review for Sunset Boulevard on AllMovie

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
by Lucia Bozzola review

Tackling the kind of movie "that never quite worked," Billy Wilder made one of greatest films about Hollywood. In his pungent satire of the industry's sordidness, Wilder turned Hollywood history back on itself, with the presence of silent film star Gloria Swanson as aging silent diva Norma Desmond and great silent director Erich von Stroheim as her butler eloquently commenting on the ephemerality of fame. Her writer/gigolo Joe Gillis incarnated corruptly desperate young Hollywood, dismissing forgotten greats like Buster Keaton as "waxworks" while imagining that he can escape unscathed from Norma's fantasy world. Shot in ultra-noir black-and-white in a 1920s Hollywood mansion, the looming ceilings, overstuffed rooms, and oblique lighting rendered Norma's environment alluringly sinister in its deteriorating decadence, while Joe's famous "entrance" -- floating face-down dead in Norma's pool while recounting his story in voiceover -- caustically upended narrative conventions. Greeted with raves, Sunset Boulevard became Swanson's cinematic triumph; William Holden's performance as Joe (replacing Montgomery Clift) reignited his own stardom. Despite offending the movie moguls, Wilder was rewarded with eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Actor, and Actress. Along with wins for Art Direction and Franz Waxman's score, Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr. took a Screenplay prize. Adapted as a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.