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Film Review: “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)


You don`t have to go far to realize how Hollywood treats its stars when they reach the age when they are no longer able to sell movies, especially, when an that aged actor is a woman. Talking about it right now is still relevant, but was even more relevant when there was only silent film. These actors worked hard and spent all their time to create an image that would be loved by a wide audience. But, when sound arrives to replace the silent films, all those actors lost their jobs and were no longer hired by the big studios. Norma Desmond is still stuck in time and loses her touch with reality while she dreams about the camera, film and fame. She is no longer recognized by the younger generation. But, when a young and unsuccessful screenwriter appears at her front door, she seems to get a second chance for her close-up and the big screen where she was no longer welcomed…

Sunset Boulevard begins at a mansion, where the body of Joe Gillis (William Holden), floats in the swimming pool. Then we hear the voice of Gillis, who takes us back six months earlier to the events leading to his death. When his path crosses with Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), Gillis realizes that he can take an advantage of this, and allows Swanson to take him under her wing. Meantime, Desmond is a woman who was a silent film star, but now is only the weak shadow left behind. She still hopes to retain her popularity by writing a script where she would play the role of Salome. What happens next is a romance between a young and handsome man and an aged star who completely loses her mind.

Sunset Boulevard is one of those films that is hard to believe was made in the 1950s. Because the subject matter touched upon by Billy Wilder is so sensitive it becomes even more real now, at a time when the incredible talent of aged actors are replaced by younger and less talented actors just because they are more attractive and capable of earning more money for the studios. It is also painful to think how actors used to manage that kind of pressure back in the 1930s when they realized that they had wasted their best years for something that wouldn’t be valued by a new generation –a generation that did not care about silent films any more.

Billy Wilder was so calculated in his idea and co-written scrip; he knew exactly where the next scene would take the audience. Masterfully written dialogues, the manic and crazy look of Gloria Swanson, and, William Holden, who was great throughout the entire film. From the beginning to the end, this film holds the viewer and does not let go until the last scene, where Norma Desmond is getting ready for her final close-up. And, that scene, surrounded by the crew, police and camera-men is worth watching over and over again – because that scene is Swanson`s master-class which delivers one of the best performances in film history.

Sunset Boulevard is a brave look at Hollywood, and another masterpiece from William Wilder which reminds us that there was a time when actors needed only their faces to perform, with no need to tell a single word. Yes, they don`t make films like this anymore. And probably never will again. And why they should make one when we already have a Sunset Boulevard, which is already one of the greatest American films of all time? And can be re-watched as many times as it takes to fully understand that the time that is gone will never be back. And unfortunately, that time was so good, that we will never stop missing it…

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