I have always liked films about the movie industry; whether it’s the making of a film, the life of a director or actor, the politics and troubles of producing, I find it fascinating. This great classic, written and directed by Billy Wilder, has it all: a once famous actress wanting to come back to the limelights, a struggling b-movie writer and the almighty studios of the golden era of Hollywood; above all it has some really great lines.
The story, set in 1950s, revolves around Joe Gillis (Holden), a small-time screenwriter, and Norma Desmond (Swanson), a silent-film goddess who lives like a recluse in a crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard. She still desperately believes in her star power and undying fame, indulged and protected by her butler Max (von Stroheim), who was once her director and husband. Norma is dreaming her return to the pictures, resigning herself to be in a talkie. Norma is writing a film about Salome and her chance encounter with Joe is an additional spur to her delusions; enticing him with the prospect of script work she puts him up in her mansion. Joe becomes ever more involved and entangled in Norma’s life, he is her lover/gigolo and he is fascinated and repulsed by it at the same time. The drama spirals out into insanity and violence closing the circle of the narration.
Holden and Swanson are both superb and play off each others perfectly. They bring to life their characters with great skills, giving nuanced performances that will grip your attention and won’t let go. Wilder’s script is sharp and riveting and it is interesting (also a bit ironic) for a film about writers and, in particular writing film, to say: “We didn’t need dialogue! We had faces!”. Wilder uses an effective approach: he starts the movie at the end of the tale with a voiceover of Joe telling his story before his death (Sam Mendes will adopt exactly the same structure for American Beauty!). Disquieting and mesmerizing —8.5/10
This is my entry to The Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Check all the other contributions here: