Intense, enthralling, and unforgettable, Sunset Boulevard stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent-movie star, and William Holden as Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter whom she enlists to help her make her triumphant “return to the screen.” Directed by and co-written by Billy Wilder, this mesmerizing Hollywood classic won three Academy Awards.
Sunset Boulevard is a story about just how rotten and miserable Hollywood can be. It’s one of the all-time greatest classics. So many quotable lines, so many memorable moments. If you already know it, just skip this part and jump to the next section.
If you haven’t caught the film yet, don’t let everything above scare you off. Don’t think you’re not ready for it, because you don’t know all the Hollywood references. Sunset Boulevard is an extremely accessible story. Anybody who ever cashed a paycheck should be able to identify with the plight of Joe Gillis, and his self-loathing when he realizes what he’s become. It gives a horrifying glimpse into the dark aspects of stardom. What happens when the lights go out, when no one calls anymore, and when all the opportunities go to younger, and better looking people?
Gloria Swanson is simply marvelous as the batty old actress – her face constantly contorted in a ghoulish grimace that may have worked once for silent movies, but now only serves as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. These days we’re so fond of laughing at reality stars, devoid of talent in every sense, as they get famous, burn out, and fall from grace in the space of a single TV season. Norma Desmond, however, was a real star, and her delusions of stardom are based on a real career. That’s what makes this story so heartbreaking. It’s a true tragedy, and one that Sunset Boulevard captures with ruthless efficiency.
Audio & Video:
All things being equal, generally speaking, considering everything… This is a really good transfer. I’m wording this carefully, because the film IS old.
Occasionally we’ll get a faded shot that seems to lack a bit of contrast, every now a then the light levels will pulse slightly, and once or twice there are noticeable changes in grain structure. That’s to be expected, and considering the fact that the film is more than 60 years old, this is probably as good as it’s going to get.
The soundtrack – mono of course – is perfectly fine. Does it hold up next to a modern film? Of course not. Is it every bit as crisp and well-defined as it should be? Absolutely. Often with these old films it’s necessary to put subtitles on to catch the dialogue properly. That wasn’t the case here.
The generous bag of extra goodies consist of a commentary with author Ed Sikov, plus a ton of featurettes and a few other bits, most in standard definition:
- Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning (22:47)
- Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back (25:52)
- The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard (14:19)
- Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic (14:29)
- Two Sides of Ms. Swanson (10:37)
- Stories of Sunset Boulevard (11:22)
- Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden (11:13)
- Recording Sunset Boulevard (5:51)
- The City of Sunset Boulevard (5:36)
- Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard (14:27)
- Deleted Scene: The Paramount-Don’t-Want-Me-Blues HD (1:26)
- Hollywood Location Map
- Behind the Gates: The Lot (5:05)
- Edith Head: The Paramount Lot (13:43)
- Paramount in the ‘50’s (9:33)
- Morgue Prologue Script Pages
- Galleries: Production, The Movie, and Publicity
- Theatrical Trailer HD
The disc is region free.
When the film opens the title is written on the edge of a curb, leaving no doubt that this story is not a shiny, bright fairytale. Then a voice-over introduces us to the lead as he lies dead, face down in a swimming pool, only to reveal that the narrator is actually talking about himself. Could this possibly be the coolest opening to a film ever? And everything just gets more brilliant from then on.
Sunset Boulevard is a must. Even the most casual film geek should have it in the collection. There are many reasons why, and I’m sure erudite film experts could bore you to death with them, so let me give you a really simple one: It’s a DAMN good movie.
Extra Features: A