Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sunset Blvd. Review (Classic Write-Up)

One of my favorite films of all-time is Singin' In The Rain, that's just a perfect cinematic musical if I ever saw one. Sunset Blvd. doesn't share much in the way of thematic content with that Gene Kelly motion picture, but both features do focus on one interesting facet; the way the transition from silent movies to motion pictures with sound affected the actors working in Hollywood. Whereas Singin' In The Rain took place right as sound was introduced into the world of cinema, Sunset Blvd. has a plot set decades later (presumably in 1950, the year the movie was released) where a legendary silent movie actress named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) lives in the shambles of a failed career.

Norma may have been one of the biggest names in silent motion pictures, but she never adjusted to the advent of sound, and since her days of being a huge name actress have gone belly up, she's been a recluse, planning her comeback. Now that a down-on-his-luck writer named Joe Gillis (William Holden) has come into her employment, she has someone to help her fine-tune the screenplay for the project that she's convinced will send her skyrocketing back to the top.

Much of Sunset Blvd. plays out with a unique mixture of tone, with an affable tone covering a darker atmosphere, which feels like an appropriate story decision considering the fact that the movie focuses on an actress consumed by delusions of grandeur and has recurring suicidal tendencies. Now, when he first signed up for this job, Joe had no idea of the more tortured aspects of Normands personality, he intended to just get some cash for some writing and be done with the job. Watching this sort of scoundrel character grapple with the larger problems associated with Normand is one of the movies biggest assets, helped by a sterling performance by William Holden.

One of the cinema masters of the 50's and 60's, Billy Wilder, commands solo directing credit here and is also one of three writers on the project (Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr. also receive credit for the screenplay), and he does a top caliber job at creating a simultaneously sorrow and unsettling vibe in the oversized mansion (which belongs to Normand) that Joe lives in for much of the running time. Looking at the work he and his cohorts put into the writing, Sunset Blvd. is similarly successful, even if the film runs in danger of being repetitive or meandering in some spots in this section of the motion picture.

However, above all else, the best part of Sunset Blvd. is Max, played by Erich von Stroheim. The character starts out as a simple archetype (the loyal butler in Normands employment) but as more and more details about how he's connected to the actress bubble to the surface, you can't shake the unbearable sense of tragedy he pervades. By the end of the movie, he epitomizes the very theme that runs relentlessly throughout Sunset Blvd., the idea of how there's always more to an individual than you might suspect. And those hidden aspects of a person can make all the difference in the world.

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