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Wick's Review

Created Feb 15, 2014 06:34PM PST • Edited May 14, 2017 12:53AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    Hollywood’s greatest confection is and has always been Hollywood, a reality that the fabulous imagery of Sunset Blvd. celebrates better than any movie before or since. Oh yeah, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, a black & white cauldron of irony, ambition and beauty, full of devilish turns and delicious seductions.
    Hotel California, moviestar style.

    Billy Wilder’s film noir classic unfurls manifold charms, especially Gloria Swanson’s old moviestar minx. You simply haven’t lived till you’ve seen the famous Norma Desmond, Hollywood’s most iconic character. Flamboyant, hypnotic, delusional – she’s transfixing, doubly so given Swanson’s own status as a silent star.

    The through-the-looking-glass effect includes Erich von Stroheim playing her butler, Max Von Mayerling. Von Stroheim directed several of Swanson’s biggest silent movies. Really. Turns out he was also a magnificent actor, powerfully essaying a European Odd Job who’s slavishly devoted to his Madame. Sick.

    The star studded cast is led by the man known as Golden Holden, who established himself as a mature star in Sunset Blvd. Yep, this 1950 blockbuster launched William Holden’s golden decade of 1950s stardom.

    Billy Wilder created this perfect movie, his second canonical film noir, the other being Double Indemnity. He also used mirrors exceptionally well, e.g. when Norma Desmond runs upstairs in despair, a flight from reality that’s glimpsed in a gilded mirror. Want to know what brilliant filmmaking looks like? This is it.

    Then it ends with one of the most famous lines in movie history: “I’m ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille.” They simply don’t make ’em like this anymore. Norma Desmond was right. The pictures have gotten small.

  3. Perfect 5.0

    Several members of the iconic cast played themselves or loose facsimiles thereof. The effect is beguiling. But let’s start at the top.

    William Holden became a young star prior to World War II, which took him away from Hollywood movies. Post-war, his Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd established his mature stardom. He’s a relaxed presence, handsome and buff, with a wry intelligence that perfectly captures his writer character’s soul-sucking compromises.

    Gloria Swanson’s faded moviestar Norma Desmond is more than a role, it’s an archetype. Hyper-dramatic, self-absorbed and grotesquely glamorous, Swanson made Desmond a bewitching character onscreen and in the mind’s eye of cineasts ever since.

    Erich von Stroheim’s ominous butler joins Swanson’s faded moviestar atop Sunset Blvd’s doppelg√ɬ§nger performances. Playing a character whose name rhymes with his (Erich von Stroheim, Max Von Mayerling), he essays an old Hollywood fixture, which in fact he was.

    Nancy Olson’s career peaked as the ingenue in Sunset Blvd. Lovely and affecting, her “picture girl” provides the fresh sexiness and unaffected charm the movie needs to counterbalance Norma Desmond.

    “Themselves” Credits
    • Cecil B. DeMille, the great Director himself
    • Hedda Hopper, the fearsome gossip columnist herself
    • Buster Keaton, the great silent star himself
    • Anna Q. Nilsson, another silent star herself
    • H. B. Warner, yet another silent star himself
    • Ray Evans & Jay Livingston, famous movie composers
    Supporting Notables
    • Fred Clark as Sheldrake, the agent who turned down Gone With The Wind
    • Jack Webb as a fun loving young Hollywood denizen, a far cry from his later image as stone-faced Joe Friday on Dragnet
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Perfect 5.0
  6. Female Costars Perfect 5.0
  7. Male Costars Perfect 5.0
  8. Perfect 5.0

    Where to start in appraising one of the greatest films in American cinema? How about with the beginning of Billy Wilder’s evocative film, where he fixates on the startling image of a gigolo floating face down in a pool, viewed from below, with the distorted image of policemen standing around forming a backdrop. This and other cinematic achievements are described in Wikipedia’s creative personnel description of the film.

    But Wilder’s evocative mastery of the cinematic medium dazzles the most, from the pipe organ that haunts Norma Desmond’s mansion, to the delightful bathroom seduction scene at a Hollywood New Years Eve party, to the noir-ish cinematography and brilliant camera angles (never letting a mirror go to waste, for instance). Hell, he even choreographs a freshly sexy finger-touch across a girl’s shoulders. Masterful.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Really Great 4.5

    One ding: Joe Gillis’s motivation with Miss Schaefer at the mansion didn’t ring true.

    OTOH, her reply to his cutting words does ring true, heartbreakingly so.

    I never heard any of this. Let’s get out of here. Now.

    Brilliant screenwriting!

  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0

    Starting with SUNSET BLVD stenciled on a curb, to Norma Desmond’s Italianate Hollywood mansion, to her Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A car, to the Paramount lot, to Schwab’s Drug Store, Sunset Blvd. overflows with iconic images, all delivered in perfect film noir B&W.

  13. Content
  14. Risqué 1.7

    No sex, not to give anything away, but Sunset Boulevard dates from before the advent of MPAA Ratings. As a Production Code movie, it had to be chaste. Imagine the kinky stuff they’d do if it were remade now.

    An older woman who revels in her sexual power lords over a younger man she keeps for amusement. He – a strapping fellow – spends feverish Hollywood nights with a comely girl in a deserted office on the Paramount lot. The entire thing could easily go Hard R, with kinky boots, horny coots and nasty hoots all on display. A-list actresses & actors would lust for the opportunity to be in it, dressed up & stripped down.

  15. Sex Innocent 1.3
  16. Violence Fierce 2.1
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.6
  18. Glib 1.4

    Sunset Blvd. channels Hollywood reality. Gloria Swanson was a star of silent movies, as were several other cast members, including Erich von Stroheim, her frequent costar and director from back in the day.

    More intriguing, it channels the real life murder of actor/director William Desmond Howard, who was last seen alive by moviestar Mabel Normand, per Wikipedia.

    Mashup the names Mabel Normand and William Desmond Howard. What do you get? Norma Desmond.

    Finally, consider how aging actresses fare in Hollywood now vs. then. While youthful charm is still prized much higher for ladies than men, the notion no longer holds true that a major star is ancient at age 50. Sandra Bullock – still highly attractive at age 49 – is an Oscar nominee for Gravity. Progress happens.

  19. Circumstantial Surreal 2.1
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0

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