Quick Opinion: A black comedy with a mostly morbid view of the Hollywood movie scene in 1950, “Sunset Boulevard” is arguably Billy Wilder’s crowning achievement in screenplay writing — a script that earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay. This is not to dismiss some of his other classic films such as “Double Indemnity,” “The Apartment” and “Some Like It Hot.” Even if you want to consider some of those as better all-around films, it’s the writing in “Sunset Boulevard” that really sets it apart from the others. It’s an accessible film noir that blends comedy with drama by perfectly utilizing its offbeat characters to unravel its story.
Taking a Closer Look: Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a washed up silent film star longing to make a comeback. Her relationship with a struggling screenwriter (played by William Holden) becomes the central focus of the plot. The two of them carry on with a dysfunctional relationship that never feels like it revolves around love. Finding success in Hollywood is the real agenda for both of them. Their unpredictable behaviors provide a number of plot twists to help set up an unforgettable ending.
The use of the Hollywood setting cannot be overlooked. Hollywood itself brings misery and simultaneous hope to the two main characters. The movie industry is portrayed as an unforgiving world where actors and actresses are easily cast aside and disposed of when unwanted. This image still holds true today. Subtle references to the message behind “Sunset Boulevard” can be found in many of today’s films. Most recently, “La La Land” similarly depicted the cruel reality of what it takes to make it in Hollywood.
Standout Scene: In the final scene of the movie, Gloria Swanson delivers a powerful, yet completely crazed speech as she descends a large staircase full of reporters and police officers. Without giving too much away for those who need to catch up with the film, it’s a closing scene that punctuates the madness of this character, topped off with the now-famous line to close out the film: “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Where to Watch: You can stream “Sunset Boulevard” on Netflix.
Matt McCafferty is a film critic contributor for the Sentinel and writes Rewind Reviews of movies available for streaming. You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_McCafferty.