What I Watched Last Night: Sunset Boulevard (1950)


Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olson, Eric Von Stronheim

Sunset Boulevard is a classic noir thriller from old school master Billy Wilder, who also directed Double Indemnity and Some Like It Hot.

Struggling writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) teeters on the edge of bankruptcy as he attempts to get his movie made without selling his artistic integrity. Former star of the silent screen Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) ropes Joe into re-working her leviathan script, plying him with nice clothes and champagne to sweeten the deal.

Sunset Boulevard seems to perfectly capture the era and in particular the decadence of Hollywood at that time. For those at the top, it couldn’t be better. For those that have been cast aside on the ‘Avenue of Broken Dreams’ it is another world altogether; a community jaded by success and ruled by misogynist capitalists.


Performances are top notch from one and all, from Holden’s hackneyed protagonist (his dry wit is put to excellent use as narrator) to extras with a mere line or two. Gloria Swanson as the debauched and delusional Norma Desmond is the heart of the film. Her every move is scintillating and she seems genuinely to believe she is the centre of the universe (or at least the planet- her telephone is contained within a metallic globe).

The humour and sexual tension of the film are ripe, with the sultry, atmospheric score enhancing the edgy romanticism. Sunset Boulevard is a great movie from the crime/drama noir genre and features what is possibly the best rebuttal of all time: when love interest Betty Schaffer (Nancy Olson) says she has been looking for him, Joe replies ‘Why? To recover the knife you stuck in my back?’

One comment

  1. This blog is right on! Love the description of Sunset – great job.

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