Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Eric Von Stroheim, Fred Clark, Jack Webb
Director: Billy Wilder
‘Alright Mr De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up’ – the immortal lines spoken by Gloria Swanson have lost none of their cinematic power in this beautiful restoration of Billy Wilder’s classic SUNSET BOULEVARD. What’s interesting is despite being over half a century old, the script has lost none of its wit and elegance and the theme of has-been actress determined to cling onto youth and celebrity are as relevant today – though the plastic surgery of course has improved somewhat.
Norma Desmond is a legend of the talkies. Usurped by modern inventions – sound and techni-colour – she’s retired to a crumbling Hollywood mansion with her manservant to while away the hours on the chaise longue smoking Arabian cigarettes, answering fan mail and playing bridge with the other relics of Hollywood past. Desmond is convinced she can make a comeback, and like the rest of the city’s inhabitants has been working on her own script ‘Salome’ a blockbuster she intends to star in. Her ennui is broken only by accident when struggling scriptwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) screeches his car into her driveway while trying to shake off the debt collectors who are pursuing him. The pair in true Hollywood fashion realise they can do business together with Holden trading his writing/editing skills for a roof over his head. He is commissioned to put her script in order on condition he lives in, which suits him fine as he’s lost all but the clothes he walked in the door with. And so the pair begin a strange relationship – as legend and toy boy until Gillis can take no more – despite the pleadings and melodramatic threats of suicide his hostess throws at him.
The film is stunning in its view of Hollywood life in the 40s/50s and Swanson’s wonderfully designed gowns (by Oscar winner Edith Head) are worth an audience in themselves. As for the cynicism that surrounds celebrity – it’s surprising to see not much has changed in fifty years.