Los Angeles resident and famed director Billy Wilder wondered about the lives of retired actresses famous in the days of silent pictures. They still lived in the grand Beverly Hills houses they bought during their career. How is their existence molded by their past lives as film stars? Wilder concocted his own story and imagined the world of an aging, reclusive former film star he named Norma Desmond.
Starring former Vamp of the silver screen, Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard was destined to be a hit. Along side the legendary actress, William Holden starred as down on his luck screenwriter Joe Gillis. Told in flashback and narrated by Gillis as he recalls the events leading up to his death.
Sunset Boulevard stands out in a genre that had become saturated by the time of its release. A large part of that is most likely due to co-writer Charles Brackett and Writer/Director Wilder who is famous for his work in Noir; having directed two of the best in the genre. Before Sunset Boulevard, Wilder made Double Indemnity, a 1944 Film Noir starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Double Indemnity is often sited as the film that fits into most categories in the genre and six years later Wilder would direct Desmond, I mean Gloria Swanson in her close up.
Even if you haven’t seen this film chances are you can picture it. A garish middle aged women, a reclusive film star who lives in the past; her dreams of a comeback subverted by her break from reality. Sunset Boulevard’s image of Desmond descending the stairs is engrained in the minds of film lovers everywhere.
Sunset Boulevard is one of my favorites from the genre. It almost acts as a satire of both Film Noir and the industry itself. Not a lot has changed in the years since so many women everywhere can relate to the harsh reality of aging. Apparently we just aren’t as appealing to an audience of men that want us stuck in our twenties. For actresses their careers are harder to lengthen due to the lack of roles offered to women as they age. For men however their careers seem to get better. Norma Desmond is a product of the fantasy world that created her and spat her out when she got a little too old to stand next to the men her age. Stuck in the fantasy world of her own making and with the help of her butler Norma Desmond tries to find a way back into the world she once loved so much but it is her break with reality that will be her final undoing.
Sunset Boulevard is available to watch on Netflix. Below is a clip from the film and an introduction into the crazy world of Desmond herself.