I watched "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) for the first time a few days ago, after a friend lent it to me. I am very grateful to him because otherwise I probably wouldn't have rented it, or at least not anytime soon. And truth to be told, this is the kind of movie that you simply should watch as soon as possible. From my point of view, "Sunset Boulevard" is, like "Casablanca" and "The Maltese falcon", a classic.
This film is directed by Billy Wilder, and narrated by a dead man that appears in one of the first scenes floating in a swimming pool. It sounds strange, doesn't it? Despite that, it is very effective! The opening sequence is strong, but things get better and better as the story goes on. Despite that, a word of caution is in order: if you don't like black humour, don't watch "Sunset Boulevard", because this satire of the perverse side of Hollywood has it in spades.
One of the main characters is Joe Gillis (William Holden), a screenwriter without money that happens to hide from his creditors in an old mansion that seems to be empty. That is unfortunately not the case... The mansion is no less than the home of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a rich woman that used to be a silent screen star, and that wants to be famous again. That appears to be the reason why she employs Joe to improve a very long script she has written for her comeback, and also the reason why she insists that Joe is to stay at her house in the meantime. Joe isn't fond of the idea of staying in the mansion with the old woman and her creepy butler, Max (Erich von Stroheim), but he has no money, so he has to accept. Joe Gillis is like a fly caught in a spider's web: from the moment he enters Norma's house he is doomed, he just doesn't know it yet.
What will happen? Well, you must watch this film to learn that. I can only promise you that "Sunset Boulevard" is the kind of movie you don't regret watching. It is entertaining, insightful, has great performances and includes some of the best lines I have heard in a movie. Again, a classic. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
PS: If possible, remember to watch the extra features after seeing this film. One of them, a commentary by Ed Sikov, is specially good, due to the fact that it allows you to learn several interesting facts about the cast and the making of this movie.
PS 2: I wil include here some of my favourite quotes from this movie. I'm sure they will make you want to watch it :)
-Joe Gillis: "You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big".
Norma Desmond: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small".
- [Joe is reading Norma's script] Joe Gillis: "Sometimes it's interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be. This promised to go the limit".
- Norma Desmond: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"
- Joe Gillis: "There's nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you're trying to be twenty-five".
- Norma Desmond: "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up".