by guest writer
Sunset Boulevard (1950) is probably one of the best known films noir in the American cinema. An unusual mixture of melodrama, Gothic horror and pure film noir, the movie gets hold of you from the very first shot. A monologue made by Joe Gillis (William Holden) gives way to the flashback of events that will unfold throughout the film. Joe’s bad luck has made him grow hungry lately until he is offered to write a screenplay for a former silent star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), dissolved into obscurity. I need to remind you that this is Swanson’s first appearance in a talking movie, as her career declined soon after the sound was introduced in the late ’20s. Her part and talent don’t seem gone at all, in fact it reminds me of Bette Davis’ best films.
Billy Wilder chooses to pay tribute to the birth of modern cinema by including cameos of Cecil B. DeMille and Buster Keaton. His way of paying respect to this era includes the wonderful part played by Erich Von Stroheim as Norma’s chauffeur, Max Von Mayerling. A typical noir item, the usual femme fatale character, is replaced by an old cinema star in Sunset Boulevard, thus giving way to a deep psychological analysis of the fading woman into madness. The bleak black & white photography by John F. Seitz and the chiaroscuro lighting transform this movie into a real visual treat that won’t be forgotten soon.
photo: still from the film | Paramount Pictures