Classic Film Guide

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

William Holden plays failed screenwriter Joe Gillis, who meets a much older, former silent screen star Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson. Having few options, he works for her, trying to pen a comeback screenplay for her dream return to stardom (which he believes is a waste of time). He also lives in her residence (with she and her German butler Max, played by Erich von Stroheim) where they watch her old films together and their relationship becomes a sick sort of May-December romance. Holden's character begins to resent himself, and what he's become (a kept man), when she blossoms and grows bolder. She's convinced that Cecil B. DeMille, playing himself (as Hedda Hopper does herself, and H. B. Warner), can't wait to star her in his next movie. Feeling trapped in her insane world, he begins a clandestine relationship with another script writer Betty (Nancy Olson) that's working on "the project", and that's when the trouble really begins. Jack Webb plays Betty's fiancé; Buster Keaton also appears.

Billy Wilder's direction was Oscar nominated, but his Story and Screenplay, co-written with his producer Charles Brackett (The Lost Weekend (1945)) and D. M. Marshman Jr. took home the gold as did the film's Art Direction-Set Decoration and Franz Waxman’s (his first of two, on his eighth of 12 nominations) Score. Holden (Stalag 17 (1953)) received his first Best Actor nomination, and Swanson was nominated for her third and last time as Best Actress. Writer, director, and actor von Stroheim received his only Academy recognition (a Supporting Actor nomination), as did Olson (Supporting Actress). The film was nominated for Best Picture of the Year, losing to Joseph Mankiewicz’s powerhouse All About Eve (1950), as was its B&W Cinematography and Editing. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1989. #12 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies list. Swanson's line/Desmond's quote "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." is #7 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes list; her "I am big! It's the pictures that got small." is #24 on that list. #16 on AFI's Top 25 Film Scores list.

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