#80. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M. Marshman, Jr.
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough
The greatest story of a Hollywood downfall ever told, Billy Wilder’s often bleak, often humorous, always poignant Sunset Boulevard still thrills and amazes today. Often regarded as one of Wilder’s best films, Sunset Boulevard combines trademark elements of film noir and combines them with a healthy dose of cynicism and pitch black wit to create a truly unique experience. Sunset Boulevard sees Joe Gillis (William Holden) become involved in a complicated relationship with aging former movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Desmond fantasizes day and night about one day returning to her former glory, being directed on the big screen by greats like Cecil B. DeMille (who appears in the film as himself). Her fantasies are supported by her personal assistant Max (Erich von Stroheim), who helps to create the illusion that Hollywood is begging for Norma’s eventual return. Joe deals with the manic Norma and her intensely loyal assistant all while writing a film script with the young Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson). Sunset Boulevard weaves a complex dreamy narrative that deals with a wide range of themes, including fame and fortune, the yearning to return to one’s prime, and the personal demons of artists. Gloria Swanson gives one of cinema’s most iconic performances in her portrayal of Norma Desmond, who is at all times horrifyingly delusional and sympathetic. Swanson perfectly captures the humiliation of being left behind by Hollywood felt by Norma Desmond, as well as her constant vying for a spot at the table among the elites. Supporting Swanson are Academy Award nominated performances by William Holden, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olson, all of which are more than deserving of acclaim. Sunset Boulevard is one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest films, featuring incredible direction by one of the all-time greats, a darkly comic script, and multiple iconic performances. It’s a haunting and unforgettable experience that cannot possibly be given enough praise.