Starring: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim
Director: Billy Wilder
Running Time: 110 mins
Sunset Blvd. is an American film about a struggling Hollywood screenwriter who mistakenly finds himself at the house of a faded actress from the silent era, and after he is taken in, he is forced to write a screenplay that she believes will return her to former glory.
This film is just weird. There’s no other word to describe it. A combination of a brilliant screenplay and a few fantastic central performances turn this film into what seems like a slow-paced film-noir into a thrilling and often frightening tale of love, deceit and Hollywood.
Right from the beginning, this film is shocking. With a completely unexplained and dubious start, it grabs your attention within seconds, and because of that, it means you’re already fully engrossed in the story before the characters are even set up.
That said, you get some very strange character development for the ‘hero’ of the story, the screenwriter, who initially seems desperate and down on his luck, then becomes strong and seemingly more talented, and yet we never really get to see his deepest emotions, all that is shown is that he feels trapped within this actress’ house and unable to live his life.
Something else that exaggerates the ambiguity of this main character is the fact that the time period is extremely vague. The story seems to start in summer, when within a few scenes, it’s New Year’s Eve, and then it’s next summer again, and that nature and lack of explanation of the time scale is actually very effective in making this film more bizarre and unpredictable.
The other main character in this film is the intriguing Norma Desmond, the faded Hollywood actress still convinced she is adored by thousands across the world. While she appears to be simply deluded on the one hand, as the film goes on, she develops into a frighteningly obsessed character, who you see take desperate measures to ensure her
comeback return to fame as swiftly as possible.
However, there also seems to be a note that she is aware of her fall from fame. Instead of being simply deluded, you can see that she has suffered from being thrown off the Hollywood circuit, and is instead trying to get revenge on the studios by employing this young screenwriter, which makes her all the more frightening.
On the technical side, the pacing of this film is also very good. As I said, it starts off with a bang, and although it isn’t the fastest film in the world, the time really flies by, because you have a steady development and unfolding of the story that continuously escalates into what is an absolutely thrilling (yet extremely bizarre) climax.
Overall, this gets an 8.5, because of its fantastic screenplay, top performances of fascinating characters, and unexpectedly thrilling and bizarre atmosphere.