooting. Everything about this movie just works beautifully.
Tour-de-Force Twisted Love Triangle
Movie Lover: Hanley Harding from
Sunny Isles Beach, FL -- October, 28, 2005
William Holden and Gloria Swanson give powerful, gritty, true-to-life performances in this psycho-drama of a down-and-out writer, looking to make it in the Hollywood studio system. He is befriended by an employed young woman writer and we look for the impending romance, but it is intercepted by Holden's accidental meeting with an aging former silent-screen era star (Swanson). She lives in a decaying mansion, in her own private madness, colored with dreams of come-back stardom. She lives alone with an insanely devoted butler, well-played by legendary silent films director Erich von Stroheim. Swanson's character was so bizarre, the movie-going public actually thought she had turned into the insane character she portrayed so chillingly well. Poor Holden soon finds himself trapped in a web of fantasy, psychosis and obsession from which there is only one escape. [On one episode of the Carol Burnett Show, Burnett and Harvey Korman did a riotous skit of the twisted interpersonal insanity.]