SUNSET BLVD. is, of course, the Billy Wilder film about struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), who happens upon the decaying home of faded movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Dead broke and with his car about to be repossessed, Joe takes a job rewriting the awful screenplay Norma has created for a planned comeback. Joe then turns into a gigolo, becoming Norma's lover in exchange for a comfortable, if creepy, lifestyle.
The parts of the film I really enjoyed were the scenes Holden shares with Jack Webb, as his assistant director pal, and Nancy Olson, playing the spirited young woman who becomes Joe's screenwriting partner. I was so relieved in each scene when Joe was out in the "real reel world" with normal people!
Holden and Olson had marvelous chemistry and starred in four films together in the early '50s, also including UNION STATION (1950) and SUBMARINE COMMAND (1951); I recorded their other film, FORCE OF ARMS (1951), not long ago.
I found it quite interesting trying to figure out Joe and his motivations. He had been having a tough time financially, but it was hard to understand him being desperate enough to pay the price he paid. Sure, he was going through a rough patch, but he also had a nice friend willing to lend him his couch, and I didn't see his future as entirely without hope. Indeed, as the film moves along, he and Betty (Olson) enthusiastically work on a story for a film, and while it may have been tough selling it, he wasn't alone in the fight to be a screenwriting success.
I was also confused by the New Year's sequence when Joe plans to leave Norma and has asked Artie (Webb) if he can bunk on his couch. When Joe hears about Norma's suicide attempt, he races out of the party and back to Norma. Why? If he planned to leave, he couldn't have been sad that his meal ticket was endangered, and I never really felt that he cared emotionally. What was Norma's pull?
I also wondered about Norma's financial resources. On the one hand she seems hard up for cash, with the exterior of her house gone to ruin. On the other hand she had enough funds to buy Joe clothes, serve caviar, and put the pool back in good working order.
And what were the motivations of Max (Erich von Stroheim), the man who keeps Norma living in her fantasy world? I don't feel that was adequately explained and had the sense he was, in his own way, as mad as his ex-wife.
Maybe this is a film, like VERTIGO (1958), that requires multiple viewings to figure it all out!
My daughter, who accompanied me, now works in the development end of the film industry and reacted with hilarity to some of the scenes. She said some of the crazy ideas for rewriting scripts were very true to life, and Hollywood hasn't changed in that regard, even decades later! She said she sure got a lot more out of the movie the second time around than when she was a college freshman.
Fred Clark has a single scene as a studio exec, and Cecil B. DeMille was quite good in an extended sequence where Norma visits Paramount Studios. I thought I saw Henry Wilcoxon flash by in the DeMille sequence, and according to IMDb, it was him! Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson, and Hedda Hopper have small roles as well.
The film runs 110 minutes.
All in all, I'm glad I finally saw SUNSET BLVD. and filled in an important gap in my film viewing, even if I wasn't especially enthused about it.
This was my first visit to the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach, California. I'm not sure how it is I'd never been there before, given it's just 10 minutes or so from my home. The Bay has been in operation since 1947, and it alternates showing well-known classics with newer releases.
The interior of the theater is a bit shabby, but it was clean and our seats were in good shape given their age. The theater had a slight musty smell, which only added to the overall mood of SUNSET BLVD.! The print was excellent, save for one tiny patch in the middle of the movie where some dialogue skipped. It was fairly well attended for a holiday, with perhaps 60 or 70 people in the audience.
I've had a wide variety of movie viewing experiences over the years, including a revival theater that projected movies onto the equivalent of a sheet and another set in a converted swimming pool, and I found the Bay very acceptable. I will definitely return. It's nice to know there's a theater showing classics so close to home!
Southern Californians who might visit the Bay may wish to know there is only street parking; on this visit I had no difficulty securing a spot near the theater. The other important thing to know is that the box office takes cash only. This necessitated raiding my coin purse but we scraped together enough quarters and dimes to pay for our tickets without needing to make a fast ATM run!
The other nine films on my list of 10 classics to see in 2010: SHANE (1953), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), THE LADY EVE (1941), BALL OF FIRE (1941), THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), and VERTIGO (1958).