When I recently took part in May’s My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon, I immediately selected Sunset Boulevard, and then almost immediately regretted my choice. I have written endlessly about the film, expressing my love for it and mostly having fun with the beyond-fabulous character of the great Norma Desmond.
So, rather than go over all that again, let me just give the top 10 reasons why Sunset Boulevard tops them all for me:
- Norma Desmond
One of the greatest – if not the greatest – film characters of all time. And like all great characters, she is as deep as the ocean. In my ignorant youth I saw her as a cartoon, a pathetic and washed up relic. Now (washed up relic that I am) I view her with compassion. She is 50 and she is viewed as repulsive. But she is not repulsive at all! She is alive, she is vibrant, she is the cougar supreme. She wears leopard whenever possible (even poolside) and has a cigarette holder that looks like it was robbed from Valentino’s night table. She is a star and she knows how a star should look and act. She loved her movie career and treats it with reverence. What’s not to love?
- It’s a movie about movies
Director/co-writer Billy Wilder seems to be poking fun at the silent age, but he can’t hide his affection and admiration for it. Those wonderful Paramount gates, the extras and behind-the-camera folks who gather to Norma’s side, Jonesy, the security guard; all reaffirm the lingering stardust that was still visible long after the parade had passed.
- It has my favorite line from a movie: “If you need any help with the coffin, call me.”
- It has a funeral for a dead monkey
Not only is Adolphe Menjou referenced, but so are John Gilbert, Mable Normand, Valentino and even Marie Prevost. I’m impressed that Joe Gillis even knows their names (I guess he really did love movies back behind that copy desk in Dayton) and it makes my heart happy to hear their names spoken out loud. Which brings me to….
- The Waxworks
It is so wonderful to see Buster Keaton looking so adorable, not to mention H.B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson. Billy Wilder was genius to include them. I wonder how many people in the theater in 1950 felt the joy (and slight pang) one feels when a long lost friend appears. The movies may talk, but the glamour of the silents had not completely faded for Wilder or the audience.
- The Isotta Fraschini
According to Wikipedia: $28,000 would be $384,566 in 2015. The car had a phone in the car and the seats were covered in leopard. This car is on display at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile in Italy. Norma Desmond’s initials are on the rear doors of the car.
- William Holden wears a swim suit.
The Man You Love to Hate playing a man who used to be a director. Talk about blurred lines. I imagine Von Stroheim’s office walls were covered in black patent leather, just like Max’s. Von’s Max is a masterful performance – a slave to love…twisted, mad, movie-mad love. Brilliant.
Without Madame there is no film. When Max proclaims Norma as the greatest star of them all, he might as well have been talking about Gloria Swanson. Her storied career, her colorful life on and off camera, her grand manner — all added depth and truth to her compassionate rendering of Norma. Her performance is towering and utterly fearless and impossible to forget.
I wrote this entry with the assumption that you have seen this film. If not, you owe it to yourself. It is one of the very best.
Marsha Collock has been an avid fan – not scholar – of classic films since she saw the first flicker of black and white on the TV screen. Her muse is Norma Desmond, to whom she has dedicated her blog, A Person in the Dark, a site designed for all of the wonderful people out there in the dark who have an unabashed passion for silents, early talkies, all stars and all films. You can also visit her Facebook group, FlickChick’s Movie Playground.