Sunset Boulevard is a 1950 noir film that takes the viewer inside the Hollywood life as it follows a fading silent film star and a failed screenwriter to a fittingly noir conclusion. It was directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. The film stars William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olson. It includes a number of cameos from silent films stars as well as a significant appearance by famed director Cecil B. DeMille. Sunset Boulevard was broadly praised by the critics upon release and went on to be a modest box office success. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and went on to win three (Screenplay, Art Direction B/W, and Music). The film has maintained a high level of good press over the decades and is considered one of the finest films in American cinema and has made a number of “Best of” lists over the years.
Should this film be considered a classic? I’m going to come right out and give this one a resounding “Yes!” When I sat down to watch this film it was the first time I had seen it. I knew absolutely nothing about it so I had fresh eyes when it came time to watch it. At first, I was leery because of the opening scene and how it essentially tells the end of the story before it even begins. It is a storytelling method that I’ve seen used numerous times in many movies and I wondered if this would be another “color by the numbers” flick. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was immediately drawn to the characters and the timelessness of the story. The celebrity culture of 1950 is not so different from the celebrity culture of 2012 and the biting commentary is just as relevant today as it was 62 years ago. The performances by all involved are wonderful. I was immediately drawn into the story by the four leads and the many cameos by Hollywood legends only helped cement the feeling that this film is probably much closer to reality than we are comfortable admitting. The performance of Gloria Swanson is especially great and it is worth the price of admission just to see her unrivaled crazy eyes! This is one that definitely deserves the label “classic.”
Would I own this film? Yes, I would. This is one where the performances are so great, the plot so perfectly paced, and the direction so impeccable that it is certainly worth revisiting. I really think I need to watch it again just to appreciate how strong the performance of Swanson was. She played crazy and over the top so well that it is easy to believe you are watching something real instead of fictional. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who has played crazy that well. Besides, everyone needs to revisit the iconic final scene and line of the film!
Here’s a clip of the amazing final scene and you can definitely hear why the score won an Oscar in this scene.