There is a reason why Sunset Boulevard became a sort of defining movie of the film noir genre. It involves ruthless murder, sexual connotations, deceit and failed romance. However, there is difference between this film and other noir titles, which actually made people more interested in seeing Sunset Boulevard. Mainly, Billy Wilder’s depiction of a story of a forgotten movie star seemed so real and believable that everyone wanted to experience it from the side of a passer- by. For ages humans were interested in the lives of the rich and famous. And this film presents one of the saddest and toughest moments in the life of a celebrity – the sudden and unexpected fall into the nothingness after years of being on top. Additionally, Wilder gave a very strong and gloomy twist to it, making the movie a real directorial masterpiece.
The movie sets a very fast pace right from the start, showing a dead man floating in the swimming pool, as the police arrives at the scene of the crime.
Then starts the retrospect, presenting the viewer with a tragic tale that centers on an aged woman, Norma Desmond, who was once a huge silent movies’ star in Hollywood. However, with the beginning of the sound era she simply became useless. No one wanted to cast her in the new productions. Yet, she still believes that her fans are writing to her and that she will once again rise and be on the posters all around town.
Sunset Boulevard, the address of her house, is a great allegory to her position in the film world. She had her time on the pedestal, but know the Sun has inevitably set on her career and she can’t do anything about it. Every day she is struggling with thoughts of a comeback (a word, which she actually hates), but it just won’t happen. Only her butler (and first husband) Max is aware of this…
Somewhere along the road, completely out of the blue, comes her savior, the screenwriter named Joe Gillis. He is desperate for some money to cover his loans. She is desperate for someone to edit her personally written script for a movie, in which she will also play the main role. Her insanity makes her incredibly jealous over him. She doesn’t let him leave and meet other women, even though he is just using her and her money without any feelings. That the story ends in great tragedy mustn’t be stressed, obviously. Going deeper and deeper into the madness leads to the final outburst, the ‘beautiful’ crime. Paradoxically, this is the moment when the cameras start rolling again and she is the main object of interest. And she loves it, like she didn’t even know what happened a few hours before.
Gloria Swanson definitely steals every scene that she’s in. She is marvelous as this old star, who still thinks that she is younger, prettier and more talented than all those young Hollywood actresses. Her fantastic style, seriousness, way of speaking – it all makes for an unforgettable performance. William Holden stressed with this role that he is a marvelous actor and possibly one of the greatest in the 20th century Hollywood.
Also, fine use of narration to add to the dark atmosphere of the profoundly calamitous events occurring throughout the movie.
All in all, this is definitely one of the movies that are a must see in the history of American cinematography. It shows how thin is a line between fame and obscurity. We don’t even know how many of the once-famous characters were suddenly deemed useless and replaced by new generations. It sounds as sad, as it is inevitable.