Movie Mondays: Sunset Boulevard

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Down on his luck, screenwriter Joe (played by William Holden) runs away from bill collectors who want to take possession of his beautiful convertible. When his tire blow out, he finds himself in front of what appears to be an abandoned Hollywood hills mansion. Stashing his car in one of the old garages, he is discovered by the butler of the home.

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After realizing that a crazy old silent Hollywood star, Norma, still lives in the home, he sees the opportunity to take advantage of her and make some money by pretending to be interested in editing the screenplay she is working on for her big return to the silver screen.

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After a while of bunking in the old lady’s home, it becomes obvious that he is now the one being taken advantage of. He attempts to lead a double life, following his own writing passions, but keeping them a secret from his crazy benefactress.

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Things escalate as the former actress tries to kill herself, emotionally manipulates Joe, and goes so far in her delusions as to visit Cecil B. DeMille to discuss her big return to Hollywood. Joe discovers that the butler has his own crazy delusions and is weaving a web of lies that perpetuate Norma’s senility.

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This film is one of Billy Wilder‘s great masterpieces that was particularly difficult to get approved for production, as it is quite candid about the deceit, typical jaded attitudes, and pitfalls of opportunism in Hollywood. If you watch this movie, keep in mind that the actress who played Norma, Gloria Swanson, was actually a former silent movie star herself, whose career took a dive after making a film with a Hollywood director, the very man who plays her butler in Sunset Boulevard. And even more interesting is the fact that the poorly received film which put Swanson’s career on halt for a while is the very movie which is played in Norma’s home by the butler (the director of Swanson’s real life ill-fated film) for Joe and Norma to watch (see still #4). It all ties together very nicely!

6 Responses

  1. oh, i love sunset boulevard! gloria swanson was absolutely perfect in this role. i actually didn’t know any of those facts about about the film. thanks for the info!

  2. andrea says:

    one of my favourite films ever. Did you know Gloria Swanson’s character is based on that old woman from Dickens’ Great Expectations? When I read the book I was like “hmm reminds me of sunset boulevard” and the next time I watched it I realised they are actually compared in the film! I was so amazed at the discovery :)

  3. Mandi says:

    I didn’t know that! But I did remembering chuckling at the reference to the lady from Great Expectations, thinking how on key the comparison was. :)

  4. Courteney says:

    I LOVE Sunset Boulevard. Brilliantly acted and written.

  5. Sum says:

    I watched this in film class. Loved the movie.

  6. Jenni says:

    Definite favorite of mine–such an incredible movie!