In Hollywood of the 50's, the obscure screenplay writer Joe Gillis is not able to sell his work to the studios, is full of debts and is thinking in returning to his hometown to work in an office. While trying to escape from his creditors, he has a flat tire and parks his car in a decadent mansion in Sunset Boulevard. He meets the owner and former silent-movie star Norma Desmond, who lives alone with her butler and driver Max Von Mayerling. Norma is demented and believes she will return to the cinema industry, and is protected and isolated from the world by Max, who was her director and husband in the past and still loves her. Norma proposes Joe to move to the mansion and help her in writing a screenplay for her comeback to the cinema, and the small-time writer becomes her lover and gigolo. When Joe falls in love for the young aspirant writer Betty Schaefer, Norma becomes jealous and completely insane and her madness leads to a tragic end.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Widely heralded as a classic upon its initial release, the Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett production, Sunset Boulevard, is a superb piece of work in nearly all departments; and yet at some levels it disappoints upon repeated viewings. This is not an easy movie to love. The people in it are unsympathetic, as the leading male character is a hack screenwriter turned gigolo; and the woman he lives with is a mad former silent movie star who pins all her hopes on this third-rate writer's ability to write her 'comeback' picture. Neither is an amiable sort, but he is at least sane; and though he has an understanding of decency, he never quite achieves it. His goal is success. That he decieves two women who care for him deeply bothers him from time to time, when it is an inconvenience, but doesn't otherwise seem to bedevil him or prey on his thoughts.
As a cynical picture of postwar Hollywood the movie is flawless. It captures the moment when the the studio system was at its absolute peak as well as at the start of its decline. The secondary characters are more likeable than the major ones, notably Erich von Stroheim's butler. Yet the film is not a satisfying portrait of mental illness, as the insane Norma Desmond, while superficially credible, has no inner life, or even a hint of one, as her demons appear to come more from her neglect by others than anything to do with herself. Her gigolo, Joe Gillis, is believable as a hustler but seems, in his narration and occasional asides, to be brighter and wittier than his behavior suggests. The characters, in other words, go through their motions, as the plot dictates; and while they are very interesting in what they do or fail at, they seem to have no life outside of the story. This is a movie about Hollywood rather than people; an immoral 'moral tale', it sometimes leaves a bad taste.
For all its flaws, though, the movie works like a charm even when it is not itself charming. As Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson is magnificent, larger than life, and every inch the former silent movie queen she plays in the picture. Her final scene is priceless, and the best shot in the movie. William Holden made a new career for himself thanks to Sunset Boulevard. For over a decade he had been playing rather bland, boy next door types, and his work here was a revelation. Joe Gillis was his best performance thus far, and made Holden overnight a hot property, and shortly thereafter the biggest male star in the business. His dry, almost affectless Midwestern delivery of dialogue and, especially, narration; his mixture of good manners and ambivilant morals; and his ability to command the screen with a flicker of expression, put him immediately into the major leagues. Sunset Boulevard does not in the end tell us more about Hollywood than the Selznick-Wellman A Star Is Born, but it does its job better, with pungent dialogue, brilliant acting and a sense of style rare in movies of the time and unheard of today.
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