Billy's Film Reviews.

A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Classic Review


Following a busted car tyre, mediocre screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) finds himself seeking help in a seemingly uninhabited mansion. Having pushed his broken vehicle into the garage of the mansion, Gillis soon realises the place is occupied by a butler and a former silent film superstar named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).

Outraged at the advancements in cinema, particularly the obsolescence of silent films and their stars due to the dominance of ‘talkies’, the highly egotistical Desmond informs Gillis of her desire to return back to the silver screen and the pair soon discover a business connection and thus, a working relationship. Following the establishment of their connection in the filmmaking business, the relationship between Demond and Gillis begins to grow, to the point where Gillis moves in with Desmond permanently; however, it is both against his will and his better judgement.


Norma Desmond is a desperate wealthy star of yesteryear, offering Gillis anything and everything he desires, while the butler Max (Eric von Strohelm) remains deliberately distanced and kept to his own devices. With an incredible mansion to live in, the finest clothes, a luxurious pool, the finest of trinkets and a housemate who is a strong presence in Hollywood, why would you want to leave?

“Sunset Blvd.” is an incredibly well constructed film that is shot in a somewhat avant-garde style, incorporating supremely clever shots from various angles that even for nowadays seem advanced. Underwater shots, clever mirror shots, dissolve transitions, quick fire pans and a mix of smart high and low angle shots make the story of this classic noir so much more engaging. The cinematography is brilliant, mixing clever framing with a distinct use of shadows add an immense amount of quality and sheen to the piece.


It’s a really ambitious risk to take in a film by making a film that deals with filmmaking. Showing the life of a Hollywood set by having Desmond visit her Hollywood friends behind the scenes adds another dimension to the story and given how “Sunset Blvd.” revolves around writing a screenplay and the comeback of a former Hollywood star, the inclusion of Paramount studious within the film is exhibited excellently without appearing silly or lazy.

Currently focusing on ‘the seven basic plot types’ at university, “Sunset Blvd.” definitely fits under the categories of ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Overcoming The Monster’; Norma Desmond’s desperate need for attention to feed her ego drives her mad and causes her to to have delusions of adequacy. The eccentric mannerisms and elongated articulation of the outlandish character cause tension and add a threatening element to the story while her incredibly powerful eyes are menacing to say the least.


Potential influences form “Sunset Blvd.” include 2012’s “The Artist”, a film that deals with a silent actor’s struggle to cope with the transition to ‘talkies’ and the emotional ride he embarks on, and “Hugo”, Martin Scorsese’s family film which tells the story of a young boys fluctuating relationship with a cranky store man he soon learns was a cinematic icon. Rating number 63 on the 500 list, it is not hard to see how “Sunset Blvd.” has had an immense influence on modern cinema overall.

A fantastically entertaining story that is so cleverly created, “Sunset Blvd.” is truly one of the classic films of the 1950’s, exhibiting themes love, tragedy, relationships, possession, acceptance, natural progression and the coming of age. Masterfully acted and exceptionally played out, “Sunset Blvd.” is ever so clever and original.



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