Sunday, April 19, 2009

4/20/09: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Here begins Fifties Week at Chez Bayne.

Billy Wilder has directed some of my very favorite motion pictures, including The Fortune Cookie, Stalag 17, The Apartment and Irma La Douce. Before any of those came Sunset Boulevard, and true to the promise of Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies (who introduces the film on my copy), it's a stunner.

William Holden, playing a screenwriter down on his luck, happens to meet silent-film star Gloria Swanson, who hires him to stage her comeback by rewriting a terrible script she's been penning for herself. What follows is hilarious, tragic and everything in between, as Holden finds himself a "kept man," more or less a prisoner in her decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Filmed in dazzling black and white, the picture is even more fun if you know some of the behind-the-scenes trivia and how so much of the film mirrors reality (the movie was actually a comeback for Swanson, herself a fading star of silent films). Despite the fact that Sunset Boulevard is basically a drama, Swanson turns in a hilarious performance; her turn as the amazingly overdramatic Norma Desmond had me licking my lips in delight. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, but failed to win—a pity, because she's so great in this. But so is everything in Sunset Boulevard; it kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I hope to enjoy it on the big screen someday. An excellent kickoff for Fifties Week! Rating: 5/5.

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