“A screenwriter develops a dangerous relationship with a faded film star determined to make a triumphant return.”

Director: Frank Lloyd
Writers: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M. Marshman Jr.
Staring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich Von Stroheim, Nancy Olson
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Release Date: August 4, 1950

Sunset Boulevard (1950) won three Oscars and was nominated for 11 total awards in 1951. It is in the NBR top films for 1950, and is ranked No. 12 on AFI’s top 100 movies all-time. Sunset Boulevard is well made, well acted and well written.

However, in this man’s humble opinion, Sunset Boulevard suffers from the same afflictions of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson); the magic has worn off and while the reputation is strong, the memory is stronger than the reality.

The story follows the poor (literally) soul of Joe Gillis (William Holden) in his attempt to try and regather himself as a writer in Hollywood. While running away from some feds who’d like to take his car, Gillis pulls into the garage of an old style starstruck home. From this point, on, Gillis’ life will be thrown upside down.

Norma Desmond owns the home and lives in it with the house taker Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). Desmond is a silent film star, but the evolution of cinema has left her in the dark. She is living in her own shadow, looking to emerge only on her own terms.

Desmond takes in Gillis, finds out he is a writer, and emotionally manipulates him to help her write a screenplay for her comeback. Gillis, trapped by his own destitute and lack of professional success, begrudgingly takes all her pampering. Desmond is saying she is in love with Gillis, but he is only in love the comfort. That is, until a women comes along.

The audience meets Betty Schaefer in the early portion of Sunset Boulevard when she skewers on of Gillis’ attempted scripts. We are reintroduced to her at a New Year’s party, where Gillis symbolically sees a new exciting possibility. The pair between to work together on a script and naturally, a love interest is kindled.

The final portion of Sunset Boulevard revolves around Desmond finding out of Gillis’ secret project. The roller coaster emotions become overflowing in the film’s conclusion, and the knots created result in permanent consequences for many of the film’s major characters.

Alright, enough bullshitting about the plot. Sunset Boulevard has a compelling story as a foundation but its peak is carried by its performances. It’s impossible to deny that Gloria Swanson is putting it all out there as Norma Desmond. The over-the-top glam and desperate fame does ooze off the screen. She conveys reassurance of herself without being cocky; she thinks is natural to think the way she is.

The problem is that she does not have anyone who bounces off her while. While William Holden was nominated for an Oscar, his chops aren’t nearly as sharp as his co-star. The character he is playing is meant to be a pessimistic and sullen person, but the acceptance of Desmond’s lack of sanity doesn’t come off as fluid. Gillis’ best acting came when he was with Nancy Olson; when the two writer love birds are tackling their craft and their feelings, it’s the most magnetic it is. In particular, when Gillis and Betty Schaefer are talking at the New Year’s Eve party, that was magnetic.

Sunset Boulevard is for sure above average in its tale of how a star is fading. It is rather fitting that the title of this movie can directly be a metaphor for the shining moments of one’s life disappearing into the darkness. The career of Desmond hit a wall and all she was trying to do was see over it, but her own insecurities ensured that the ladders she attempted to build always collapsed under the weight of her own expectations.

Sunset Boulevard is well made and for the most part very well acted. I can’t place a finger on what exactly left me wanting more, but the movie doesn’t have the same chutzpah as some of its peers.

STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)

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