Director: Billy Wilder; Main Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson;
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:
Director: Billy Wilder, Main Cast: Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester
Based on an Agatha Christie’s story, this courtroom drama is wonderfully directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. Aging Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton), barrister of the Crown and champion of hopeless cases, has just returned home from the hospital, when a fellow lawyer brings him Leonard Vole (Power), a young man soon to be accused of murder. Along with Sir Wilfrid we learn more about Vole and Mrs. French, the rich widow who has been killed, from the man himself and his German wife Christine (Dietrich), his only alibi. Wilder uses flashbacks quite effectively to show how Leonard met the victim and what kind of relationship they had. The audience at this point will dismiss Vole as a harmless but charming opportunist, and regard Christine as the most intriguing character so far: controlled, aloof and worldly; she is the one who, after all, really convinces Sir Wilfrid to take her husband’s case. The action moves into the the courtroom and the viewer is rewarded with priceless banter between the prosecution and the defense, dripping dry British humor, and utterly enjoyable. As is Agatha Christie’s wont, we witness setbacks for the defense, some juicy twists and a final big reveal (which I will not spoil for first-time viewers). I must say that Laughton and Dietrich are the ones who make the movie, they bring their characters to life with all their lights and shadows and display an undeniable talent and attention to details. Special kudos go to Elsa Lanchester as Sir Wilfrid’s nurse, she brings a light touch and comic relief that well balances the grim tone of the tale. Wilder crafts the story so well, without lulls or dull moments, and turns this film in a remarkable work of art, that remains a pleasure to revisit even after several viewings. Enthralling —9/10
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This post is part of Sleuthathon, a blogathon hosted by Movies Silently, so please have a look at reviews of other great films about mysteries, detectives and the likes featured there: