Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sunset Boulevard



Sunset Boulevard (Special Collector's Edition)

#12 (1998) and #16 (2007) on the AFI 100 Best Movies Lists
Sunset Boulevard (also known as Sunset Blvd.) is a 1950 American film noir directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, and produced and co-written by Charles Brackett. It was named after the boulevard that runs through Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California.

The film stars William Holden as Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful screenwriter, Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star who draws him into her fantasy world where she dreams of making a triumphant return to the screen with Erich von Stroheim as Max Von Mayerling, her butler and ex-husband. Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough and Jack Webb play supporting roles. Director Cecil B. DeMille and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper play themselves, and the film includes cameo appearances by leading silent film actors Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson.

Praised by many critics when first released, Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won three. It is widely accepted as a classic, often cited as one of the most noteworthy films of American cinema. Deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress in 1989, Sunset Boulevard was included in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 1998, it was ranked number twelve on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best American films of the 20th century, and in 2007 it was 16th on their 10th Anniversary list.

Actor Role
William Holden Joseph C. "Joe" Gillis
Gloria Swanson Norma Desmond
Erich von Stroheim Maximillian "Max" von Mayerling
Nancy Olson Betty Schaefer
Fred Clark Sheldrake
Lloyd Gough Marino
Jack Webb Arthur "Artie" Green
Franklyn Farnum Undertaker
Larry J. Blake Finance man #1
Charles Dayton Finance man #2
Cecil B. DeMille Himself
Hedda Hopper Herself
Buster Keaton Himself
Anna Q. Nilsson Herself
H. B. Warner Himself
Ray Evans Himself
Jay Livingston Himself

In dissecting Hollywood's "world of illusion," Wilder carefully placed the story within as authentic a setting as possible and made use of Hollywood history. Norma Desmond's name is believed to have been inspired by actor/director William Desmond Taylor, who was murdered in 1922, and his close associate and friend Mabel Normand, whose career was marked by scandals surrounding the murder.

Swanson was considered a fitting representative of Hollywood's past, remembered nostalgically by older fans but unknown to many younger movie viewers. Her personal collection of photographs decorated the set of Norma Desmond's home, causing Desmond's fictional past to resemble Swanson's authentic career.

The script/film refers to real films such as Gone with the Wind and real people such as Darryl F. Zanuck, D. W. Griffith, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd, William Demarest, Adolphe Menjou, Rod La Rocque, Vilma Bánky, Mabel Normand, Bebe Daniels, Marie Prevost, Betty Hutton, Pearl White and Barbara Stanwyck along with the Black Dahlia murder case. Norma Desmond declares admiration for Greta Garbo.

Wilder extended his Hollywood references into some of his casting choices. Erich von Stroheim was a leading director of the silent era. In the role of Max, he watches a film with Norma Desmond, and the briefly shown scene is from Queen Kelly (1929), which von Stroheim himself directed with Swanson in the title role. Cecil B. De Mille, often credited as the person most responsible for making Swanson a star, plays himself, and was filmed on the set of his current film Samson and Delilah at Paramount Studios. He calls Norma "young fella," as he had called Swanson, a tiny detail of authenticity suggested by De Mille.

Norma's friends who come to play bridge with her, described in the script as "the waxworks", are Swanson's contemporaries Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and H. B. Warner, who, like De Mille, play themselves. Hedda Hopper also plays herself, reporting on Norma Desmond's downfall in the film's final scenes. (Coincidentally, both Keaton and Hopper would die on February 1, 1966.)

In a comic scene, Norma Desmond performs a pantomime for Joe Gillis as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, in homage to Swanson's earliest film roles. She also performs a Charlie Chaplin impersonation identical to one she performed in the film Manhandled (1924).

The bed in the shape of a swan that Norma Desmond slept in was actually owned by the dancer Gaby Deslys, who died in 1920. It had originally been bought by the Universal prop department at auction after Deslys's death. The bed appeared in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) starring Lon Chaney.

Wilder also made use of authentic locales. Joe Gillis's home in the Alto Nido apartments is a real apartment block in central Hollywood and was often populated by struggling writers. The scenes of Gillis and Betty Schaefer on Paramount's backlot were filmed on the actual backlot, and the interior of Schwab's Drug Store was carefully recreated for several scenes. The exterior scenes of the Desmond house were filmed near an old house on Wilshire Blvd. built during the 1920s, which by 1949 was owned by the former wife of J. Paul Getty. The house was also featured five years later in Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause. It was later demolished, and an office building now stands in its place.

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